In-house Issues: In Praise of Tactical or “Hey, you got chocolate in my peanut butter!”

There is a knee-jerk aversion on the part of in-house designers to being labeled tactical. We’re almost always all about the strategy or at least wanting to be a part of the seemingly elite corporate club that engages in it. Floating out there like some kind of corporate holy grail is the dream of getting a seat at the mythical table where the diners get drunk on objectives, initiatives and blue-sky, big picture, 10,000 foot high undertakings. So it is with trepidation that I’m offering up the suggestion that maybe being tactical isn’t all that bad. As a matter of fact, it may be the one thing that distinguishes in-house designers from their peers in the marketing, advertising and communications departments.

I’m often amazed at how little clients understand about what it takes to bring their strategic visions to life. Frankly, most high-level managers couldn’t implement their way out of a paper bag. This fact should automatically confer MVP status to the designers on teams charged with executing on plans that initially exist only as intangible ideas – but it doesn’t. In our information driven society, doing is not valued as much as conceiving. Yet, without the doing, organizations would obviously grind to a halt.

At the very least, we shouldn’t buy into the mindset that considers the creation of artifacts as a secondary byproduct of strategy and thereby ignore or denigrate our ability to make something out of nothing. Even better, we should educate our managers, peers and clients about the worth of this aspect of design – they sure can’t do it. We know there is as much planning and brainpower that goes into the design process as into any strategy session.

Beyond touting the value of tactical execution, we’d do well to understand that the line often blurs between where the planning ends and the doing begins, making designers’ participation in the strategic process early on an efficient, even essential, practice. As much as a strategy determines a tactic, the tactics can influence the strategy. There is an ever-increasing range of printing and web technologies and applications becoming available to creatives. These options could easily provide powerful cutting edge functionality to an initiative that would further a particular corporate goal, which, without a designer’s involvement, would otherwise be invisible to the greater team and thus remain unused.

No situation better illustrates the value of doing and the myth of the separation of strategy and tactics than when designers lend their skills to visualizing complex explorations of new initiatives at high level planning meetings. More and more, this design aptitude is helping strategic teams deal with ideas at a stage where the abstract needs to be made tangible and actionable.

More broadly, the business community has begun to acknowledge the need to place corporate strategies into a greater context that takes into account the audience/end user, physical touch-points and current cultural and global trends. This fact makes the de facto case for designers’ strategic involvement given that we possess the relatively unique characteristic of empathy typical of right-brain creatives and that we regularly employ the powerful practices of research and prototyping both of which are essential to the successful implementation of innovative corporate undertakings.

The Reese’s peanut butter cup analogy best sums up the strategy/tactic conundrum. If a designer, rushing into a project meeting, marker in hand, sketching away at concepts plows headlong into an exec running towards the same meeting, crafting a new strategy on her Blackberry and a bigger better idea is the result – well the, “Hey, you got your tactic in my strategy!” and the, “Hey, you got your strategy in my tactic!” exchange may lead to a plan even greater than the individual parts.

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One thought on “In-house Issues: In Praise of Tactical or “Hey, you got chocolate in my peanut butter!”

  1. Brie P

    I’m dealing with this issue at the very moment. Though I’ve recently been expunged from these larger, more high level tactical meetings with the intent of expediency and streamlining.

    Now, I have to think of a tactical way to get myself involved in the tactical planning (again)!