So, what does an Online Concept Designer do?

Job profiles at Serviceplan

Web designers and art directors design websites, portals, newsletters and a lot more. Copy writers and editors are in charge of the content. And programmers code that content.
An online concept designer makes sure that the product is user friendly, effective and attractive for its target group. It is a really interesting job with many attractive tasks and great prospects. Today, we will introduce you to Ursi Jäger, a concept designer at Plan.Net Pulse and Helen Birke, head of concept at Plan.Net Pulse.

  • Dear Helen and Ursi, an online concept designer structures content, creates content indexes and develops user- and data stream guidelines to visualize concepts for colleagues and clients. Once that concept is approved, it is also the template for designers and programmers to carry out their work and realize the product. Is that right?

    Ursi: Totally, all the tasks you mentioned are part of our job.

    Helen: Well, your description matches the requirements for information architecture. And that is one crucial part of the job. But an online concept designer is in charge of a lot more. On the one hand, we intensely focus on our user. What are his or her needs? What kind of attention span does this person bring along and how high is the willingness to interact? On the other hand, we incorporate the objectives the client is trying to reach with that website or mobile application. We offer our clients professional and strategic advice to help them reach their goals effectively.

    Ursi: “Increasing reach”, is one of the typical client goals that we are faced with in our job. A classic request would be, to try and encourage more users to actively select a certain content on their platform. Our approach is, to take into consideration what creative and technical tools can help us reach that goal. We will then discuss our thoughts and ideas with designers and programmers.

    Helen: Bringing information architecture, the goals of our client, the needs of the users and the technical possibilities into unison – that is the core task of an online concept designer.

  • Can you give us some classical examples from your daily work life?

    Helen: Well, we have completed a lot of different projects for a diverse bunch of clients. We´ve worked for the automobile industry, b2b in the finance sector and even cream cheese. Also, our products are adapted to fit all kinds of different markets and languages. I can´t really give you a standard example of our work – it is always kind of different.

    Ursi: Even just because the goals and target groups vary so much: one client might want to generate more awareness for their brand, another might want to launch an eCommerce process.

    Helen: There is also a great difference, depending on whether we are developing a website or portal from scratch – or if we are „merely” relaunching an existing product. Relaunching means giving an existing portal a new face and supplying it with the newest cutting-edge technology. We also service portals continuously, by updating and optimizing the structure, keeping up with newest technology and improving the design. Another part of our job is to plan and realize mini usability tests during live operation. Those tests are called A-B tests. And then there is also campaigning, social media projects, newsletters and sometimes totally new topics and tasks that come around the corner…

    Ursi: …for example the integration of speech assistance systems.

  • Do you mean something like Alexa?

    Ursi: Exactly.

  • So Ursi, what is your daily routine like? Do you hide away somewhere in a quiet room and develop concepts and then suddenly: tada – the job is done?

    Helen:  That could be nice for a change.

  • Or do you coordinate with colleagues and clients in between? And if so: what is it that you guys talk about?

    Ursi: Our job is all about team work: we discuss our client briefings with designers, programmers and editors from the very start. Oftentimes, we will redefine our goals in more detail after the first briefing. If we have the chance to do that, then things are going really well. It means, that we can ask questions from every perspective right from the beginning. We discuss our initial conceptual thoughts in the team and then create our first binding version of the concept.

    Helen: It is important for us to find out at an early stage, whether our assumptions and approaches are viable through the eyes of a subject expert. Continuously staying in dialog and receiving feedback and constructive ideas from our clients really helps the process.

    Ursi: Yes, we see ourselves as facilitators between all of the experts.

  • How much technological know-how and expertise does one need to work as an online concept designer? Or is it better for the job to not think in technological possibilities and categories?

    Helen: It is helpful to have basic technological knowledge. You don´t have to know how to program Java or set up an HTML- site. But tech knowledge is useful for the job.

  • Can you do all of that?

    Helen: Yep, I have a degree in computer sciences and learned all of that during my studies. But what is most important for the job – you need to be able to estimate whether a client wish is technically possible, or not. And it really helps being able to rephrase a client wish into a language that a programmer can understand.

    Ursi: I am a trained designer, not a computer scientist. I used to be an art director and worked with developers for many years. My technically inclined colleagues appreciate my approach from the communication perspective. We have a great setting and basis to develop collective solutions here.

  • What individual talents might be useful to an online concept designer? Is it helpful to be great at analyzing, abstracting and structuring things?

    Ursi: Yes, all of those are useful. But most of all, you should be curious and persistent. Don´t always accept the first answer. Keep asking, until you have completely understood and can build your own opinion on the subject.

    Helen: Totally. Curiosity is one of the most important assets. Even just because possibilities and solutions keep popping up on the market. And knowing about those, can save one of your projects. You can´t always know all the innovations, but if you aren´t curious, you can fall behind quickly. Being a generalist is another important quality for our job. You must be able to do a lot of things, but you don´t have to be a super specialized expert in one area. Being open-minded and communicative are important qualifications, as well.

  • Ursi, how did you become an online concept designer?

    Ursi: I am a designer at heart, but even during my time as an art director, I was always drawn towards the technological side of the job. I kept asking our developers questions such as “How does that work in TYPO3? What is the extension for? What is a data model?”. I was destined to become an online concept designer sooner or later. My background as an art director helps me in my job today

  • Ursi is a typical career changer then, right? Is it still common for people from different professional backgrounds to switch into the job of an online concept designer? Or do they have specific university degrees for that kind of job nowadays?

    Helen: There are degrees for that now. The graduates are generalists, like us. Except that they are trained in the areas of technology, design and business administration. Most professionals in our line of business are career changers still, because those specific degrees are very new. It is going to take a while, until graduate concept designers with work experience will be in the majority.

    Ursi: I think it is an advantage for an online concept designer if your CV is not quite linear.

  • Meinhard von Gerkan, the architect of the Berlin station had envisioned an arch construction for the basement floor. Instead, the Deutsche Bahn CEO instructed that a flat roof was built, without discussing it with von Gerkan. Do things like that happen to you, too? How do you handle situations like that?

    Helen: Honestly, it happens to us all the time. Our concept is signed off, suddenly the client decides to implement a small “detail”, which can totally turn our concept over. That is when we must support our clients and provide expert advice to make the advantages of our original concept clear. We explain the consequences that the implementation of the new client idea may have on the entire project. If the consequences are of no great magnitude, we will just go ahead and make the change. Compromises are part of daily business and the solutions finding process

  • How is your job profile going to change in the next few years? What are the greater trends? And how does that affect your daily work routine?

    Ursi: I can´t tell you what exactly is going to change. But I can tell you that much: the job profile is constantly changing, that is for sure. Just to give you one example: our users swipe or click to interact. Right now, I am working on voice control solutions. That is totally different to any user control concept that we have had before.

  • Just one more final, personal question: are you guys heavy users? I could imagine that would be helpful in your job.

    Helen: One should be interested in the digital world, but I would not go as far as to call myself a heavy user. How about you, Ursi?

    Ursi: No, I am no heavy user.

    Helen: I am interested in the newest developments and want to try them out. And if an innovation is relevant to one of our projects, I will investigate it during my private time, as well. I might even turn into a heavy user until I have figured out how it works.

  • Dear Helen and Ursi, thank you so much for the great interview. Is there anything else you would like to tell the people out there?

    Helen: We are currently looking for online concept designers. Our team is very heterogenous and international. Come and work with us!

    Ursi: And have fun!

Did we spark your appetite? Then go ahead and apply for a job advertisement (in German only) as Online Concept Designer at Plan.Net Pulse now.

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