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What is Strategic Design — an Afterword

Getting your bearings

A few weeks ago, we published a little piece about the topic of Strategic Design, the intention being, to better articulate the term and explain how it fits with everything else in the product and design world around it.

As a result of writing this article, we had a whole lot of interesting conversations and subsequent thoughts around the topic. These were originally addressed at the end of the article in the form of an Afterword.

However, what started as a succinct little section at the end of an article grew to quite a length, enough to be a place of its own. The following article is the result of this growing Afterword. It is written for those interested in further delving into the topic at hand — what is Strategic Design.

A growing list of topics

The following section addresses a plethora of related points and questions. Our intention is to add to it continuously as more questions come to the table.

Different crews, different make-ups

In the original article, I described the strategic design crew is having a basic make-up of a — Strategic designer, a Ux designer and a Ui designer.

I want to make it clear that this is but one setup, and different crews may have different make-ups.

Some crews have design researchers on their team who help with discovery and testing. Other teams have venture architects on deck, who help flesh-out the business side of things. Some teams have brand people on board from day one, or growth hackers, even business analysts.

Whatever the make-up is, the intention is the same — Unearth, Guide & Kill.

Design-led innovation, a big umbrella

There is a pretty good chance that a whole bunch of you will read the original article and think — “hold on, that’s kind of what I do, and I am not a strategic designer” — and you won’t be wrong.

You might be a product manager, a design researcher, a Ux designer, or any number of other titles out there; and you may be doing very similar work to what is described here.

Whatever it is we call ourselves, many of us apply design-led innovation principles, techniques and methods to our work. Design-led innovation is a large umbrella and strategic design is but one field that falls within it.

Design-led innovation principles are used by many professions and are applied all across the product journey. Moreover, a lot of these roles overlap in their responsibilities — hence, the likely feeling that you do similar work, but go by a different name.

For a deep-dive into the topic of design-led innovation read here.

For a deep-dive into the topic of design-led innovation read here.

Not just similar, but the exact same

Having referred to roles that do similar work, it is now time to refer to the roles that do identical work to what is being described here as the role of the strategic designer.

There are those of you out there that do exactly the same as what a strategic designer typically does, and yet you call yourselves by another name. You might be a service designer, a startup founder, an innovation lead etc.

I have a three part answer to refer to this qualm.

First, let’s put semantics aside and rather focus on the work being done. If you are applying design-led innovation techniques and principles to explore, create and test new products and services — well that is what you do, regardless of what we call it. Too often we have an obsession with titles, when really, it is the work being done that we should focus on.

Second, the space is still emerging. Strategic design as a term is increasingly being used to refer to the work done on the early phase of products, but it isn’t the only one. To borrow an approach from astrophysics — we don’t refer to a planet candidate as an actual planet till it has cleared all other significant objects in its orbit (that’s how we lost poor ol’ Pluto).

In a similar way, strategic design has yet to have become the only field that focuses on the early phase of products, and hence the reason for our various titles albeit our all too similar work.

And finally, let’s clarify the intention behind the article. We did not set out to place anything solely in the hands of the strategic designer. Rather, the intention was simply to better explain the term. Whether we want it or not, this term is on the rise and we could all benefit from a clearer articulation of it.

More than just products, services, ventures

Strategic design covers more than what is presented here. The same approach, could be applied to design policies and systems as well as address larger systemic challenges.

The topic of applying strategic design to bigger problems probably deserves its own discussion, but for those of us new to the term and the field, or just trying to still define it clearly — staying in the realm of products, services & ventures should do the trick for now.

And so you have it

We hope that our Afterward section addressed some of the questions and points you had in mind. If it hasn’t let us know in the comments and we will do our best to add it here.

If you want to find out more about the people behind this article, go to Pebbledesign.co or give us simply give us a holler at hello@pebbledesign.co

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We write about design-led innovation

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Shay Koren

Shay Koren

Strategic Designer - writing about design, product, innovation, tech, culture and everything in between.

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