Strategic design

Shifting design from tactical to strategic

A fundamental idea of business is that companies have goals and customers have needs. The fulfillment of these goals and needs happens in a commercial transaction that involves tangible interactions between company and customer.

These interactions are made tangible in communications, services, products and environments with outputs such as publications, printed communications, web sites, consumer products, retail stores and work spaces.

Designers are usually brought in to design these outputs and they use a range of tools and processes, such as design and brand audits, customer research, competitor research and discovery workshops to develop customer empathy that leads to their design solutions. Much of this is actually looking at outcomes rather than outputs but it is rarely sold this way to clients.

Many companies employ designers in a very tactical way, bringing them in at the last minute to simply add form to produce outputs. This ad hoc  approach can produce a satisfactory result, but it’s not able to be constantly replicated.

This is why a strategic design approach is needed. This moves design higher up in the decision making process to a point where design thinking is used to meet the goals. This type of design thinking uses methods that can be replicated project after project; without robbing creativity from the solution.

This type of design thinking has a number of elements.

Customer and user-focused: Tools such as Jobs to be done, Empathy mapping, Customer journey mapping are used to focus on the customer experience.

Discovery: Research is used to understand the customer situation and the underlying problems and needs.

Collaborative: Using co-creation to bring a diverse range of people together to approach the problem from a wide range of options.

Iterative: Using agile principles to constantly examine the problem and make incremental changes quickly.

Value adding: Using value chain analysis to understand the real factors that create value and then examines how design can add more value.

The introduction of this strategic design approach shifts the design from being tactical to strategic.

Take away

Moving design from tactical to strategic also moves the value equation. It allows you to discuss design as a value add rather than an expense.

If you would to learn more about developing a strategic design approach contact Greg Branson.

Greg Branson


Contact Greg Branson if you would like to learn more about the many programs the DBC offers.

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Greg Branson

Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.

Greg has developed The Design Business School to help owners manage their business better along with showing designers how to get more involved in the studio and develop their career path. Contact Greg.