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What can a Design Strategist do for you?

Updated: Jul 20, 2019

Design Strategy is a relatively emergent field of research and strategy development which may require some introduction.

The purpose of strategy when it comes to business, product or organizational development is to carve a path of decision making which will grow or develop a business and ensure sustainability overtime. Often this type of strategy is derived from the expert cognition of market specialists, the opinion of which should not be discounted.

The difference a Design Strategy approach offers, however, is based on the unique research process and innovative research methods strategist's use to investigate the problem set with. The Design Strategy process takes clients from problems to solutions through a set of divergent and convergence actions and activities, aimed to illuminate perspectives which will deliver more significant solutions.

Discovery is really about asking, what is. This part of the process helps us understand the context of the problem better. Whether we are investigating the development of a new or existing product, system or organization, understanding the stakeholders and the layers of context which connect them are paramount. User studies, stakeholder mapping, co-design facilitation and creative envisioning help to achieve the insights needed in this stage. Examining context through a temporal lens through trend analysis can be very interesting at this stage and is the foundation of foresight methodology, a unique toolkit I offer as part of my practice.

Defining the problem based on the newly discovered insights helps us ensure the solutions which will be developed are in line with real and realistic needs. The insights gathered in discovery are narrowed and distilled to help designers bridge the gap between business, stakeholders, users and context and reframe the problem set to strategically create the greatest impact.

Developing potential solutions follows, here we ask, what if. Depending on the problem set, a range of solutions, points of process innovation, prototypes or assets will be developed, challenged and iterated on to validate their value and effectiveness to solve the problem.

Delivering solutions that are based on high-quality research and validated insights is the ultimate outcome. Using story-telling, digital creativity and visual analysis principles, most projects culminate in systemically minded and visually pleasing asset design which aims to culminate understanding and prove value for the client. Here we may also ask, what more? Implementation strategy should ideally be revisited and reflected on to shed light on discoveries and lead to new cycles of design.

The principles at play which make this process unique are worth highlighting.

Insights are gained from nuanced qualitative research tactics.

The power of empowering a variety of stakeholders or users in a design process can not be understated. For too long systems and products have been designed in silos and without consultation to those who are most greatly impacted or most in tune with real needs. Understanding co-design facilitation and ethnographic research methodology generally set Design Strategists apart. My practice is built upon the foundation of human-centred and inclusive design principles and is grounded in innovative research methods aimed to better understand how to best to serve the business or organization long-term, by deepening user and contextual understanding.

Integrative and holistic thinking.

Strategic designers apply a more creative, lateral or temporal lens of inquiry when considering solutions. This out-of-the-box thinking is the catalyst for innovative outcomes. Understanding how to analyze a variety of contexts for relevance creates strategies which ultimately are more human-centred, future-minded and systemically considered. A strategy which pulls from a more holistic lens is the type of strategy we need to face the challenges seen in our interconnected, quickly changing and ever more disruptive world.

Frameworks for collaboration.

Design Strategists are a particular breed who thrive in collaboration. Understanding how to facilitate effective collaboration between interdisciplinary fields of knowledge further the type of holistic thinking required to thrive in an ever-changing world. But collaboration isn’t always easy. Knowledge of design tools, heuristics, facilitation principles and thinking frameworks used to focus multi-stakeholder engagement is an important skill-set for a Design Strategists to inhabit. My interest in this aspect of strategy grew into my Master's researcher project; an in-depth study on building collaborative environments which culminated in a tool developed to facilitate strategic conversations.

Exploration, reflection and iteration.

Fallibility is an inherent part of the human condition. To get to the ideal solution, there may be some bad ideas along the way and this is okay! Reflection and iteration are encouraged as part of the exploration. Developing resilience in the face of setbacks, challenges and bad ideas is an important by-product of this work. This is not a linear process; it looks more like a knotted, squiggly, stretched line, representing a process that is always begging to be reflected on to ensure the ideals live in the outcomes. There must always be room for adaptation based on new insights. In product and technology innovation, this aspect ought to be built directly into the process through a more agile development process. As a trained professional Scrum Master, I encourage quicker cycles of development, implementation, testing and reflection to fail fast and learn more.

While this process may seem straightforward at face value, at its core this is an intensely creative and deeply ambiguous process which requires confidence in self, the team and the unknown. Many aspects of my ‘self’ have been challenged, changed and developed by this work. For me, becoming a good Design Strategist has been more than understanding the tools and methods. This work has deeply shaped how I show up for clients, users and teammates and has encouraged great presence, empathy and a type of vulnerability which I can only hope inspires resilience in the face of change.

Change isn’t easy, isn’t always clear and isn’t always popular, but change based on the principles of empowerment, engagement, systemic and future-minded thinking, is a change which has the potential to outlive hesitation.

Take the plunge with your business or organization and find out what a Design Strategist can do for you.

Jenny Whyte is a Design Strategist and Research Consultant who splits her time between Toronto and a quieter life in Northumberland County, Ontario. For more information about working with her, contact her directly at

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