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Issue 57

How to formulate a design strategy

Mihai Varga
Design Lead @ Interface-design.co.uk
OTHERS

Even if we'd like to think that talent and creativity are sufficient for design, organising work in a thoughtful manner is a critical success factor. The ideas below will help to serve as a guide for organising interface design work into a design strategy.

What's the point of a design strategy?

The design strategy has a number of roles that must be understood before thinking about how design strategies should be formulated.

1) The design strategy helps align processes with objectives

Often times, design is seen as an accessory to the development process; a complex and difficult process that can easily stray away from the big picture. The design component is a major factor in keeping the whole product development process aligned with the overall objectives of the project. This is a chance that must be seized. When a design strategy is formulated with the general objective in mind, it will be very different compared to when it is conceptualized merely to feed the development process.

2) The design strategy takes the context into account

It is easy to start design without taking stock of the larger context. Indeed some results may come about sooner, but soon the process will come to a standstill because contextual factors have been ignored, such as: release plans, marketing deadlines, availability of stakeholders. The design strategy must identify the general factors that affect the project and take them into consideration.

3) The design strategy takes constraints and risks into account

Identifying any limiting factors and unknown factors is essential. Ignoring them will lead to a halt in the design process and the client can only think that the designers are not professionals. Thus, the strategy must anticipate these issues and propose a way to deal with them.

4) The design strategy exploits opportunities

Before starting a project it is worth looking around with open eyes to see if there are any opportunities that can be harnessed throughout the process. The designer must embrace this role in order to offer added value to the team.

5) The design strategy generates efficiency

Given that the design strategy offers a general overview of the steps to be taken in the project and the objective for each phase, this is the time to structure activities to avoid redundancy or inefficiency. This has direct implications for costs.

6) The design strategy offers predictability

Even when precise calendars cannot be put into place, the strategy will still help in giving other actors a sense of what they can expect. This will help with further communication and synchronization.

The elements of a design strategy

Formulating a design strategy involves clarifying a few elements, all of which rely on information gathering. The main elements addressed by a design strategy are:

1) Objectives

Creative processes must be targeted towards specific results to be efficient. Objectives lend focus to a process that is cumulative. It is important for design objectives to be derived from product and market objectives rather than development needs or short-term goals. Objectives must be made explicit. They can outline which parts of the product will be subject to design and how success will be measured.

2) Initial state

If a version of the product exists, an audit is in order before the strategy can be formulated. This is how one can identify elements that need improving. If no product exists, it still pays to look at the market to establish benchmarks for the product. This is a great way to explore client expectations.

3) Constraints, risks, actors

All these have to be discovered, as they are rarely obvious from the start. Anything that is missing and that can complicate the design process (content, decisions, etc.) should be taken into consideration. The responsibilities of all actors are also defined. The risks are named and the solutions meant to deal with them can be proposed. All this is meant to prevent problems from arising or from escalating.

4) Deliverables and work sequence

The most important part of the strategy explains project phases and the sequence of activities. For example: if and when research will be done; if a prototype will be created and for which modules. The order of things is important because it takes stock of objectives and constraints, and, ideally, it should find the most efficient manner for navigating these. Sometimes, speed is essential, other times a profound way of working is more important.

Each sequence should list deliverables. Estimates can be given and requirements for documentation can be formulated.

Conclusion

As with any plan, the value of the design strategy lies not just in the result, but in the process as well. By researching information, clarifying elements and constraints, the team develops an understanding of what can be done and how it can be achieved. Even when unforeseen circumstances will force a change in strategy, the team will be able to adapt in a productive manner.

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