What is concept design? What do designers do?

Every product has an underlying design philosophy. The intensity of the design philosophy could be as simple as the colour of the product to how the product should look, feel and perform. Such philosophies of the product are conceived during the concept design phase. Do note that the conception of philosophies at this stage is not open ended. Rather it the focus is to develop a design in line with the requirements and inputs provided by product planning. It might not be close ended either, since there might be multiple directions to explore, as per the inputs from product planning. Let us understand the scenarios by taking a couple of simple examples here.

The next Duke at KTM has to feature the last Duke’s DNA. That’s the only way it would maintain connection with its market.

Let us consider a new model under development at KTM. This bike is supposed to be a design change model for the KTM Duke 390. Now keeping in mind, the character of the KTM brand and more so, the Duke brand, the key words for design would likely be naked, aggressive, light, strong, young etc. These terms generally reflect the target market, people in the 20-30s age group who tend to be slightly flashy, out in the open whose primary requirement is a fun to ride motorcycle. If you imagine this scenario, you would understand how streamlined the design requirement is. There are multiple ways to design a naked, aggressive motorcycle, but the variations in the designs would not be striking. This is what we would like not being open ended to imply.

Mass market motorcycles like these have higher functional priorities. Design could become a supporting feature here depending on the segment.

Now let us consider the follow to a design of Honda that appeals to the mass market. Mass market models are also sometimes called commuter models since they appeal to the cost-conscious buyers. They value economics of the bike at the highest level, with design playing a secondary role in the purchase. Considering the nature of such models, the key words for design could be relatively vague like: bright, bubbly, young, new etc. This gives the designer a larger field to play in. A young motorcycle could have a round headlight as well as a semi-faired one. Such variations are listed out by the designers and sketched in 2D.

Through the concept design phase, various physical profiles conceived by the designers (in line with the inputs from product planning) are sketched out. For sketching out the designs, the designers look around for inspirations.
One example of this is how the Mahindra XUV500 was inspired by a cheetah running, Volkswagen Beetle was inspired by well, a beetle.

Here’s a shitty picture that explains how the XUV500’s features resemble that of a cheetah.

The front, side and rear profiles are sketched. Traditionally, it was done on a large sheet of paper. Now, the designers have electronic touch screen consoles making their jobs a lot easier. Depending on the workplace, the layout requirements are conveyed by Engineers to the designers. Let’s say for example that a designer is working on the next iteration of a currently selling motorcycle. The designer aims to reduce the size of the fuel tank. Under these circumstances, the engineers are roped in to analyse the feasibility of such a change.

Concept design phase ends when the designers have sketched the various designs complying to the keywords provided by product planning, the designs have been vetted by the design management and are ready to move into the market analysis stage.

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