Concept modeling revolves around the visual representation of concepts, broad to specific. These ideas exist only in individual's thoughts and their purpose is for us to collaborate on ideas understanding the subject matter of which is to be presented. The overall goal is to simplify complex information or ideas visually. Concept models close the gap between requirements and planning, between stating the problem and solving the problem. It establishes a consolidated holistic view of what the project is, what it does and the users it will help. It is also a great way to show visually how business goals align with user goals.


High-level conceptual modeling is to inform the entire process. Throughout the different stages of a project, the model serves different purposes. The main purpose is to identify what we are doing and who we are doing it for. Once there is a consensus on a high level, we can move through the more specifics of the mode through the life cycle of a project.


One of the challenges of concept modeling is it could inherently live in abstract concepts. We could wind up with an output that has no clear direction or next step. The key is to focus on a logical set of smaller concepts based on the project goals. All concept models should reflect goal driven objectives. Where we are now to where we are going and who we are targeting. There should be clear paths and objectives with a collaborative process.


A client's perception of how their final project will look may differ in the actual result through an iterative process. The goal is to help steer the client toward their business goals starting at the high level. Concept models are also efficient ways to rule out what clients do not want. They can be successful if we incorporate multiple perspectives in order to show clients there is more than one way to achieve their business goals. This allows for greater discussion of options and gives the client a feeling of empowerment to have choices. In a general sense we want to communicate through concept modeling that there is more than one way of looking at how we can achieve the client's goals without having to spend time on multiple iterations because of miscommunication.

A Broad View of Concept Modeling

You can begin with a diagram from a broad perspective then branch out to details and actions. Concept models take many different formats and shapes. Below is an example of a starting point and then filling in the labels and adding more details. We start with a main topic or application and then add smaller topics or categories which stem from the larger project. We can branch out the details of those topics to aid discussion and gain consensus on the inventory of topics and details.

Concept Model

Establishing Key Relationships

Concept models help determine strategy for establishing templates, components, modules, navigation and the underlying structure of a project. We want to establish a framework where, through the use of labeling different parts of the concept model, we can provide the correct terms and vocabulary to engage in richer discussion. This will also clarify some of the more obscure concepts and more clearly describe the key relationships of the project. Key relationships can show dependency, and this can help in the discussion process on how those dependencies are created and interact with one another. The goal is to map out these high level relationships and speak of the dependencies to help in the later stages of planning as there is more consensus on the overall project goals. The following is a simple model of how a page breaks down and what components and type of content would be available: Page Breakdown

Levels of Concept Modeling

One of the key aspects of a concept model is it does not force a hierarchical relationship like sitemaps do. It is more free formed and does not rely on a structured set of rules. We can take a top down approach to concept modeling by defining different levels of attributes which make up the concept model. The illustration below gives an overview of the levels to what can be applied to concept models:

Levels of Concept Modeling

Level I consists of nodes and connection links. From broad to specific and the connections showing the relationships between the nodes. Level II consists of the key relationships whether they are direct or indirect where they help communicate dependencies. They can also include backdrops which show the larger picture of the concept with the more specific in the foreground. Styles and graphics, images can be used to enhance the visual. Level III consists of more well-formed concepts and complex models. They communicate in-depth comparisons (ex. competitor analysis) metaphors (specific analogies) or stories (step process, in-depth examples related to the concept and its key relationships). By taking the time to build effective concept modeling, a business' overall goal can be better structured and understood in such a way that everything about a business online can be planned for more effectively. Seeing a visual representation of ideas that might only otherwise exist in the head of an individual, not only helps us plan more effectively, it can also help a business more clearly understand their own business goals. Do you have questions about how concept modeling can help your online business? Let us know in the comments section below or by contacting us on Twitter.