What is strategic design?
You may already be familiar with the many outputs of the design process; logos, toasters, cars, buildings, your furniture, applying for a bank loan, the plastic that keeps your chocolate biscuits from getting mouldy. Much of the world around us has been created by designers; graphic, industrial, interior, packaging, engineering, architectural as well as many other variations on the theme. What these traditional roles have in common is that they focus on delivering a discrete solution to a specific problem or requirement.
Strategic design is holistic
Strategic design differs in its attempt to use design thinking and doing to address large systemic issues. Climate change, health care, education, mobility, the rise of consumerism, sustainable energy, good governance and our search for well-being all present challenges that messily intertwine with our social, cultural and economic constructs. Challenges like providing care for people with dementia and caring for the people who care for people with dementia, delivering sustainable choices to masses of consumers who crave ownership of goods, mitigating the advance of climate change and delivering human feeling services for people doing banking, booking, buying and getting all kinds of things done with digital technology present some of the greatest and most ‘wicked’ problems.
Strategic design is resilient
According to the Helsinki Design Lab, strategic design:
redefines how problems are approached, identifies opportunities for action, and helps deliver more complete and resilient solutions.
It does this because strategic designers are particularly good at integrating, visualizing and maintaining stewardship over really good ideas.
Strategic designers integrate
Strategic designers are very good at integrating many perspectives, ideas and approaches and seeing a bigger picture than the individual views of various functional areas. Design, as a function, naturally attempts to diverge, to gather many insights and generate many possible solutions, before converging, to narrow down solutions, until the best is found. Applying this function across many fields of activity helps identify real opportunities to improve performance, behaviour or whatever the relevant metric might be.
Strategic designers visualize
Strategic designers are very good at visualizing the desired end point as well as the most appropriate way of getting there. Strategic designers use text, numbers, graphics, objects, videos, human stories and other media to visualise and communicate what is now, what could be and how the transition can be made.
Strategic designers are stewards
Strategic designers are very good at maintaining stewardship of really important ideas and value sets. Strategic designers not only apply design thinking to challenges, they also apply design doing to realise outcomes that uphold a set of values for society and the environment.
Strategic design is human
Humans are emotional. Much of what we think and do are emotional responses. We make decisions based on how we feel, not rationally. Strategic design attempts to hold the human actors in the centre of consideration of a problem and solution. It also acknowledges that humans are but one of many species on our earth and that we are not the only organisms who should benefit from a designed outcome.
Strategic design is bounded by nature
Every challenge, from the very large, wicked problem to the very small, local problem, exists within an array of societal structures such as economic constructs, community constructs and, perhaps most importantly, the natural world, our earth. Strategic design recognises that for all of our self-fabricated operative systems, no object or service or concept can exist or operate beyond the limits of our natural environment’s physical cycles or air, water, soil and nutrient flows. Any activity, especially strategic design, that ignores this fact is utterly useless.
Strategic design is …
Strategic design is cross functional and holistic. It casts a fresh look over challenges that are often contradictory, where the problem creator is sometimes the problem solver, and both within and beyond the borders of an organisation, society or system. It is resilient, integrative, human, bounded by nature and maintains stewardship of really good ideas and value sets.
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