Before you start creative development on any project it’s crucial to get to really know your clients, identify their challenges and objectives, and understand their markets and competitive environments.
Beautiful design is wonderful, but without having a solid context for the work first, you’re depending on luck to really nail solutions. To solve business problems, to do work that will be a sound investment for your clients, you need to start with strategy.
At my firm, we didn’t have a solid process for doing the investigation or formulating strategy in the early years, or even a name for it. But over time we honed our approaches, read whatever we could on the subject, named our process, created strategy documents for our clients, and eventually made strategy a separate deliverable in every proposal. We also included metrics in our strategies, so that our clients would know how to evaluate the effectiveness of the work. Measuring also kept us engaged with the client after the work was done. It enabled us — and the client — to appreciate its success and learn for the future.
Working this way is not only great for your clients, but it’s better for you and your team. When your clients have been part of the process and strategies are agreed upon, you have a context that enables you to begin your creative development with focus and clarity. This makes the design process faster, more satisfying and enjoyable, and leads to great solutions. And, better yet, your clients will understand the work you show, will ask for fewer revisions, and will sign off more quickly.
From a business perspective, you will have several advantages, too. Strategy is a differentiator for your firm. If you position around it and market it well, you will attract clients who seek effective, great design. And, with the increasing encroachment of crowdsourcing on our profession, that’s pushing design toward being a commodity, you will be able to make a compelling case for your value.
Independent designers and design firms of all sizes can embrace Design Strategy and benefit from it. Begin by doing some reading and think about what makes sense for you. Start with small steps and build a process. While you will discover many great practices to include, you’ll develop an approach for strategy that’s right for you and your clients.
And, we can all work to get the message out to the business community that strategic design is a powerful asset, one that can be a great investment in their success.
And, let’s share our best practices for doing this important work. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.
1. Start by reading up. Since research will be the first step in the strategy process, a great place to begin is with A Designer’s Research Manual by Jenn and Ken Visocky O’Grady.
2. Another terrific (and enjoyable) book to get a big picture look at good processes and strategic thinking about design is Managing the Design Process, Concept Development by Terry Lee Stone.
If you are ready to get serious about Design Strategy, David Holston’s new book, The Strategic Designer is great to dive into. Even if you work with smaller clients there’s a lot you’ll learn from this resource.