Thinking long and short — a design approach

Cam Birrell
Sep 14, 2020 · 3 min read

The unique environment caused by COVID-19, which has seen my design team shift from strategic to short-term critical response projects, has revealed the benefit of thinking short and long concurrently.

Short, being ‘how can we develop a solution that meets the immediate needs of our business’?.

Long, being ‘how can we use this short-term solution to probe, provoke and validate a longer-term, strategic change’?

An example:

In my team, we were reassigned to focus on enabling our frontline workers to continue their important work under the restrictions of a state-wide pandemic lockdown.

This naturally looked at digital solutions to enable ‘virtual’ ways of working. It was clear to see that the immediate benefit was to keep the organisation running whilst providing a safe working environment — this was thinking short.

The strategic benefit that such a solution could provide, outside of the period of crisis, was the potential to reduce frontline worker travel time and unlock thousands of hours every year that could be redistributed to more valuable work — this was thinking long.

We developed an MVP that both enabled us to validate immediate usefulness, whilst measuring how much time this new process saved when compared to the traditional process.

The results were compelling.

As the COVID-19 restrictions start to ease, where our work would naturally start to lose value, we have ensured that our solution remains highly desirable and have provoked strategic change and conversation that will last long beyond this crisis.

I must also make clear that thinking long and short doesn’t have to be restricted to crisis moments. It can be used as a strategic approach to large projects, where the short-term projects unlock the path and reveal the unknown-unknowns for the long-term goal. An Agile way of thinking taken outside the realm of software — more on this another time…

(I highly recommend reading Dan Hill’s ‘Dark Matter and Trojan horses’ to really dig into this concept)

So, for your next project, I challenge you to stretch yourself by thinking short and long.

Will this change your approach and hustle required?

Yes.

Will this add value and protect any environmental changes from completely undermining your efforts?

Absolutely.

Cam Birrell is a strategic designer, currently working to provoke change through building provocations and designing for momentum as an Innovation Lead within a large Government organisation.

He is the co-founder of tiltshift.co — an organisation focused on advancing the role and impact of designers by unlocking their ability to navigate organisational complexity, act strategically and create value.