The discipline of strategic design; an increasingly recognised one, yet a hard one to prove valuable among today’s manager’s community.
The main reason behind this seems to be the lack of knowledge and understanding of what design professionals can actually offer that distinguishes them from managers and can raise their appeal in the workplace. In other words, what are these specific skills and capabilities that enable them to contribute more efficiently in strategizing, decision-making and innovation processes? Why are designers so unique and valuable for innovation? What does their uniqueness rely on? Why should an innovative company should hire a strategic designer? All these and much more questions cropped up in a discussion that took place between 91 newly arising designers who initially gathered to brainstorm on the strategic value of design.
It is evident that designers have an edge as “mere executors of innovation briefs” in an alluring way. However, literature presents a set of perspectives that extends their role to that of efficient executives in the ‘fuzzy front end’ of innovation, as we like to call this front phase in the design process where customer needs are identified, insights are collected, the white space is explored and possibilities are created. According to these perspectives, strategic designers possess the skills to discover true user needs, their real desires and their expectations. In gathering this precious information and being able to understand them, strategic designers can point unique business opportunities to companies while also translate these opportunities to the most viable concepts ever!
Starting from the perspective of design thinking, a designer’s uniqueness lies in their human centered tools that allow them to innovate while matching human needs with available or emerging technologies. These tools can easily be learned through practice by anyone who want to be called a designer. Subsequently, another question that arises is to which extent can everyone be a designer? Contrarily, design attitude, or else “”, constitutes intellectual property of design professionals that is gained through their work experience, their specific education or is a result of their designer’s personality. It is mainly about designers attitude towards innovation in general and involves attitudes such as being future oriented, using intuition a lot when taking decisions, being empathic with stakeholders and being fearless. This second perspective of strategic designer’s uniqueness lies on their unique mindset and cannot be simply ingrained in a manager’s mindset. Consequently, strategic designers can be seen as “managers with extended qualifications”. Last but not least, there is a perspective on the unique role of design professionals that involves their envision capability together with a set of design capabilities, with a considerable emphasis on their visualization skills. This last perspective genuinely encloses the previous two mentioned and refers to designer’s specific role and tools that enable them to envision the future before they actually start innovating. It is all about designers’ actions. Designers acting in a future oriented way. Its about starting any innovation process by setting a vision where a company, a product, a technology should be in the future and only after that start developing new products or services aligned with this vision. Additionally to that they visualize their vision using tools like personas, prototypes, roadmaps, etc. in order to make it look more tangible.
Without so distinguishing one perspective but taking into account all three, one can consider the value of strategic designers. Be that as it may, someone can also argue that anyone can become a designer by simply learning the certain tools, gaining design experience and acquiring the know-how of envisioning the future. But, to which extent that is possible? And, additionally, are designers born with a designly creative mindset or simply learn how to grow it during the course of their training? What can be argued is that designers are indeed humans born with a strong creative mind. Although it is said that no single human being is born totally uncreative and that creativity can be taught to some extent, I would like to believe that a designer’s inherent creativity allows them to efficiently and uniquely merge all insights, stemming from the performance and use of their unique capabilities, in order to come up with the perfect solution. Maybe that commodity is partially influenced by their experience and overall practice in contrast to other professionals. My opinion is that there is a creative force inside them that acts as a guide to discover the spot where a solution could exist, or else allows them to merge and manipulate all their methods and tools in a quick and creative way in order to produce the best result aligned to the given brief, the given guidelines as well as the company’s core values.
After all, what is more creative than envisioning a solution within a chaos of collected data, visualization tools and methods of mapping the observable reality.