Design Strategy
May 10, 2011 3:24 PM   Subscribe

Please tell me everything you know about Design Strategy as a field, career, etc.

Plus advice for getting into it and being successful without a formal background in design? Thanks!
posted by shotgunbooty to Work & Money (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
what do you mean by Design Strategy? User Experience design?
posted by sweetkid at 8:58 PM on May 10, 2011

I'm going to assume that you mean a strategist (or brand strategist) who works at a firm that does design, rather than a brand strategist at an ad agency which seems to be the new fancy term for a planner. Correct me and ignore this if you mean something else.

I worked for a while at the "world's largest brand consultancy" surrounded by lots of amazing designers and art directors and packaging structure people and production artists. There were a few pure strategists (brand strategists, Chief Strategy Officer) and lots of account people (account execs, account directors) who also handled a great number of design strategy things.

Most everyone had either design training or an MBA with a focus in marketing. Or both.

Not everyone has that level of training, but it's hard to win client trust and move up without some proof that you know what you're doing. I have no idea how you could get put on impressive enough accounts without background in market research, design, marketing or (like me) advertising to move up and win more accounts. (A Catch-22, I know.)

There's a lot of competitive assessment, brand positioning and then working with the client and the designers to solve the problems that can be solved with design. There's a lot of Powerpoint with models of everything a company does being held together by brand. There's focus groups -- first to understand the problems, then to explore creative territory, then to see how people react to product design, packaging design, logo design, naming, etc. There's a lot of pitching new clients. If you're in a big firm, you'll get really good at the airport lounge and mileage clubs -- which is really, really fun for the first year or so. And then you get really sick of going to Dallas or Seoul and only seeing beige conference rooms and eating M&Ms from behind two-way mirrors.

It's incredibly energizing to work with incredibly creative and excited people who come up with INSANELY beautiful things. But sometimes it's heart wrenching when you have to be the one to say, "But that's off strategy, so we're going to go with the Beer Light(tm) can that looks the same but the logo is off to the left." It's also frustrating that it's such a subjective business and you'll see a design intern who is incredibly talented do something that makes you want to weep with joy, only to watch it crushed by a hack creative director who has a style he or she makes everything conform to without even realizing it. I've also seen a creative director nurture a hack designer into award-winning, strategy-amazing work. It's all about talent and emotion rather than seniority or training and that's hard to watch all of it play out around your workplace while as a strategist your career path and learning is a lot more linear.

I worked in naming and writing. And loved it. I named things. I got to write brand positioning and attend all the workshops. I got to work on nomenclature strategy, brand voice strategy (personality and setting the tone for the way a voice speaks) and weigh in on other strategy meetings. I got to work with the designers to collaborate on things that required words (since there were 5 writers to 80 designers, this wasn't as frequent as an ad agency). I got to pitch clients (my favorite part of the job). I had two degrees in advertising, but I think I would have been fine with one. I also had experience doing naming and brand positioning in a much less robust way at a small ad agency that couldn't afford a planner that got me in the door. I've moved into brand strategy on the client side -- mostly because I love knowing things and jumping from client to client was unsatisfying after a while.

Groups like AIGA are a good place to start -- they have a brand strategy community and it's a great networking resource. I miss having work pay for my membership now that I'm on the client side. It's worth it to join just to go to the lectures and studio tours if you're in a major city like SF or NYC, although I always got funny looks from designers when I mentioned I was a writer working in brand.

If this is what you meant, I hope this helps. If not, wow. I've just rambled.
posted by Gucky at 9:05 PM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Yes, you'll need to clarify what you mean. The term "Design Strategy" is used to a great extent outside of, and in addition to, branding in the emerging area of system or service design. There are so many monikers and groups of people staking claim to design descriptors, that it is impossible to speak to "design strategy" without really describing the application.

Design strategy as I make use of it is the extension of where current business strategy leaves off and traditional and evolving design methodologies are used to build and enhance it's application and usefulness. It's a very nascent field that is more often performed by design consultancies (think IDEO, Jump, or Monitor via Doblin).

One of the more well know and successful design strategy programs is with the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology. The Stanford is also making great inroads to design strategy.

Depending on what you mean by design strategy, a good place to start is at a design consultancy that has a strong strategy competence. There are also a handful of organizations that include design strategy as part of their corporate cultureā€“P&G and Kaiser Permanente, among others.

Most design strategy groups use ethnographic research techniques to inform an iterative process of potential solutions that are tested for compatibility with business growth/goals, internal and external customer groups (stakeholders), and the users experience. People who specialize in design strategy typically have a background in business (in management, or management consulting), user-based research, product and/or service design, or information design/architecture.

More and more MBA programs are including a design curriculum to address this need for design strategy. Several business schools that have a design focus are the Darden School of Business, Rotman School of Management, as well as Case Western Reserve University.

Most design strategist I know have an advanced degree in either business or design, but it isn't compulsory. Experience using and developing design methodologies is more important.
posted by qwip at 9:38 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

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