5 Secrets of Strategic Designers
The background of this article stems from my interest in how Strategic Industrial Design forms the backbone of thinking in the very best designers in our field. Therefore I have been quietly spending some time studying and observing strategic designers and their “modus operandi”. In the process, I have been fortunate to meet, attend lectures, interact and share ideas with such talented strategic designers and design leaders.
These 5 secrets of Strategic Designers have been derived from some of my conclusions, and I would like to now share this with you.
Image: The Pathway of Strategic Designers
In general, I believe Strategic Designers have a very unique approach to things, especially in regard to the design process. The strategic designers’ pathway around the design process oscillates from a “bird’s eye” view of things to a “telescopic” focused one and then back up to a “bird’s eye” view again. Rinse and repeat. This constant momentum allows them to keep on reframing the tasks or design problems at hand. The ability to “Zoom” in and out (and not get dizzy!) is an important over arching skill that strategic designer have.
So who wants to be a Strategic Designer? Let’s now dig a little deeper to find out how:
1) They are great Zoomers!
We have already touched briefly on this first secret. It is aptly put as the first point as it’s the most important. The ability to engage in big picture thinking and yet still be details orientated is what I like to call “Zooming”, and its people “Zoomers”.
Strategic Designers have this ability to look at situations or design problems from many different angles, think through different solutions, and finally reframe the answer at high and detailed levels.
This reframing ability requires a lot of skill. The key ingredient in reframing problems is the all important ability to wear many hats and speak the many different languages of business, marketing, design, engineering and manufacturing etc.
Remember all the times you bitched and moaned about how Industrial Designers are “jacks of all trades and masters of none”? Well now you know where to start!
2) They know the design process like the back of their hand.
Strategic Designers are experts of the design process. They know it so well that they can “swim” in it, mould it and control it. The ability to have ultimate control over the design process means that they can ensure that the strategic objectives are achieved or at least maintained.
Strategic Designers also know that in order to manage the chaos, design can sometimes be, a strong process is the key. Designs cannot be conceived in a vacuum, but I like to add, Design cannot be executed without a strong process. The best strategic designers all work with a strong and efficient design process, some processes are personal, but most are part of an organizational system.
Learn it, live it and love it. Look to the process, it will guide you.
3) They are able to do everything.
I’ve never met Strategic Designers or leaders who were not designers first or did not cut his/her teeth in the design trenches. Being designers first, they are able to do everything a designer can, and perhaps more, because of their connection to the wider view and their ability to reframe.
The problem is that because of their focus in design strategy and management they do tend to get rusty, in fact very rusty with the technical design stuff. Therefore it is very advisable for Strategic Designers to keep that “designer in you” alive. Personal projects, constant sketching, running design programs are all ways strategic designers use to keep in touch with things.
4) They also know that they don’t have to do everything.
Strategic Designers know the value of a good team and great team work. They also know when to let go and try not to do everything. Letting go is the hardest, but they know where their value lies and when they can add this value in the design process.
Therein lies a sad truth with Strategic Designers, they are always almost part of a team and rarely individuals. It looks to me almost impossible to walk the path of a Strategic Designer and also manage the design process at the same time.
5) There is “no job too big or too small”.
The interesting thing about Strategic Designers is that their ability is scalable. No problem too big or too small. Strategic Design can be about the smallest thing and also about the biggest. You don’t have to be running multi-million dollar programs to be strategic; you can also be strategic with small meaningful solutions.
Strategic design is about an approach or a process of design. Like any process once you get it right it can applicable on many levels and in many situations.
So what do you think? Do my observations make sense? I love to hear what you think and please do not hesitate to leave your comments; I look forward to reading them.