Strategy plays an important, if not critical role in the success and outcome of goals and plans. This is true of business, life, career, and it’s foundational training for the military.
Design strategy is the term used to describe the nexus between corporate strategy and design thinking. Corporate strategy is the traditional method that businesses and other similar entities use to identify, plan, and achieve their long term objectives and goals. Design Thinking is a methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solving problems by engaging the end-users.
As in war and business, we need a way to put a strategy into effect, and that requires a methodology, a framework, a roadmap, and a way of thinking. In order to implement a design strategy, it requires a strategic thinking mindset.
What Is Strategic Thinking?
People tend to confuse strategic thinking with strategic planning and vice versa. They are different.
Strategic planning involves gathering data and deciding on a path that the business or project will take to achieve its goals. Strategic thinking involves everyone at all levels of the organization/design team consistently finding and contributing to activities that add to the organization’s success.
To think strategically means to see, and understand the bigger picture of where a team or organization needs to go, and then take action. Everyone participates.
Here are a few key questions strategic thinkers ask themselves:
- Where are we now?
- Where do we want to be?
- How will we get there?
When we think strategically we focus more on problem-solving, develop clearer strategies, promote proactive behavior, and we develop a stronger bond with employees who feel more involved and empowered.
Absent of thinking strategically, we become stagnant. We lose focus of organizational outcomes and will not remain competitive. Planning, the lifeblood of positive outcomes, is best facilitated with strategic thinking.
Applying Strategic Thinking to a Design Strategy
It’s important for designers to develop a tactical thinking approach to working with internal stakeholders. By doing so, the designer gains a better understanding of business objectives, user goals, and is able to translate these needs into meaningful design solutions.
From a design perspective, strategic thinking encourages designers to look at the design process as a problem-solving mechanism, starting by identifying the problem and working with both the client and the team to solve that problem.
It’s a “connecting the dots” approach to implementing a design strategy.
How to Implement Strategic Thinking in Design
Creating and executing a strategy is both art and science. Much like design, a strategic mindset is practiced and improved upon over time. Here is a useful framework for implementing strategic thinking in design:
- Assess– gain an understanding of the project in a holistic way, including an analysis of constraints, opportunities, and seeing the bigger picture through the lens of the business.
- Understand– make sense of the project in terms of the design and business goals. Tie the project’s outcome back to business objectives and show key results that will help support those objectives.
- Learn– formulate the elements of the strategy by planning tasks and milestones that directly support the core objectives. Ask a lot of strategic questions. For example: “Who are we designing this product for?”
- Execute– act on the strategy and make sure the entire team is included. Strategic thinking works best in collaboration.
- Check– as tasks are accomplished during the design process, it’s a good idea to reassess their effectiveness in achieving the goals and outcomes intended.
Strategic thinking, even in design, is a process that may seem a bit uncomfortable at first, but with a bit of persistence, it will create a stronger bond between the client and the design team, and show the value of design in an entirely new light.
The Benefits of Strategic Thinking in Design
What kinds of benefits are afforded for the designer who implements a tactical mindset?
- Efficiency– when we apply a strategic mindset to design, projects are better aligned with customer needs and there will be fewer revisions, and less wasted time and effort on designs that simply don’t work.
- Collaboration– strategic thinking helps the entire team aim for a common goal, which means working together, as opposed to developing a myopic view of the outcome and working separately.
- Better relationships– it is likely that a design team leader will involve strategic thinking if the company or client shares the same mindset. The resulting design will be in closer alignment with business goals, and stronger relationships will be fostered as a result of strategic thinking’s cohesive nature.
- Longevity– strategic thinking can foster a design strategy that will lead to additional projects, recommendations, and lasting friendships with business leaders.
Improving Strategic Thinking In Design
Strategic thinking improves with practice. Here are a few tips to stay sharp and polished:
Observe – Observe business goals and look for trends around those goals. Practice seeing the bigger picture and why it’s important to the client. Pay attention to issues that are raised throughout the design process and communicate these with everyone on the team.
Ask Thoughtful Questions – questions are the language of strategy. As a strategically thinking designer, ask more questions and listen more often. Become curious and ask thoughtful questions of the client, the team, and the process. Dig deep and deviate from “the script.”
Sound Strategic – a great tip is to begin structuring verbal and written communication in a way that keeps the team focused on the core objectives and results.
Focus on Issues – we are all masters of multitasking. We attend every meeting and we try to be present for every event. A better idea is to plan time accordingly and focus on issues, not people. Do we need to be at that meeting? Instead, perhaps we could focus on the goals and tasks at hand and make sure we are executing.