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Design concept

The best ideas arise when you perceive problems in everyday life.

Everything Starts with an Idea

Good industrial design is always preceded by one thing: A great concept. This might sound simple but it‘s exactly the opposite. In good times an idea for a concept will appear out of thin air, yet more often than not it is elusive: A diva waiting to be courted before coming up with the goods. The better one understands how an concept emerges, the easier an idea can be coaxed out of its shell.

The Idea Behind the Idea

Ideas for good design concepts actually do grow on trees – or at least the first approaches do. You can find them wherever you are: On the bus, on your way to work, during breakfast or in the shower. You just need to know what to look for, how to recognise the signs. One easy way is not to ignore the problems of everyday life any longer but to observe and embrace them. Having done that you can start to find intelligent and practical solutions. If you are lucky this starts intuitively and on its own. Intuition is a key aspect in creative design and developing processes. It emerges from the subconscious and intellect then just has to follow and act on the impulse.

But what to do when intuition is not available on tap? One way is a structured search for solutions. There is no master key that opens every door, but a systematic thinking process is a starting point.


Concentrating on the essentials.
The first step is recognizing the essentials. The process is like peeling an onion: The more layers are peeled away the closer a designer gets to the centre of all things. With the idea stripped bare, the designer is able to see the foundations of the design more clearly: Free from clutter.

Analytic Thinking

Knowledge helps to reshape things.
It is very important to systematically analyze facts and circumstances, to dissect and fractionalize them. What functions well and what might disturb a smooth performance? What can be changed and how? It is about acquiring the tools to literally find that needle in the haystack.


How to shape a discovery into an invention.

Nature already has the answers to many problems, proven over millennia. You just need to know where to look. Bionics is exactly this search tool. It adapts the achievements of the living environment for a technical implementation process. Evolution offers incredible insights and best-of intelligent systems that win over less effective solutions in the end. But nonetheless that does not mean we should stop being creative ourselves.

There are basically two differences between products formed by nature and those that are manmade. An essential difference is the fact that nature mostly uses materials produced by organic living sources. In addition, many of nature’s creations only function as long as they are alive. Take for example the Tyrannosaurus Rex, an impressive beast, but belonging to a now extinct species. The only existing dinosaurs today are puzzled together from dead bone fragments and made of plastic or else roaming cinematic landscapes. Biological systems therefore, have naturally imposed constraints. For example: All the separate parts of an organic system must be connected to one another to guarantee energy and nutrient input. Another constraint lies in the fact that organic compounds cannot withstand high temperatures. There are therefore, as far as we know, no jet-propelled eagles in the skies. By using non-organic materials engineers can create objects that do not and cannot exist in nature.

Have you ever wondered why nature never invented the wheel? There is one possible reason: For a freely turning wheel, there can be no fixed connection to the other components. In a living organism, rotating parts are therefore impossible to supply with blood and energy. That is something simply unachievable. It took the inventive mind of human beings to create ‘dead‘ matter like steel or plastic which enables us not only to build engines, axes and wheels but to drive on highways at maximum speed, easily reaching the 155 mph mark. Humans might not have more fascinating possibilities to create new things than nature itself, but we do have other means. Furthermore, humans sometimes have completely different problems than nature does. As a result we cannot turn to nature for the solution to all our problems. We have to solve some of them on our own! Despite our enthusiasm for bionics, we must also remember our own strengths and learn how to make the most of them.

Robo Worm
This robot mirrors the movements of a caterpillar. The motions of the caterpillar’s circular muscles are simulated through the controlled magnetisation of metal rings integrated into a silicone tube. The construction enables the Robo Worm to move on rough and uneven surfaces found in canals and tunnels. Even where chain wheels and other traditional means of transportation get caught, the Robo Worm contorts itself without problems. Robo Worm has two heads, one at each end, making it possible to move backwards without having to flip over. This principle enables backwards movement even in very tight shafts. Robo Worm is equipped with cameras and additional sensors, for example a microphone, to make recordings possible even in hard-to-reach areas. The recordings can be sent to a receiving station immediately or stored in the device for later extraction.

Overcoming Clichés

Thinking out of the box is a must.
First of all, it is important to free ourselves from outdated and narrow thinking. Development needs change; it is the basis for all progress. But likewise it is necessary to recognize that not every cliché is necessarily a bad thing. Design is an evolution, so today’s achievements are the result of a long-term process. Of course you can develop a wheel further, but to be honest, no one needs an angular shaped wheel. Do not try to be different at all costs! A change should always be for the better. Sadly this is not always the case, with many products ignoring already existing concepts that work and are valuable. In some cases products are marketed as newly designed just to sell more and effective branding masks the lack of actual improvement. People might remember Hans Christian Andersen‘s fairy tale “The Emperor‘s New Clothes” where tailors pretend to sew new clothes for the king that only the clever and witty will be able to see. In the end the emperor walks around naked because the new clothes are only a massively successful marketing campaign that everybody wants to believe in order not to appear stupid. The same applies to design that loses contact with the product and is used simply as a merchandising tool. So in principle design is easy: Keep the good things but be open-minded towards new ideas.

Design Concept Versus Solutions

Not every idea is a good design concept. There is a clear difference between designers and inventors. In one way every designer is a kind of inventor, this on the other hand does not mean every inventor knows how to design and create. For example: On January 29, 1886 Karl Benz filed a patent application for the first petroleum driven car. Even though he was an extraordinary inventor, his three-wheeled vehicle was barely more than a naked frame: A tricycle that drove. The design concept came later. So, what is the key difference between a designer and an inventor? Only if the form and design are part of a solution can one truly speak of a design concept.

Even designs earning prominent awards often do not value this aspect enough. Suddenly innovative technical developments made by technicians and engineers are celebrated as innovative designs as well – although the concept has barely anything to do with actual design.

One can, for example, ask why a well-regarded design competition was won by an ultra flatscreen TV. Of course it is an understandable approach to make a television screen as flat as possible, and new developments in LCD- and LED-technology have finally made such a design feasible after years of research. But the designer was never the catalyst or trigger for a flat screen design, he only took care of the appealing packaging. It looks nice, but product design can be so much more than simply creating beautiful things. When the product embodies the main part of a solution through its design, something unexpected and new can suddenly emerge.

USB devices are getting smaller every day. And we still like to send pen drives via mail. But since they tend to be rather small they can get lost easily. A good choice therefore is the USB clip that can be attached to any kind of document like business cards, letters, leaflets or brochures no matter how thick the paper. Three lamellae generate a good adhesion. The USB-clip connects analogue papers with digital information and is therefore a reliable and valuable assistant for correspondence in our times.

The texts are excerpts from the book "360° Industrial Design" by the author Arman Emami, published 2014, niggli Verlag