Recently I had a chat with a lead designer from another software company, who asked “why have a design strategist?” and “what does it mean to have a design strategy?”. Good questions!
IMHO, I’m not totally convinced a company needs to hire a specific role for “design strategist” per se. In my view, that is the part played by your VP of Design, Creative Director, UX Director, and various other “design leaders”…which (as demonstrated by Apple, Dyson, P&G and Target) may also include the CEO! There must be someone driving the strategy–a comprehensive, forward looking direction of connected actions and outcomes expressed in a clear, strong vision–and everyone in key leadership roles should share in its dissemination and practice as ambassadors, advocates, stewards… and as doers, making design literally happen in their respective areas. This all propagates “design thinking” within and throughout a company’s rank-and-file.
Re: design strategy itself, my friend asked how I am specifically helping to enable that as a principal designer. I explained that for my role and our common team goals at Citrix, it involves three core planks or levers:
(Obviously this varies for each company, current circumstances and immediate goals)
a) Standards & patterns: Defining a strong, flexible visual and interaction design language common across products, with core components, widgets, patterns, templates for everyone to uptake and integrate to achieve a family feel. Truly, this defines the DNA of the main products, connected to the brand and central design values.
b) Education & outreach: This includes internal education efforts within the company to get people excited and informed about design process, outcomes, methods, etc. Also this includes reaching out to design schools for talent-spotting, building name recognition, co-sponsoring projects that can help guide internal projects, etc.
c) Creating new concepts: Want to create a great strategy? Build great products! Prototyping hi-fidelity concepts are the true surefire way to make a strategy visible, by provoking questions about what’s most important, and visualizing possibilities as compelling forms that can be validated and iterated upon.
Fundamentally, design strategy is about creating and delivering value, from a deeply humanistic POV that supports your business goals, and advances the state-of-the-art in shaping people’s lives for the better…while evolving your core mission, expanding markets/customers, and envisioning what’s next.
This requires heart, energy, vision, persistence, iteration, and smart collaboration, not a powerpoint slide deck or 3 hour meetings. It’s a shared commitment at the leadership level, that mobilizes and enlists the “in the trenches” workers at your company.