Four Actionable Tips for Improving Concept Design

Written by: Dave Martin

Read Time: 3 min

New product introduction (NPI) is one of the primary functions of product development organizations and the key to gaining a competitive advantage in the marketplace. You want to develop a product that will make customers take notice and possibly satisfy a need they didn’t even know that they had.

Where do great products start? With great concept design. Here are four tips for making sure yours start off on the right foot.

1. Return to First Principles

Our natural tendency when starting a new project is to build on what’s come before, whether it’s one of our previous products or a competitor’s. As many as 68% of design concepts leverage existing designs. But don’t dive into design reuse mindlessly.

Try first principles thinking. This approach encourages you to throw out your assumptions and knowledge about the current solutions and start over from scratch. What must this product do? What are my requirements, constraints, and goals?

If there are components you must use – perhaps from a previous generation or supplier parts – lay those out first and then design around them.

If your products have an established industrial design (ID), start from there and work inward. Speaking of industrial design ….

2. Embrace Your Artistic Side

Customers want great-looking products. Shapes should have beautiful curves and surfaces that are flowing, organic, visually appealing, and aesthetically pleasing. Many of these elements emerge during concept design.

Cricket helmet designed for Indian market by BANG design.
BANG DESIGN used freeform surfacing in Creo to help create this cricket helmet designed specifically for the needs of players in India.

CAD tools for industrial design can create shapes and surfaces with explicitly defined curves for boundaries, trajectories, and sections. Other methods allow you to design by “feel,” dynamically creating and manipulating surfaces by dragging in 3D space. Another technique imitates modeling in clay, where you start with a lump and push and pull the shape to the intended form.

Why limit yourself to any single approach? Explore a combination of techniques to create truly beautiful concepts and, ultimately, products your stakeholders will love.

3. Try Alternatives—Lots and Lots of Them!

Don’t lock a product’s design with only a single concept. “One and done” never results in the best solution. You want to let your creativity run free to test different ideas. The more concepts you try, the more likely you are to develop a truly outstanding product.

Screen capture of office chair designed using Creo Design Exploration Extension.

Creo Design Exploration Extension organizes alternative designs, creating a system of branches as design variations diverge, all within one CAD file.

PTC’s Trends in Concept Design study revealed that most frequently, the average number of alternatives during the design phase is a shockingly low three. Furthermore, projects benefit by generating more concepts while reducing the time spent in the concept phase. How can you output more in less time? Here are three ideas:

  • Use a tool that organizes and branches your concept design alternatives, so you can quickly and cleanly access, leverage, and modify variants. [Check out this video to see how it works in Creo Design Exploration Extension.] No more copying and saving in folders. Everything resides in your source CAD file.
  • Use artificial intelligence to suggest design concepts for you. A good generative design engine can produce numerous alternatives that meet whatever constraints you set.
  • Increase collaboration by sharing your designs with team members in a common repository, such as a PDM system. This ensures your ideas are accessible, sharable, and secure.

4. Think Like a Customer and a Marketer

Design the kind of product that you yourself would buy – but also think about what would make you buy that product. That is, get perspective on how your product looks when it’s in the showroom or catalog. Try the following:

  • Image rendering tools show what your product would look like in an environment with actual lighting.
  • Animations of your concepts demonstrate how they would operate mechanically, while simple “turntable” animations act as if you were showing off the product in a showroom.
  • Augmented reality experiences let you use your phone or tablet to see it actual size in the real world.

All these visual tools will increase your ability to develop concepts and then judge them objectively. Plus, they’re a great way to make sure others fully understand your ideas.

Augmented reality experience showing alternative windscreens for snowmobile.

An engineer uses an augmented reality experience to evaluate alternative windscreens on a snowmobile.

If your product development organization is looking to improve its concept designs and competitive advantage, do yourself a favor and start with first principles, be artistic, move fast, and think like a customer. These tips can help you generate more and better design concepts today.

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Tags: CAD Retail and Consumer Products Connected Devices

About the Author

Dave Martin

Dave Martin is a Creo, Windchill, and PTC Mathcad instructor and consultant. He is the author of the books “Top Down Design in Creo Parametric,” “Design Intent in Creo Parametric,” and “Configuring Creo Parametric,” all available at He can be reached at

Dave currently works as the configuration manager for Elroy Air, which develops autonomous aerial vehicles for middle-mile delivery. Previous employers include Blue Origin, Amazon Prime Air, Amazon Lab126, and PTC. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT and is a former armor officer in the United States Army Reserves.