Design Strategy

What is it?

Design Strategy is driven by Design Thinking. It seeks to use design reasoning and creative problem solving processes to align business, technology, and user needs.

Design Strategy is often applied in business contexts, where design is used outside of traditional product development and taken into front-end (strategic) development processes. Design strategy is valued by business because design puts the user experience first – and leading businesses have come to realise that a customer first attitude results in better products and services. Design that is user-centric is valuable to business. By putting design at the centre of business strategy you are putting the customer at the centre of business strategy.

Integrating Design Strategy into business also helps to save costs in development by ensuring that the product, system, services are targeted at user needs that will ensure they are desirable, while at the same time utilising appropriate technology and business models to ensure feasibility and viability.

Design can be used strategically by harnessing the designers creative problem solving and creative toolkit to align diverse perspectives and focus development.

Designers are perfectly positioned to be used strategically because of the designer’s creative problem solving capability. This is best articulated as the designer’s way of knowing, or their ability to inductively, deductively, and abductively reason as the situation requires it to arrive at desirable solutions. Creative problem solving allows designers to respond to complex problems and deliver innovative solutions.

In product development – specifically creating new systems, services, and physical products, designers are well suited to strategic roles because of their familiarity with development processes. Designers traditional role has been in solution finding, but as design processes have been visualised and articulated, design is being adopted outside of design and engineering fields within business where designers can be effectively utilised create innovation.

Design strategy would not be possible without articulation of the design process – design needs to be codified and visual because businesses do not trust processes they cannot see or measure. It is very difficult to convince someone to spend millions of dollars on development processes when there is no way to accurately measure the process and ensure that the time and budget will be met. Measuring design outcomes is also notoriously difficult – but not impossible – with studies confirming the value of design to business (See Design Council, Sainsbury Review, and Better by Design).

For design strategy to be successful it needs to be codified – and that is where the popular IDEO Design Thinking comes in. IDEOs Design Thinking is highly popularised, because it effectively articulates the approach used by designers to position the user (customer) at the centre of design. What we can learn from IDEO, and from the way design and business have interacted over the last decade, is that for design to be proven and trusted it must be research-informed, it must be articulate, and it must be transparent. Businesses are hesitant to adopt design if it is not measurable (which has been the defining struggle of design in recent years), because businesses need to be measured.

Why is it important?

Design Strategy is important because it enables design to have impact outside of traditional design related fields. Design strategy breaks down design into its creative problem solving and user-centric core and applies design reasoning to complex projects. Design Thinking is integral to Design Strategy because at the core of Design Thinking is the designers reasoning and search for desirable user outcomes. Critically, Design thinking has been visualised and articulated in such a way that it can be appreciated outside of design. The value of an articulated, transparent, and defined process cannot be underestimated when trying to encourage more businesses to adopt design strategy.

Design strategy leads to innovation – and innovation is good for society, good for business, good for everyone.


  • To determine feasibility – you need to understand the technology – so engineering approaches and product design approaches useful here. Product benchmarking and analysis for example, a designers keen understanding of material and technology properties is useful here.
  • To determine viability – business model canvasing and value proposition – design/business audit, you need to understand the capabilities of your client and their revenue streams and service channels.
  • To determine desirability – conduct User-Centred design