Defining Design Strategy

Design strategy is a way of focusing and guiding the design process to create value by reconciling user needs with business goals through a mix of empirical research and structured, measured experimentation.  Design strategy is practiced in a process that is:

  • Participatory: enabling broad participation in the defining of the problem to be addressed and potential solutions to it
  • Iterative: relying on drafts, mock-ups, and prototypes to communicate design ideas, get feedback to evaluate them, and refine them
  • Integrative: solving the design problem holistically, achieving the goals without making trade-offs

Design strategy has both inner and outer aspects, existing as both a mindset or characteristic way of seeing the world and as an associated toolkit of relevant skills and competencies. The mindset includes empathy, tolerating ambiguity, seeing systems and relationships, self-awareness, thriving on feedback, and challenging the status quo.  The skillset to put this thinking into practice includes observation and needfinding, storytelling, prototyping, organizing, editing, and facilitation. Combining this mindset and skillset enables design to be more than the styling of a product, service, or brand but rather a way of defining and solving problems, guided by an intention in order to create value for customers and businesses alike.

There are five key ingredients to putting design strategy to work, whether it be for the design of information, products, services, experiences, relationships or spaces. These include:

  1. Engage a variety of stakeholders – Work with a range of people to understand different needs and aspirations and enlist help in moving in a new direction.
  2. Make things tangible – Use stories, mock-ups, prototypes, tours, examples, or other means to communicate ideas so they can be understood and evaluated.
  3. Test multiple options – Enable ideas to compete and enable participants to give better feedback and decisions by being able to compare, select, and combine different solutions
  4. Think integration – Rather than break up a problem into pieces (analysis), solve it all at once (synthesis) so as to avoid making trade-offs or coming up with partial solutions that don’t fit together
  5. Connect design and use – Instead of thinking of design as the delivery of a product/service/space with a finite ending, consider design as a process of continuously supporting use.

By bringing together the mindset and skillset as well as these 5 practices, design strategy can create value in the design of information, products, services, and spaces, enabling  people and businesses to thrive.