Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
My interest in strategy - what it really was, who 'did' strategy and how it worked for clients - grew from working as a Creative Director in the design industry during the time battle-lines were being drawn between 'corporate identity' and 'brands', for who held the high-ground in setting an organisations' direction and development.
It didn't seem so at the time but strategy and design were and are a natural fit, they'd always gone together. It was just that design needed to voice that, and strategy began to become a function in its own right.
It's now implicit that every agency (integrated, service, experiential, mobile, mixed-, cross- or multi-disciplined) offers a strategic service or strategy-thinking as part of the service bundle. But this wasn't always the case, at least not always explicitly unless the company in question was one of the big hitters (Pentagram, LandM, Michael Peters, Lloyd Northover, et. al.).
I'd begun working with Planners on agency teams that my principle clients would establish and seen that the really important stuff - the big ideas, to use the ad-worlds' coinage - we're usually generated by the 'wordsmiths'. Planners generating positioning and writers', propositions to bring them to life. Planners also borrowed from management consulting's card-stacks and ad-agencies were, of course, steeped in the world of brands through FMCG client accounts.
Design businesses tended to either execute 'packaging' (and so absorbed brand-thinking) or 'identity' (so the language of business and business-strategy). Somewhere in between this, it occurred to me that there was a lack of awareness of the role of facilitating design strategy formulation in design practice - no-one 'owned' design strategy and the responsibility for generating it wasn't clear - and that was going to be a problem.
A problem because 'strategy' was going to turn out to be something that design had to take responsibility for if agencies were going to survive, let alone compete, in the melt-down of the sectors providers.
In response to this, I began to offer my 'thinking' skills specifically to those strategic aims.
As a Communications Consultant I could define a distinct shape within the client/agency mix, working closely with the client teams to map the problems and situations, think out the scenarios, draft positioning and platform statements, describe briefs and brief the creative teams. In addition, I could write propositions, set out visual language directions, intercede between creative and client teams, interrogate creative and present to Boards with an independence and confidence that often senior creatives lacked.
Since then, we've recognised that all these skills are actually central to how really successful agencies - of whatever flavour - require, or that smart clients demand. So now the problem isn't so much that no-one owns strategy at the agency, but that everyone thinks they do - partly because everyone has an opinion and we're all very used to, and expect to be asked to, give it.
This has made the role of the 'Strategist' much more nuanced, but no less critical as a specific 'role'. It's still true that if everyone's in charge, then no one is so now, if you can't point to the person who everyone can turn to for 'the gift of sight' (be that the MD, the CD, AD or whichever), it's definitely time to take the time to ask me about helping set out your strategy more clearly.
The best strategy is... have a single very educated, very experience person who gets and gives you a piece of advice.
The eye is the window of the brain.
If you've ever found yourself facing down a 150-page slide stack of consulting and wondering why the answer's still not clear. Or how on earth this is supposed to provide the motivation you need it to - let alone the map to the future you were promised - then you're probably not alone in wondering why you bother getting involved in 'the strategy'.
The problem is that many confuse analysis with insight, presenting the former as the later, when what we really need is a short, clear, action-orientated turn of phrase that speaks directly of the change you want its reader to become.
While its over-simplification to say you can achieve that in a few, well-chosen words, that's exactly what you need a strategy to do - move you over there, to achieve this.
Capturing this in a neatly phrased statement, your 'adage' or principle, gives you what consulting rarely can: a picture of or metaphor to show the way to the future. An 'I see!' moment.
This is by no-means an exhaustive - or exclusive - list, but I'm perfectly adept at:
My ambition is always to help show how strategy comes to life, and lives in the things that we design. Head over to my other site to see more of my thinking in action and design work.
It's really important to recognise that a lot of strategy conversations that happen - which include design - aren't just product related but are organisational. That is, they are fundamentally about the experience the organisation delivers.
Ordinarily, many agency models are not framed to tackle this as they tend to be very focussed on the 'delivery' end (as products of design processes - apps, packs, shops and ads) but not the gaps between what those promise and what the business is actually or capable of delivering. And boy, are there gaps.
In these instances, you need to design a strategy that can embrace the experience, shape the cultural conversations and give everyone on the team the direction they need.
So, let's talk about your challenges, about your current strategy and it's shortcomings, about design and the execution or realisation of really good ideas. There's sure to be an answer.
If you want to discover more about designing strategies that take advantage of the experience economy, drop me a line...
I've run a regular blog for years, beginning back at the end of the last century(!) with a weekly e-mail circular call 'Friday Thoughts'.
After that I switched to first html additions to various web-builds and then to Wordpress, 'Hillpress' being the third iteration. Check it out...
I aslo write for my employers blog 'MedaDaily', as part of the 'experience shapes your world' proposition, crafting thinking and opinion as well as spotting ideas for the business. Check it out...
In addition, I'll contribute signage and wayfinding ideas to my friends at The Design Company in Dubai. Check it out....