Concept Selection or Detail Design

Which do you like better "Concept Selection" or "Detail Design"? I was once asked this question in one of my job interviews.

To understand this discussion better, we need to define these terms first. Concept Selection is the initial project phase where a list of potential solutions is analyzed and compared to each other. This process is a multi-criteria analysis. Each potential solution is given a score on each criterion used in the comparison. Examples of criteria may be Initial Cost, Operational Cost, Environmental Impact, Robustness, etc.

Concept selection is a process of:

  • evaluating concepts
  • comparing the relative strengths and weaknesses of the concepts
  • selecting one or more concepts for further investigation or development

On the other hand, the detail design phase is the final stage of the design prior to implementation. Options have been selected, design criteria have been set, and all inputs needed are available. This is the time to combine everything to come up with the final design that is workable and ready for construction.

Not all Engineers could actually do the Concept Selection phase of a project. Knowledge and wild imagination are the keys to being successful in this field. This is not the playing field for the faint-hearted.

In my case, having been involved in both phases, given a preference, I would choose Detailed Design over Concept Selection. However, knowing that I was actually applying for a Concept Select Stage of a project, I replied to the interviewer that I like Concept Selection better as I could play with more options and recommend whichever is more suitable. The interviewer was happy.