Why is design strategy important? (How to create one and tips)

Updated 25 May 2023

Organisations adopt several strategies, including design theory, to achieve their brand objectives. Design strategy implements the concept of design thinking to address user or customer needs and improve the business. If you're a conceptual-level thinker, displaying an understanding of design strategy showcases your ability to help manage organisations, improving your chances of securing a job. In this article, we explain why design strategy is important, detail how to create a design strategy and provide tips to improve design strategies.

What is design strategy?

Design strategy is a method of strategic thinking that helps business strategies work in a more effective way. Whether targeting new customer bases or improving products offered, it's an approach that ensures the organisation balances providing value to customers and generating value for the organisation. To do this, design strategy brings together a set of principles to target the organisational goals and the overall design of products, services or processes. As a tool, design strategy helps organisations by aligning business and customer needs.

Related: What is design thinking? Stages, purposes and principles

Why is design strategy important?

There're a few reasons why design strategy benefits both organisations and employees. Displaying your strategy and design thinking knowledge to prospective employers shows that you're a valuable asset to the organisation. You can bring strategic thinking and full consideration to company goals, which improves your chances of securing the job. Design strategy is beneficial to various organisations for a few reasons, including:

It's a cost-effective approach

Design strategy is an opportunity to consider where funds go in the organisation. Rather than earmarking a set amount of money towards campaigns, strategies or processes, design strategy is an opportunity to research exactly where the funds end up and how much money is being spent. It looks at target audiences, customer needs and business requirements to find the most cost-effective way to create value for both customers and the organisation. It helps avoid mistakes by creating a platform for proper, in-depth analysis and research.

Related: What is a business strategy (and business strategy examples)

It provides direction

Organisations benefit from direction when deciding or rolling out strategies as it ensures their efforts work towards a clear goal. Design strategy encourages everyone involved in these plans to work together synchronously, ultimately improving the strategies' outcomes. Without clear direction, every act and process becomes a question that requires an answer, leading to decision fatigue. Design strategy helps to avoid this issue by offering a clear, overarching aim.

Design strategy adds clarity and direction to decision-making to align the actions of all stakeholders. Doing this removes much of the stress and potential mistakes from making poor decisions. It also streamlines processes and allows for high-order decision-making rather than answering the less important questions for a strategy or task.

It helps with prioritisation

Design strategy is also a way to prioritise work, ensuring that the organisations focus most of their time and money on plans that yield sufficient results. If the organisation asks customers what they want in their products, then taking the time to implement at least some of these changes brings higher value to both the organisation and the customer. Using design strategy allows organisations to focus on changes and improvements that offer big rewards with little investment. This increases the value for both customers and the organisation.

Related: What is strategy execution? (With steps, tips and benefits)

What are the design strategy factors that organisations focus on?

Design strategy brings in the concept of design thinking to identify the best way to improve the organisation and its offerings. It considers the users and the organisation to yield the best results. There're a few design strategy factors that go into this type of thinking, such as:

  • known or existing issues in the organisation

  • current level of success and any associated benefits that the organisation can take advantage of

  • customer needs that remain unanswered

  • noticeable changes to customer behaviours or attitudes

  • new or emerging industry trends

  • potential opportunities to stand out from competitor organisations

Related: What is project design? (With elements, steps and tips)

How to create a design strategy

Whether you want to impress prospective employers or improve organisational processes, learning to create a design strategy shows your ability to bring value to the business. Look at the steps below to learn how to create a design strategy:

1. Consider the strategy in its entirety

When creating a design strategy, consider the larger plan, including any predefined outcomes or goals. Try to identify key challenges and opportunities from the context of both the customer and the organisation, as this gives you the best chance to understand the scope and scale of the work. Begin with the main aims, as this helps guide the more nuanced aspects of the work while keeping a focus on the primary objective.

2. Think about the competition

Once you know the strategy's goals, think about where these goals may take the organisation compared to the competition. This might involve looking into market trends or other organisational objectives and how they compare to rival companies. Construct a shortlist of competitor organisations, then analyse how your goals, strategies and demographics align with them. Doing this helps you find a gap or unique angle that allows you to prevail over rival competitors.

3. Set clear, measurable targets

One of the key components of design strategy is transparency. Make sure that the targets you set provide clear, measurable goals. These goals can work towards the predefined challenges and opportunities outlined earlier in the process. From here, you can bring in strategic planning and key performance indicators to measure progress effectively and keep employees informed.

4. Roll out the plan and monitor progress

Once you have a clear idea of the strategy, it's time to roll it out. Make sure you speak with those involved to establish guidelines and the best approach to working to ensure the best outcomes. Then, continually monitor the progress of work and make adjustments where necessary. Getting the most out of a design strategy stems from adaptability and bringing in new ideas through regular communication.

5. Make adjustments over time

Design strategy requires iterative improvements as the work advances. Take the time to consistently check the work to make sure it aligns with the predefined outcomes and keep both the organisation and the customer in mind. Consider bringing in analytical tools like surveys or market research to improve or adjust the strategy. This iterative progress helps keep the work targeted and relevant to the initial goals.

Related: The Mintzberg 5 P's of strategy: definition and uses

Tips for improving your design strategy

Look at the tips below to improve your existing design strategy:

  • Stay attentive. Aim to focus on the strategy and watch out for new or emerging trends that coincide with the organisational goals. This gives you a top-down view of the work and why it benefits both the customer and the organisation.

  • Ask questions. Remain curious about the work undertaken as you analyse and inspect it. By asking questions about the work, it's easier to see its value, which gives you a chance to consider alternative approaches.

  • Focus on problems. Seek to address problems rather than focusing on individuals. Scheduling meetings to discuss a problem isn't as beneficial as resolving the problem outright, so make sure that the focus is on the work at all times.

Examples of design strategy

To help you better understand design strategy, look at the examples of design strategy below:

Example 1

A private hire taxi company relies on a telephone dispatch system to connect taxi drivers with customers who require transportation. Customers consistently complain about the busy telephone lines, making it difficult to book a taxi when they need it. So the organisation might look to create a smartphone application that allows customers to book online rather than by calling on the telephone.

Following discussions with several departments at the taxi company, senior management creates the application to lower costs associated with the telephone line and make it easier for customers to book a taxi. The new application also creates a new opportunity for the company to bring in freelance taxi drivers, effectively growing their fleet without investing in new staff.

Example 2

A customer at a website design agency is unhappy about the aesthetics and design of their current website, stating that it feels old and difficult to navigate. Instead of starting with a brand new website, the agency employs a design strategy to investigate the existing website and identify key areas of improvement. This saves the organisation time and money as they don't make a new website while also addressing the specific needs of the customer.

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