A two-day intensive course that to help experienced practitioners take their design skills to the next level.

Conceptual design is at the heart of what many engineering and construction companies do. Any time a member of staff is faced with a problem to solve and a blank piece of paper in front of them, they are doing conceptual design. It is this creative act that shapes everything that follows. It is where the key decisions are made that can determine the ultimate success – or failure – of a project.

And yet despite the importance of conceptual design, there existed until now no formal training methodology for experienced professionals in the engineering and construction sectors to develop their conceptual design skills.

Think Up’s Conceptual Design Thinking training programme is built on two premises:

  • Everyone can be a designer
  • Design is a process built upon skills that anyone can practise and eventually master.

The aim of this programme is to build an individual’s capacity to do conceptual design both alone and in the wider organisational and design team context. The course uses as its basis the design process diagram that we present as a model for understading how design skills can be developed.

‘Learn to understand and practice the thought process and actions behind great conceptual design’ – John Gerrard, Expedition Engineering

Deep-immersion face-to-face training

Our conceptual design training is based around understanding several conceptual frameworks for design, the development
of specific skills in support of the design process and the adoption of appropriate attitudes with respect to design. We introduce the conceptual framing and the key skills in an intensive three-day residential training course. We take this approach because in our experience this is the best way to give the participants enough time to think deeply about the value of design, to think critically about their own approach, and to transform their attitudes. Participants leave this part of the training with an understanding of theoretical frameworks for conceptual design, a range of skills which they can apply and develop in the workplace, and motivation to improve their own and others’ ability to do conceptual design.


The Think Up’s Advanced Conceptual Design Thinking  programme is built on over fifteen years’ experience of testing and developing approaches to teaching design that began with setting up the Creative Design course at Imperial College in 2000.

In the years since we have adapted and honed our approach working with a wide range of international audiences including at UCL, Yale and Cambridge. In 2015 we collaborated with Arup to design and deliver a major internal global training programme on conceptual design. The next design iteration in our design training was delivered to Expedition Engineering. This year, we return to Imperial college to join the Creative Design teaching course. All of this experience has informed the design of this unique training course.


Featured image of article: Advanced conceptual design thinking

Understanding design as a process

  • The characteristics of the design process
  • How stages in the design process relate to individual skills and abilities

Characterising conceptual design

  • How conceptual design differs from detailed design
  • The attitudes and skills that good conceptual design demands

Understanding the need and framing the brief

  • Approaches for how to effectively tune in to the client needs
  • Approaches for how to frame and how to interpret a brief

Techniques for idea generation

  • A systems model for understanding how ideas are generated in an organisational context
  • Techniques for researching and gathering relevant information to seed idea generation
  • Techinques for applying active and passive attention to design problems

Conceive-model-test loops for iterative design

  • Understanding the role of modelling and testing in design, and how iterative loops are used to develop ideas
  • Techniques for effective modelling in a wide range of contexts
  • Understanding the nature of different types of test in design and their relationship to the brief

Effective decision-making

  • A model for understanding the factors which influence effective decision making in design teams and organisations more generally
  • Techniques for easier decision making
  • Techniques for avoiding the common decision-making pitfalls

Personal approaches to design

  • Use of the artist, artisan, pragmatist, philosopher model for identifying personal approaches and preferences in design

Building teams for design

  • Understanding the role of motivation in design teams
  • Developing appropriate attitudes towards design in design teams
  • Using Aristotle’s model for rhetoric as a model for analysing and developing a pitch

Related Courses


Featured image of article: Conceptual Design for Structural Engineers – An Advanced Course for Experienced Practitioners

The aim of this course is to help experienced designers take their conceptual design skills to the next level by helping them understand and interpret the tacit design skills that already use and developing strategies and practical suggestions for how to enhance the skills, with a particular focus on: understanding client need; generating and iteratively developing ideas; effective decision-making in design; and managing design teams.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • Be able to characterise the design process and describe how each stage requires different skills and attitudes
  • Describe how conceptual design differs from detailed design and the consequences for how design is carried out
  • Use techniques for understanding the underlying need behind a client brief
  • Describe a model for idea generation and use this to lead a design team through the creative process
  • Understand the relationship between modelling, testing and the design brief, and use this to establish an effective iterative design process
  • Understand the nature of subjective decision-making in design
  • Describe strategies for building an effective design team
Related Events
Event Date(s)

Start date: 11 Dec 2018
End date: 12 Dec 2018

Host Organisation
Institution of Structural Engineers

The Institution of Structural Engineers International HQ
47-58 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PS

£570-738 inc. VAT
Further Information

Oliver Broadbent is an expert facilitator and trainer in design thinking for the built environment. With a background in civil engineering and teaching, he specialises in designing high-impact training that has a lasting effect on the learner.

Oliver is Director of engineering education and training consultancy Think Up. There he leads the development of Think Up’s programme of design training for an international portfolio of design consultancies. He also works with universities including Cambridge, Bath and Imperial to develop innovative approaches to curriculum design and delivery.

Oliver has co-authored a series of good practice teaching guides for the Royal Academy of Engineering on experience-led learning, e-learning for engineers, effective industrial engagement in engineering education and how to teach sustainability. He is a Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor at Imperial College, London.

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