Here at Interwoven, design strategy is critical to our projects going smoothly and successfully. We continually check in to confirm that we are aligned with our strategy goals and that all of the team members are clear on the key priorities and goals for each phase in the process. A good design strategy is like a good map; it helps you know where you are, and where you are going.
One of the reasons a design strategy is so powerful is that it allows people with different goals and priorities to become aligned such that all of their various goals can be achieved. As designers we are creative critical thinkers. We can digest the different needs and wants of diverse stakeholders and prioritize them, generating a roadmap that everyone can follow to success. In this Insight article we will outline what design strategy is, how it can benefit you as a designer and as a business, and the steps to creating a design strategy for your next project.
What is Design Strategy?
Design strategy sits at the intersection of business strategy and user needs. It is a methodical approach to crafting solutions tailored to specific objectives. It involves a thorough examination of project and organizational goals, an understanding of stakeholder needs, and the development of a plan to create effective, efficient, and sustainable solutions. The scope of design strategy may include product design, graphic design, user experience design, service design, and more.
Design strategy isn’t limited to any one industry or any one department; it can be applied whether you’re crafting an innovative product, developing a marketing campaign, ensuring a seamless user experience, or delivering quality services. It is difficult to define clearly, as there is no one formula that fits all. Design strategy is whatever you need it to be, and the process is tailored to the needs of the moment. Often it involves conducting research to gain insights into user needs and preferences, identifying design opportunities and constraints, and formulating a clear plan for designing and implementing solutions. A successful design strategy may take into account the broader context within which a project or organization operates, including market trends, competition, and technological advancements. These strategies should also be adaptable to changing circumstances and user feedback.
The Benefits of Design Strategy
Implementing a robust design strategy goes beyond merely captivating users; it streamlines work processes, aligning them with goals and cost-effectiveness. It involves a meticulous examination of your starting point and ultimate destination, followed by charting the precise path to reach your objectives. A successful strategy naturally leads to successful products and services for users, but it has many benefits for the business as well. Here are some key benefits of a good design strategy:
- Customer Satisfaction: Design strategy places the customer at the core of problem-solving. By empathizing with users and comprehending their needs, businesses can devise solutions tailored to their target audience. This approach boosts customer satisfaction and loyalty.
- Efficient Problem-Solving: Design strategy empowers teams to swiftly pinpoint and address issues, and ensures that they execute in the correct direction. This expedites decision-making and issue resolution, speeding up the entire design process.
- Collaboration and Cross-Functional Teamwork: A big picture design strategy encourages collaboration and open communication among team members from diverse backgrounds. Cross-functional team goals are better aligned and tasks are more efficiently distributed, yielding more successful outcomes.
- Cost Savings: Concentrating on solving the right problems and creating solutions that genuinely address user needs allows design strategy to help businesses steer clear of squandered resources on ineffective products or services. This leads to cost savings and enhanced operational efficiency.
- Risk Management: A thoughtful design strategy equips businesses to identify and mitigate potential risks early in the development process, bolstering risk management efforts.
Incorporating design strategy into your business can yield numerous advantages, from customer-centric solutions to enhanced operational efficiency. By adopting these principles, organizations can position themselves for growth and competitiveness in today’s dynamic market landscape.
Five Steps to Creating a Design Strategy
With any design project, it is worthwhile to invest some time in developing a well-structured design strategy. This strategy can act as your north star throughout the project journey. In the words of Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman, “Design strategy always is—or should be—at the forefront of our creative process.” Here are our five key steps to developing a design strategy:
1. Define Clear Business Goals
Begin by establishing specific business objectives and goals for your project. Your design strategy should align with your company’s needs and objectives, from supporting your holistic brand strategy to considering tactical approaches for each department. Consider conducting a design sprint workshop to gain insights into your main business challenges and gather valuable input. It’s essential to make these business goals transparent, measurable, and relevant to different stakeholders. This step is about seeing the big picture, which will help to plan smaller steps while staying on track with the overall goals of the project.
Once the goals are defined, effectively communicating them with your stakeholders is key. This might mean a targeted communication strategy for each stakeholder to maximize buy-in. In a recent panel discussion on design strategy, Daniela Macías, the Global Experience design Manager at Colgate-Palmolive, explained that she has learned different “business languages” to communicate her strategy and her vision to each team. She develops prototypes for packaging, compelling slide decks for marketing, and customized research highlights for consumer insights. Check out our Spotlight interview with Daniela to learn more about Design Strategy!
2. Conduct Market Research
A robust strategy involves thorough market research. While staying innovative is essential, understanding what works for competitors can provide valuable insights. Delve into your target audience’s needs and wants as well as their precise demographic makeup. Investigate competitor strategies, relevant trend forecasting, and unexplored opportunities in the market. Identify design concepts you find appealing as well as those you wish to avoid. Articulate what sets your concept apart from the competitors. Consider the role of consumer psychology in achieving your goals. Do a competitive analysis of the key differences you find between you and your competitors to discover unique benefits to your offerings and position yourself as a memorable option to users.
3. Develop Your Brand Identity
In today’s digitally saturated landscape, a distinct brand identity is crucial. It sets you apart and fosters lasting connections with your audience.
Elements of brand identity to consider include:
- Logo: An unforgettable logo that captures the essence of your brand.
- Visual Language: A visual language that fosters recognition, using visual cues like color, proportion, typography, and animation.
- Tone: A carefully calibrated tone or mood of a brand evokes sensory, emotional, and experiential elements in the audience.
- Imagery: Photography and/or illustration characterized by a consistent style and focal point.
Once these elements of brand identity have been determined, create a style guide to communicate them across teams and ensure a consistent brand style across all assets and marketing materials, from your packaging to your social media to your website. Create a hub where your style guide and key branding assets are readily available for your teams to access.
4. Create a Standardized Project Brief
Crafting a comprehensive design brief is a pivotal part of your strategy. It serves as the guiding document for any design projects within your company. A well-rounded design brief should include the following:
- Project scope: This outlines the boundaries of the project, specifying what is included and excluded from the project’s objectives. A well-defined project scope is essential for ensuring that all stakeholders have a clear understanding of what the project aims to achieve.
- Target audience: Also called the target market. This is a specific group of individuals or entities that a product, service, or campaign is designed to reach. This audience is characterized by shared demographic, behavioral, or geographic characteristics.
- Assignees: The role each department and team member will play, broken down by tasks.
- Project timeline: This estimates start and end dates (deadlines) for major objectives within the project as well as specifying key milestones in the process.
- Deliverables: The final desired outcome of the project. Deliverables are agreed upon ahead of time and should align with the project’s key objectives.
5. Design and Test
With the groundwork laid in the previous steps, you’re now ready to execute your design strategy. Keep in mind that your strategy is flexible and subject to adjustment as needed. Early testing and incorporating user feedback are integral parts of the process. The real test of a design strategy’s effectiveness comes with post-launch interaction and adaptation.
A design strategy is a comprehensive, pragmatic roadmap that not only enhances the outcomes of your projects but also ensures they are aligned across teams with your company goals and values. Maintaining open communication and a feedback loop with team members is vital to ensure ongoing performance and engagement.
The Ultimate Game Plan
Design strategy is like the well-thought-out game plan of the design world. It’s not about fancy jargon; it’s about getting things done. It’s about taking a step back, understanding what needs to be achieved, and crafting a strategy to make it happen. Want to learn more about design strategy? You can find resources ranging from formal, like this course from IDEO, to informal, like this Medium post outlining design strategy and sharing good additional reading.
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