What does design have to do with strategy?

A good process is half the work

Design has gone from focusing mainly on aesthetics, visual appeal, and functionality to now also be applied to strategy and business development. This is quite controversial to some. After all – why should businesses hire designers to strategise when they have excellent – and well-paid - business professionals to do that?

Turning business people into quasi-designers is not a good strategy for integrating design in business processes. It makes more sense to include professional designers in the process.
Ellen Lidgren, Director of EGGS Oslo

We put strategies to the test

Many, of course, think of design thinking when they hear about design and designers. And design thinking is essential in creating both new strategies, services, and products. One of the most important reasons for including designers in strategy development is our ability to prototype, test, experiment, and validate. A good strategy needs more than market research, creative thinking, and analysis. By iterating and testing out parts of the strategy, hypothesis, and assess and prioritise value before launching them, we can save money, time, and resources and deliver sustainable business strategies.

However, Design thinking is not worth much without design doing. No matter how excellent a strategy is, it needs to be executed before it can deliver results. The strategy is just the starting point. A new strategy means operational changes for an organisation, such as structure, business model, and brand. This is where design doing comes into play.

Roughly broken down, the designer’s approach to strategy consists of strategic thinking and design doing. This is compared to the business approach of strategic thinking and design thinking. The difference between thinking and doing is where the value of designers can be articulated.
Lee Anderson, Design Strategist and researcher

Successful strategy design is not only about creative thinking. It's also about successful implementation and about ensuring that the best ideas survive the process. Designers should be involved in the process in order to test, validate and deliver a sustainable strategy.

Great processes produce great results

Designers spend a lot of time and energy on processes. We enter them with an open mind and without assumptions. That way, we can use them to gather as much insight as possible and enhance the final deliverables. When working with strategy, this means we can use the process to ensure buy-in within the organisation and its stakeholders. We’re able to design a participative and inclusive process that harnesses collective creativity by using co-creation effectively.

A participative process approach makes it a lot easier to implement the strategy, translating it into real action. When doing this, visualisation is an essential tool. When people can visualise the strategic options, choices, and ideas, they become easier to grasp and discuss. When we «share a point of view,» we can also discuss the same topics and eliminate unnecessary misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Visual documentation of a strategy is a fantastic compliment to a strategy document that makes it easier to transform the strategy into actionable points. That is what design doing is all about.

Disruptive business strategy requires an open mind

Design methodology is tailored to deal with uncertainty. As the commercial landscape changes rapidly and transformation is the only constant, design can help turn this volatility into a positive power and a business advantage. Gifted designers combine a systematic approach to problem-solving with strong visualisation capabilities, ethnography, and pattern recognition when creating strategies.

We often begin strategy-work by looking for inspiration and doing insight, which will drive the process and way of thinking about the world as it should be. When the creative, generative phase is complete, we use analytical tools to evaluate ideas. We need them to understand the market and competition and how companies should best use their resources and skills to execute the strategy. We also develop scenarios of possible futures rather than spreadsheets.

Designers do not see the world as a fixed canvas. They typically take an optimistic approach by which they perceive the world to contain a vast range of possibilities that can be crafted and bent to their will.
Rachel Botrel Novais, Management Consultant

All in all, I’d say that including designers in strategy development is not a matter of taking a chance. Nor is it a matter of scrapping your business consultants and substituting them with designers. Including designers in creating a new business model, business strategy, or product strategy is being smart. It’s a way of lowering risks, ensuring implementation, and strategic action. It's a tool to translate abstract visions into actionable points. Designer skills like empathy, invention, and iteration are all key to build resilient, profitable, and sustainable organisations, services, and products.

Sounds interesting?

Ellen Lidgren

Let's talk to Director of EGGS Oslo
Ellen Lidgren
+47 415 20 326

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