Hacking the SWOT Analysis

A designer’s approach to using a business analysis tool


As designers become more integrated into business units and find themselves in the boardroom they need to understand the tools, models, and language that the business community commonly utilizes. Designers may feel that business focused, highly analytical, reliability minded people have a lot to learn from us designers. This is probably true, but likewise designers have a lot to learn from business people. While design thinking in business has only begun to develop in the last 20 years, businesses have still been thriving for a long time. With digital disruption happening across many sectors, the role of design has never been more apparent. James Brown, the strategy director at Zone, made a cheeky comment that “not everything that happened before the internet was stupid.” Businesses have been doing smart and interesting things before digital (and designers) were around and in the mix.

Not everything that happened before the internet was stupid

Understanding the tools of business analysis gives designers a new understanding and common language with their business colleagues, but it can also provide inspiration for new tools in the design process. In our project for Design in Business at Hyper Island we decided to “hack” the SWOT analysis and combine it with elements of the Value Proposition Canvas to turn it into a design analysis tool.

source: http://pestleanalysis.com/
There’s a strong correlation between business strategy and clip art.
— James Brown


SWOT is an acronym that stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Business analysts will use this tool to identify the internal strengths and weaknesses of a business, and the external opportunities and threats.

Rather than using SWOT to evaluate a business our team decided to use the model to test the strength of our design ideas. Instead of simply picking an idea we liked, this gave us an approach to provide more critical analysis. There are 3 simple steps for the first part of this exercise:

  1. Identify 3+ design concepts. These can be rough, but they need to have enough clarity that they can steer you in different directions.
  2. Set a timer for 5 minutes. In silence, each person writes down the S/W/O/T’s for each quadrant. Write these on Post-Its and place them in the appropriate quadrant as you write them. This lets everyone see what you’ve written and avoids duplication.
  3. Repeat for each design concept.

You should have all the S/W/O/T quadrants filled with Post-Its for each concept. That’s great, but the hack isn’t over yet. Looking at all the Post-Its its safe to assume that some strengths are more important than others, and some weaknesses and more important that others, and the same for the other two categories. The second part of the exercise prioritizes and ranks these factors for clearer analysis. For this part we decided to use an element of the Customer Profile Tool from the Value Proposition Canvas.

The customer profile portion of the tool helps designers map the Customer’s Jobs, Pains, and Gains. After these factors are mapped, they are then ranked on a spectrum. It was the spectrum ranking that we utilized for our process. We used a spectrum of important to insignificant to rank all the factors we identified in each SWOT category. These rankings provide better clarity into how you can analyze your design idea. It’s up to you to determine which elements are the most important. While this tool won’t be able to pick out the perfect solution for you it should give you some points of analysis that can guide your decision making going forward.

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How do you think this process could be improved? How have you utilized business analysis tools in a new way? Let me know in the comments.