Concept Development and Ideation

This page will take you through a typical concept and ideation process to help you arrive at a great design.

The aim of the ideation stage is to use creativity and innovation in order to develop solutions. By expanding the solution space, you will be able to look beyond the usual methods of solving problems in order to find better, more effective, and satisfying solutions to problems that affect the user's experience of a product.

The goal is to generate a large number of ideas; ideas that potentially inspire newer, better ideas, that you can then whittle down into the best, most practical and innovative ones.

Some steps in the concept development and ideation phase include but are not limited to:

  1. Empathise with your users

  2. Define the problem

  3. Research

  4. Generating ideas

  5. Draw, cluster and narrow ideas

  6. Developing solution

  7. Test

Empathise with Your Users

Design thinking is a framework for innovation based on viewing problems or needs from the user’s perspective. Because this is a human-centered approach it demands a thorough understanding of what your users both think and feel and the design thinking process requires you to first empathise with the people for whom you’re trying to design new solutions. The goal is to design meaningfully as well as enhance the users experience with your product.

Define the Problem

Many times, designs are fueled by an existing problem. Consider what problems you have in your own home or place of work to find inspiration for what to design. Keep a log in a notebook of the ideas and problems that arise from your brainstorming.

  • Develop design considerations by listing what you want to accomplish with your furniture

    • Write down the challenges and problems that you want to try and solve with your furniture, like if it needs to be moved easily or if it should have a specific shape.

    • Record any answers or ideas you have to keep a running log of your design process.

    • For example, you may want to make a bookcase that is versatile for small spaces or a chair with added storage.

    • The more specific you are with your list, the better end product you’ll have.

A great way to flesh out what your goals, is to write yourself a design brief. This is a concise statement that can communicate what your project goals are, and is also a great personal tool to keep you focused on your objective and stay on track.

Market Research

If you think you have an idea for the issue you have identified, make sure your product doesn't already exist. To do this you must conduct market research by focusing your research on the user and other designers.

Scroll through design websites and look through product magazines to see what’s already on the market or if there is already a solution to what you are trying to solve. This way, you can act to eliminate any ideas you have that may have already been produced, avoid copying another designer and develop a better design.

If a similar product does already exist:

  • take an inside look at the product that is already on the market

  • assess the competitors product’s usability - asses why or why not their product is successful

  • assess standard user experience patterns with the product already on the market

  • find problems and solve them to make the product better e.g. solve usability problems and improve current user interactions

  • understand which niche works best for your product and what you can offer the user that other products in that niche do not.

  • study industry trends and the features of competitor products.

Generating Ideas

Some things to look at for inspiration include influences from common objects like buildings, architecture, nature, or classic works of furniture design. Look at items around your home or in nature and see how you can convey them into a furniture design. Write down any objects that catch your eye and sketch thumbnails of how you would turn them into furniture.

  • For example, you may take inspiration from a scorpion to make a chair with a tall back.

Create a mood board to have all your inspiration and ideas in one place - this is also a great place to refer back to if you feel off track or lost. You may not always stick to your original mood board as this can be an evolving space for ideas.

Your mood board can include:

  • Defining the product vision

  • Product research

  • User analysis

  • Ideation sketches

  • Design details

Draw, Cluster and Narrow

Sketch your ideas on paper or in a digital drawing program.

Your first sketches can be scribbles so long as you understand what you are trying to convey and continue drawing and evolving your sketches until you finally stumble on something that you are pleased with.

Draw your furniture at different angles so you or anyone working off of your plans can tell what it looks like. Start with pencils and then solidify your outlines with pens or fine-tip markers. If you’re working digitally, make the outlines darker and thicker by changing your brush size.

  • TIP: A drawing tablet compatible with your computer to sketch designs digitally can be really helpful and a fast way to get you ideas from your head to the computer.

  • Use contour lines to show the form of your furniture. For example, draw curved lines on areas that are rounded or soft.

  • draw different ideas and forms, shapes and details

A great technique to use is to:

  1. Draw 30 designs

  2. circle 5 of your favourite designs from these 30

  3. draw another 20 designs influences by the 5 circled

  4. circle 3 designs from these

  5. draw 10 designs influences by these 3

  6. finally circle 1 design from these that is the most resolved and is the best solution

  7. draw and develop this design to scale with as many details as you can include

Developing a Solution

Once you have narrowed down the design and are happy with the aesthetics and how well it fulfills your brief, the next step is to start developing the idea. Flesh out the details, the joinery, the material, and turn it into a 3D model.

Write down any callouts or measurements on the drawing. Think about the important information you will need to remember when you make your furniture and write those considerations down on the paper. Use common language so you don't get confused week to week.

Writing can also help organising each element, such as each part of the design in your head and keeping you on track.

Work in 3D modelling software to visualise

Start with your furniture’s basic form, like a cube or sphere and work from there. Adjust the form or add more forms for more complicated pieces. Once you’re finished, you can render the model to see what it would look like in a 3D space.

Build scale models of the furniture with simple materials.

Scale your models down to 1:3 of your actual furniture design. Replicate your design physically using craft materials like cardboard or styrofoam. This helps you get an idea of the number of materials you’d need to create a full-sized version of the piece and a physical representation of the final piece. Sometimes you may get lost in the measurements and numbers of what something 'should' look like without seeing it with the correct proportions. Scale models are also great to visually document your processes.

  • Be aware that if your scale is less than 1:3 the size of the full-sized design; the model may be too small to work on.

Fabricating a prototype

The next step is to build a full-scale, working prototype. A prototype is basically the small scale model made full sized. Depending on how much time you have before submission, this can either be an inexpensive full scale test to experiment with processes, materials, finishes to smooth out potential complications etc or your final piece.


Once the prototype has been built, it needs to be tested as this is an experimental phase, and the aim is to identify the best possible solution for each of the problems identified during the design process. The solutions are implemented within the prototypes, and, one by one, they are investigated and either accepted, improved and re-examined, or rejected on the basis of the users’ experiences.

For small individual projects use your furniture consistently to see how it holds up under everyday wear and tear. Check the sturdiness of your product and how much weight it can handle. Make notes on adjustments you want to make to the final design, so that it is more clear when you go to build another piece.

If it's a chair for mass production, it should be stress tested. Sometimes several prototypes are made so that a few can be broken in order to find out what the limits of the piece of furniture are.

By the end of this stage, you will have a better idea of the constraints inherent to the product and the problems that are present, and have a clearer view of how real users would behave, think, and feel when interacting with the end product.

Last updated