All design is strategic unless you just see it as implementation.
I like this approach as a framework. It’s simply a way to think through and take forward a set of actions working towards a clear end-goal.
It can be applied to all of the activities we label ‘design’.
A designer’s job is to understand the constraints they’re working with and then to make the most strategic decisions possible. They will usually do this working in a team and collaboratively with different sets of skills and roles in that team. The important thing here is that everyone has a shared understanding of the goal that they’re collectively working towards (this is why we talk about teams having a ‘shared vision’).
Design works on many levels
Some examples of different types of design being strategic.
An organisation designer will need to think strategically about how to design and communicate change for people, teams, and processes. Tactically, they set out to influence culture, improve communication, and to demonstrate how change will work.
A service designers role is to understand, design and influence how services work across an organisation or multiple organisations to meet the needs of users or customer groups. Tactically every decision they make or influence is strategic in how it shapes both services and the organisations that deliver them.
An interaction or product designer will make hundreds of detailed design decisions on a project. They produce user interfaces, flows and individual interactions which are strategic in there impact. Tactically they make critical choices at a micro-level of detail. Deciding how to use (or re-use) design patterns, setting out how something will be made accessible and usable, and all balanced against working with technology and with other constraints.
There are plenty more design ‘roles’ I could have included here as examples.
Some areas of design are not more strategic than others. It can all be seen as learning to think and act strategically.
Sometimes the timings of different types of design decisions, and levels of influence or seniority, get confused with the relative importance of the different types and areas of focus within design.
All designers should think strategically because they are paid to think through the impact of their work to help deliver outcomes.
Teams don’t need a ‘strategic designer’ they need to become teams of ‘strategic thinkers’ across different skills sets. Solving problems together with everyone focused on clear sets of outcomes.
Designers: If you don’t do strategy, what is it that you are doing?
All design is strategic.
This blog post is also published on Medium.
Ben Holliday is an experienced design leader, writer and speaker. This is his blog (started in 2005). You can follow all of Ben's blog posts by subscribing to the RSS feed, or follow him on Twitter for more regular updates.