Designing Ideas into Concepts: Exploring the Structural Differences between an Idea and a Concept


For working design professionals, the difference between an “idea” and a “concept” is often implicit. Most creative directors just “know one when they see one.” But academically, an idea and a concept are basically synonymous. So what really is the distinction? Over the past 5 years we have analyzed over 6300 ideas generated to solve a singular challenge: “Sell a Brick” with the caveat that it can’t be used as a brick. This is a standard creative exercise that uses a common object to force designers to ideate more creatively by overcoming “functional fixedness” i.e. the cognitive bias where a person views an object only in the way it is traditionally used. In this presentation, we will share what we’ve discovered as the structural differences between an idea and a concept and what in the concept-seeking process can be made explicit. Ultimately our research shows by starting with a structurally sound concept, before moving on to the prototype phase, one can reduce the number of ’break then restart’ cycles of the design thinking process.


Jon Ligon
Associate Teaching Professor, Media Design, APRD, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, United States

Burton St. John Iii
Professor of Public Relations, Advertising, Public Relations and Media Design, University of Colorado - Boulder, Colorado, United States

Lucinda Ligon


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


Design Education


Ideas, Concepts, Design Thinking, Functional Fixedness, Concept Design

Digital Media


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