Understanding Product Concepts vs. Design Concepts

Abang Edwin SA
3 min readMay 8, 2024
Photo by Kumpan Electric on Unsplash

It’s important to understand the distinction between a product concept and a design concept. Many students confuse these two terms, but they represent different stages and aspects of product development.

What is a Product Concept?

A product concept is the initial idea and overall vision for a new product offering. It defines the “what” — what the product is meant to do, what need it fulfills, what core features it will have. The product concept stage captures the essence and purpose of the potential product.

Some examples of product concepts:

  • A smartwatch that tracks fitness metrics
  • A subscription meal delivery service for busy professionals
  • A modular, portable laptop dock for mobile productivity

Notice how these are high-level definitions of the product category, intended use case, target user, and key capabilities. But they don’t specify any design details yet.

What is a Design Concept?

After defining the product concept, the next step is developing the design concept. This translates the abstract product idea into a concrete manifestation — the actual look, functionality, materials, and user experience of the envisioned product.

The design concept answers questions like:

  • What will the physical product look like and how will it be constructed?
  • How will the user interface work and what design patterns will be used?
  • What materials and manufacturing processes are optimal?

When describing a design concept, certain key words and elements related to design principles are typically used to comprehensively convey the intended user experience, aesthetics, and design details. Some examples:

Design Elements in a Design Concept:

  • Form/Shape (e.g. cylindrical, geometric, organic contours)
  • Materials (e.g. aluminum, polycarbonate, leather)
  • Colors (e.g. neutral tones, bright accent colors)
  • Finishes (e.g. matte, glossy, textured)
  • Typography (e.g. sans-serif, monospace)
  • Layout (e.g. grid, asymmetrical, minimalist)
  • Patterns (e.g. repeating motifs, textures)

Using terminology related to these design elements allows the design concept to thoroughly explore and define the visual styling, manufacturing specifics, and overall look and feel of the product’s design direction.

For example, a design concept for the smartwatch product concept could be:

  • Circular watch face with high-resolution color touchscreen
  • Aluminum unibody construction with interchangeable wristbands
  • App interface with tiled layout for fitness tracking, messaging, etc.

See how the design concept fleshes out the specifics of shape, UI, materials, and physical design aspects to make the abstract product concept into a tangible solution.

Other Examples:

  • The meal delivery service could have a design with insulated meal containers, recyclable gel packs, and an app for choosing meals.
  • The laptop dock design could use a thin, portable form factor with integrated charging, ports for HDMI/USB, and compatibility with multiple laptop models.

The product concept establishes the strategic intent and value proposition. The design concept then defines how that high-level vision will manifest into the detailed user experience and physical embodiment of the product.

As you work on your final projects, ensure you have first clearly articulated your product concept and primary use cases before delving too deeply into design concepts. Ideating both product and design concepts is essential for successful new product development.

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Abang Edwin SA

Observer, Content Creator, Blogger (Obviously), Ghostwriter, Design Thinker, Trainer and also Lecturer for Product Design Dept at Podomoro University