What is Strategic Design?

Recently Raph, from the very excellent Design Droplets blog, wanted to know how I would define Strategic Design.
I never had to consciously apply strategic design and thinking methodologies as it was something that I just did through my daily design activities. It was, in a way, second nature to me and a somewhat automatic response when I have to deal with problems. So I have to admit when I was asked this question I was momentary stumped.
As Design Sojourn’s focus is all about “Mastering the Business of Strategic Industrial Design”, I thought I might take a stab and define it, with help from you of course! So here we go.
Let’s start by looking at the definition of “Strategic”. Which is “Of or relating to Strategy”.

strat·e·gy (str?t’?-j?)
n. pl. strat·e·gies
a. The science and art of using all the forces of a nation to execute approved plans as effectively as possible during peace or war.
b. The science and art of military command as applied to the overall planning and conduct of large-scale combat operations.
2. A plan of action resulting from strategy or intended to accomplish a specific goal.
3. The art or skill of using stratagems in endeavors such as politics and business.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

So this definition implies that when you become “strategic”, there is a plan, a mission or a goal behind what you do. If we now combine it with Design, I would extrapolate that “Strategic Design” is about Design (with a capital D) that has plan or specific goals behind the reason for its existence.
I’m not trying to be philosophical here, but lets pause for a moment and think about what I said for a bit? Does it start to make sense?
Now, I like to expand this definition by massaging the keywords and terminology a little. Unfortunately it is not close to being a perfect definition. I think Strategic Design is about a process that takes a very holistic and multi-disciplinary approach to achieving design solutions. In other words, Strategic Design captures all aspects of a product’s requirements (consumer needs, marketing and business plans, design language, brand identity etc.) and then uses these requirements to influence the final design solution.
Phew, that took a few rounds of editing and rewording. So now it is time for you to have your say, please let me know how you would define Strategic Design?

  • Tom Eldridge

    May 3, 2020 at 6:03 pm Reply

    Hi Ingo,

    Great definition and I think strategic design can be defined more broadly then just referring to products

    Strategic Design often gets confused with service and product. While service design is focused on improving the service experience within a specific part of an organisation, strategic design takes a big picture perspective – e.g. climate change, ageing population etc. Where the confusion lies between the two discipline is that a lot the techniques are shared however the perspective is different.

    Helsinki Design Lab says the role for Strategic Design is in ”crafting decision-making”. Using design techniques and methods to implement change at a much higher level. HDL used the example of how the policy for high-rise construction in Finland was successfully changed to allow for engineered wood to be used in place of CO2 generating concrete.

    Dan Hill describes strategic design as “the answer to unlocking a new experience, product or service is sometimes buried deep within organisational culture, regulatory or policy environment.

    Within this context of I’ve explored strategic design with some examples – https://www.strategyxdesign.co.uk/strategicdesign

  • csven

    February 4, 2009 at 7:20 am Reply

    “Design (with a capital D)”
    I’ve been seeing this more and more lately. Seems as if this is catching on. Cool. Except…
    One thing that especially caught me in the above entry was your use of “design” as an adjective: “design solutions”. I think arnomat essentially articulates what I was thinking by appearing to suggest it’s redundant. A bit like “design thinking”.
    In fact, you use “design” as an adjective frequently. For example, in your response to lngo, you say:
    “Strategic Design methodology can be used by any design discipline to create design solutions in any medium, tangible or intangible.”
    That’s a lot of “design” in one sentence. I’d have said: “A strategic methodology can be used by any discipline to create solutions in any medium, tangible or intangible. That’s what Design (with a capital “D”) is.”

  • DT

    January 22, 2009 at 11:51 pm Reply

    Hi Ingo,
    Very astute observation! Notice the only time Industrial Design came into the picture is in the discription of this website. I fully agree with you, Strategic Design methodology can be used by any design discipline to create design solutions in any medium, tangible or intangible. Thank you for pointing this out.
    Hey Michael,
    Thanks for sharing your view point. While I agree with the influence of time in this discussion of Strategy, I don’t completely find this discription of Strategic, equating with long term, comfortable. I think the reason for this is the missing element of the multi-disciplinary influences. You can still be strategic in your design thinking with work that has a place only in a 6-12 month period.
    Hi Benjamin,
    That is a good question. I think it was right from the start. I always had very varied interests, and really enjoyed my multi-disciplinary (Design>Marketing>Engineering) Industrial Design degree. Moving into industry, I naturally was interested in the entire design process and took on multiple hats in addition to my own Industrial Design work. It was a lot of work, but it really helped me become a much better designer. Well on hindsight, but not at that time.

  • Ingo

    January 22, 2009 at 9:28 pm Reply

    When you write “holistic and multi-disciplinary approach to achieving design solutions” shouldn’t the solution capture every outcome weather it is a product or not.
    So the solution can be anything from product to service as long as it is an appropriate. Which means that Strategic Design is not bound to product design but a product can be one possible solution of a strategic process which uses design methods.

  • Michael

    January 21, 2009 at 11:29 pm Reply

    When I am trying to be “strategic” I usually ask myself if the activities relate to a “long term” plan. So, strategic=long term for me.
    There’s also a really good article at Noise Between Stations similar to this subject, “How Can I Be More Strategic?”: http://noisebetweenstations.com/personal/weblogs/?p=2311

  • Benjamin

    January 21, 2009 at 10:47 pm Reply

    p.s. i mean as IDer i’m more involved in the development phase

  • Benjamin

    January 21, 2009 at 10:45 pm Reply

    Hello DT, in what stage of your career did you start to become a strategic designer or started more to plan before executing. I studied ID and i never had to really plan a product in terms of as you say marketing, business plans, design language and brand identity. For us it was more the usual design process, which also has a planing part – i know that but not as you mention…
    so what do you think about the universities that offer MA courses in strategic design – do you think its worthwhile studying such a course to become more competitive and gain these planing skills early or do think with time every designer will learn this automatically?

  • DT

    January 21, 2009 at 9:52 pm Reply

    Hey Arnomat,
    Wow! That is really great input. Thanks so much and please do keep in touch.

  • arnomat

    January 21, 2009 at 9:19 pm Reply

    to finetune the matter I’ve looked up the explanation of the word ‘design’ (same dictionary as used by you 😉

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