Mohamed Yahia

Thoughts on building solid multi-dimensional solutions.

Hala 🤩

Great innovations start with a concept, a good concept is a well-structured compensation of multiple ideas and layers, and each serves multiple or one purposes.

Everything goes with the speed of light in today’s world, But the ones who shape the Future should not do. On the opposite, we should take time, step Back, Rethink things, Basics, and illusion.

& That’s mostly the core of this article.

This article aims to give you the foundational understandings and principles which empower you to build better multi-dimensional conceptual models, which means a lot.

Before Adopting a specific path, There are too many great concepts, but only well-structured ones will succeed.

“The designer has an obligation to provide an appropriate conceptual model for the way that the device works. It doesn’t have to completely accurate but it has to be sufficiently accurate that it will help in both the learning of the operation and also dealing with novel situations.”

— Donald A. Norman

Points we will discuss here:

  • Conceptual Model Definition.
  • When Concept Design Come in during the design cycle?
  • Vertical and horizontal.
  • Multi-Dimensional Solution (Technology — User — Business).
  • Basic Conceptual Model Breakdown (Purpose — Structure — Behavior).
  • Conceptual Model, Know How.
  • Concepts To Be avoided (Unfulfilled Purpose, Overloaded Concept, Unmotivated Concept, and Redundant Concept).
  • Make it right, Avoid more mistakes.

& Let’s start 🧐 !!

Conceptual Model Definition.

Wikipedia mentions 🧐: “A conceptual model is a representation of a system, made of the composition of concepts used to help people know, understand, or simulate a subject the model represents. It is also a set of concepts. Some models are physical objects; for example, a toy model may be assembled, and may be made to work like the object it represents.”

But let’s be more specific, here we want to talk about the Digital conceptual model. so let’s consider this definition, Which I like most ❤️:

Conceptual Model is a detailed representation of your digital solution 👀.

Where you use the various discovery phase results related to the target audience / prospective users, business objectives/strategy, and technology to build a solid journey and composition covering the different use cases and scenarios 😩😂.

It is an immersed relationship between the different elements/blocks of your solution which separately and fully should consider the heuristics/principles and criteria related to the user experience and human dimensions such as psychology and mental models & extra 🤓.

The secret to designing an intuitive user experience is making sure that the conceptual model of your product matches, as much as possible, the mental models of your users. If you get that right you will have created a positive and useful user experience.

— Susan Weinschenk

This definition clarifies why there might be one million solutions for the same issue. As designers, we rely too much on our own experiences and knowledge during this stage. That’s what makes the difference.

Did you ever imagined that a movie 📺 you watched while you were a child would at some-point affect the concepts you produce!?

— Believe me. It will 😎!

When Concept Design Come in during the design cycle?

Good question🤓. Building a conceptual model is supposed to happen while you have a bulk of findings and a white blank paper 📋. Naturally, it should come before starting the prototype cycle and after the discovery phase. Before sketching or building any solution or system components, you should first plan and build your conceptual model.

I’m not doing this, and it is fine! — Unknown Designer!

No it’s not fine dear designer,

Conceptual model is intuitive till the degree of not noticing it! I can say that the foundational layer of logic is partly a conceptual model! So When was the last time you build a design without a logic!?

Our brain 🧠 It is full of mysteries; I’m not sure how many designers hear multiple voices as if it is a running discussion on their minds during the ideation stage. But at least I can confirm I’m not the only one!

And to control your own chaos, you need to follow a solid structure. Which will lead to better-studied results 🤓 towards the end.

Horizontal And Vertical!?

We should think about each’s surface and depth during the building of system/product/service/😅 whatever process. And while we are detailing the roots, this should pull new facts to the surface, which in most cases will affect the surface layer or at least one or more different surface roots. Basically, it occurs a certain change in relations.

As Designers ☠️ , we used to follow a similar strategy during the prototyping. We start with the features “Surface,” and then we drill down to cover the detail of each function “the roots.” The same concept here. It is key for a successful conceptual model.

Read more about it as a part of my article: Digital Prototype — The Full guide

Multi-Dimensional Solutions

Honestly, Throughout more than 12 years of experience. I saw with my own eyes bad pitched in a perfect way and find its path to the light. and great concepts taken directly to the trash, and sadly, It’s not about marketing skills. here it is,

Designers’ nature is different than business. Most of us, as designers, prefer to present, talk, and think deeply technical. Following this mindset, you might achieve a solution that emerges the harmony between business, human, and technology in some cases and with talented designers. In such a case, the approval is more about you being lucky! This should not be the norm!

Multi-dimensional solutions emerge the harmony between Human, Business & Technology.

— Bymoha.com

That’s it, by default, and whatever type of designers you are, you should think about the deep connection between these things. Choosing the language of discussions is a different topic, but we won’t achieve that without implementing the basics.

It’s better to deliver a multi-dimensional conceptual model for less iteration 😑 and reduce the time-consuming during the design process and develop more convenient solutions, which should cover multiple aspects such as “User, Business, and Technology.”

& by each we mean 🤔:

👻 HUMANS ,

Your customer. The core experience part should cover their needs based on the research results & insights. Moreover, you should invent a logical relationship concept that empowers you to cover the business aspect better. What are the user needs, the latent ones, their behaviors, the ones we can shape, and how could it be aligned with the business ones?

🏦 BUSINESS,

Someone out there hired you to help him achieve his objective, following his vision. I believe you could not only help him do so; instead, if you wish, take the extra mile and reshape his objectives, vision to more realistic, impactful ones. Roughly talk, a conceptual model should exceed that to reach more impactful business aspects, affecting overall business performance and profit, such as marketing strategy, value-chain, operations, brand, etc. And the more you understand the core of the business, the more you will be able to innovate here! Your design could change at a particular moment the business itself! Be reasonable.

🛠 TECHNOLOGY,

Is it feasible? Implementable? What about the operational-fees? These questions should be answered first by you! It does not make sense for anyone to invest 100k monthly when the entire project income doesn’t exceed that number! You don’t need VR complex implementation for startups in early stages “most of the cases,” be simple as much as you can as far as this won’t affect the overall product experience.

🎯 The Roadmap,

It would help if you thought about the roadmap. In most cases, and to avoid shipping junk, I build a conceptual model covering both the short and long term. This actually not only helping me innovating and building more futuristic products that could be implemented right now. But also keeps the relation on.

“Good design is good business.”

— Thomas J. Watson

Conceptual Model Breakdown (Purpose — Structure — Behavior).

Conceptual models are a set of ideas that help characterize a system or a certain part of it. To keep things in control, we should first build the conceptual model toms (tiny concepts) and then scale up to structure the relations between different concepts building the larger image, the conceptual model.

Any concept should cover three essential elements at least 🤓, which are (Purpose, Structure, and Behavior) and here is further detailed for what we mean by that:

1. Purpose:

What is this for? The objective helps to achieve the usage of it. In some cases, it could not be that direct. For example, the purpose of trash in macOS could be to allow the user to under deletion. Understanding the deepest purpose(s) behind each concept is essential.

2. Structure:

What to expect there? The atoms of a certain part of the system. Detailing how this particular part of the system will look or atoms is a key to communicate the concept we are about to. But to build a more consistent conceptual model from the very beginning.

3. Behavior:

How it will be used, what actions are required from the user side, what kind of feedback the system will give, what are the jobs the system will do in parallel?

Conceptual Model, Know How.

Conceptual models are meant to characterize systems and clearly define, communicate the behavioral aspect.

There are too many ways to achieve such an objective, although we should define how it could be efficient enough to save time, build, and communicate.

What is a good conceptual model?

Throughout my journey designing and developing many conceptual models, I learned that there are multiple areas eventually you will cover, which are:

  • ✏️ Highlighting the key insights: 
    Conceptual models built based on the discovery phase’s input, it’s important to highlight research takeaways, the core inputs used to move forward, and the most impactful ones.
  • 📜 History, what, and why? 
    It’s important to keep a light version of your progress while working on conceptual models. It’s also important to keep it for documentation purposes and better communication/handoff whenever needed. Show the directions you explored and why it’s not applicable “briefly.”
  • 🔗 Building the focal point, which hooks business, technology, and humans: 
    I mean the list of principles (usually does not exceed three to five points) that play the key role in defining the overall behavior. And eventually, play the core role in defining the design strategy. 
    It is meant to be short, straightforward, and meaningful. Terms like “Nudge, Hook, sustainable, etc.” could be a good sample.
  • 🌠 Visualized map:
    The most tricky part, there is no typical way to visualize your conceptual model. However, it’s important to ensure a minimum quality or detail level, and here are a few points ensuring this: 
     — Show the architecture. 
     — Clarify and detail the interactions. 
     — Highlight Technical challenges. Answer the “why”. 
     — Sketches, Samples help a lot. 
     — Color code routes and sections. 
     — Shareable, Editable links instead of PDFs. 
     — Consistent visual meanings.

Breaking down a conceptual model will reveal its concepts. How to communicate a concept is a one million way task. Nothing is an absolute right, and obesity is right.

It’s important to understand which quality you need to build based on who you are trying to communicate with (circles of feedback) and The stage you are in.

We can borrow lots of principles of Rapid prototyping. For this particular purpose, you could rely on the circles of feedback concept and then define what quality to go with. It’s about planning your conceptual modeling activities and validation circles, so you don’t invest much time working hard to ship junk.

The lower yet clear quality you can use for a high-level feedback circle is a good strategy if you consider educating your clients.

Concepts To avoid

Concepts could break itself easly if you missed avoiding a few things while building it ☠️. Sometimes the error will be visible, but most of the time you won’t notice until you validate it deeply, Especially for these huge and complex ones.

Here we will try to spot the light on the most common mistakes which you may have within your concepts.

📭 Unfulfilled Purpose:

Function does not have a clearly aligned purpose.

🐌 Unmotivated Concept:

Functions that have no clear reason to be included.

👨‍❤️‍💋‍👨 Redundant Concept:

Also described as unnecessary concepts, but here we are talking about having two functions and both serving the same purpose.

🔥 Overloaded Concept:

The same function handles two purposes or more. These two purposes are tied together, which means that users cannot fulfill these purposes separately, but only in combination.

Make it right, Avoid more mistakes

Like anything else, conceptual models could be good, or bad based on how it will be used, and its execution plan. here are few points to consider:

  • Progressively, Detail it: Conceptual models require a deep understanding of multiple aspects, In most cases, you are not the domain expert, and you might spend weeks develop something to be rejected. To not end up with such a situation, it’s better to build it progressively. Starting with the surface, the overall concept, and then to detail out things.
  • Implementation Challenge: To avoid ending up with a conceptual model that was accepted by stakeholders and rejected by another, make sure that you include different stakeholders, different departments, and mindsets in the validation sessions, especially the early ones.
  • Define the scope: Conceptual models in not infinite and should not be. Focus on certain scope, objective, or even set logical limits on the go.
  • Build & Reuse: Conceptual models empower you to use reusable concepts more often; don’t miss such an advantage. And do not overuse it.
  • Collaborate, Early: With your internal team, with your client, make sure you communicate, evaluate, and solve issues as early as possible.

we come to an end. next time we will take multiple examples of what I developed before.

Salamat 🙏

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Mohamed Yahia © 2007 - 2021.