Theme vs. Concept - And how to use them

A lot of people use the word Theme and Concept interchangeably. And yes they do have a similar connotation, but they are not one in the same; especially in the design world. And after you've read this blog post, you'll be able to apply each one to your project and decide which is right for you.


A design concept is used as the base for your entire design. It's more a broad term. Generally a concept is built on an idea or style that reflects the company or library personality. It can also be based on the overall look of the architecture or the community you're building in. Some examples of these can be things like a traditional design or a more contemporary design. You can also use styles like industrial spaces or something with a more organic feel. And again, this can totally be a decision made by looking at the community you're building in.



For example, let's say you're working on a project that's centered in a busy city with very little in the way of natural surroundings. You could go one of two ways. You can either capitalize on the existing architecture and atmosphere by using a fun industrial look with bold colors, warm wood tones and metal furniture (this would be a great addition to an energetic city with a local appeal). Or you could try a completely different concept that brings a warmer and more natural feel to its already-hectic surroundings by working with an organic design. The idea behind this of course is to create a space that is the absolute opposite of the location you're building in so you can bring something new and fresh to a community that may be hungry for a retreat or refuge from the usual hustle and bustle of city living. But a theme could take these concepts a step further.


A theme is a very specific and often specialized design idea that typically stems from a concept. It generally starts with an overall look or feel and uses a more detailed element of the design that is carried throughout an entire space or a section of the building that requires something a little more special. Like a children's area of a library for example. Children's spaces are a great place to pull a more personal theme into a design.


If your library is in a beautiful college community where nature and local flavor like music and the arts play a really big part in your design, you can generate a concept that uses organic carpet and warm earthy tones for the walls. It has a somewhat traditional concept with touches of organic undertones. You add artwork that showcases local artists and musicians and throw in furniture with soft finishes that feel very warm and inviting to patrons. This is your concept. Now you want to put a special twist on the children's area so that they feel individual and special in their own space. Here's where your theme comes in.




You want something that relates to your concept and ties it all together but brings it down to the level that children will truly appreciate and feel comfortable in. How about a local history and animal life mural with hidden images and a key for children to locate those images? It will bring so much life to the space and invites your younger patrons to interact with their surroundings. You could even post books on display that talk about the different items in the mural. Add games and tactile toys that resemble the theme as well. This is a great theme that smoothly ties your concept into a more specialized space in your building.


Every design needs a concept to work from. But you don't always need a theme. So keep in mind that they are very different and if you decide you want a theme for your space, use your concept to draw from.


For the next several weeks I will be covering more about concept designs and how they work. So if you haven't already, join my mailing list and never miss an update. And when you do, you'll get my free Plan of Action Design Guide to get you started on your own design plan. And check out my design toolbox on the website to get a look at some of my quick and reliable concept designs to use for free.



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