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Strategic design is an interdisciplinary field that leverages the design framework to explore and discover strategic opportunities and challenges. It involves collaboration among multiple disciplines and stakeholder groups to navigate complex and uncertain environments. The goal is to identify potentialities for strategic success by applying design methodologies and approaches. Strategic design acts as a bridge, bringing together diverse perspectives and aligning them towards a common goal and vision.

I’f design is traditionally understood as a practice focused on producing aesthetically pleasing products and artefacts,, strategic design on the other hand applies the design framework to everything that happens before knowing what to do, to produce and implement.

Strategic design is an iterative and collaborative process that uses creative problem solving to identify and develop effective and innovative solutions that meet the needs of stakeholders and address complex problems. It combines foresight and research with design thinking and sense-making to create innovative strategies that are ethical, feasible, and inspiring. It is a system-level practice that considers the broader implications of design decisions and their impact on society, the environment, and the economy.

Orientation and knowledge

Strategic design can be seen as a discipline and practice of orientation that aims to create new meanings and understandings by navigating the in-between spaces of knowledge that exist between traditional categories and silos. It operates with a future-oriented sensibility, where designers engage with weak signals to question and  anticipate possible futures.

Strategic design is about challenging assumptions and exploring possibilities, often by working collaboratively with stakeholders from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. It is concerned with creating interventions that can shift the conversation and stimulate new ways of thinking and acting. This can involve reframing problems, developing new frameworks for understanding complex issues, and creating new models for innovation.

By focusing on the in-between spaces of knowledge, strategic design has the potential to create new connections and relationships between people, ideas, and things. It encourages designers to be curious, exploratory, and open-minded, and to work with a deep appreciation of the complexity and unpredictability of the social world. Ultimately, strategic design is about creating possibilities and fostering a sense of agency in the face of uncertainty and change.

Five lenses into Strategic Design

  1. Catalysts of Transformation: Strategic designers act as catalysts, initiating and accelerating the process of transformative change. Like chemical catalysts, they facilitate reactions and interactions among stakeholders, ideas, and systems, enabling the emergence of new possibilities and shifting the dynamics towards a more desirable state.
  2. Mutation Agents: Strategic designers are akin to geneticists of social systems, introducing mutations and variations into the existing DNA of organizations and communities. These mutations bring forth innovative ideas, approaches, and practices, sparking evolutionary changes that can adapt and respond to the challenges of our rapidly changing world.
  3. Agents of Emergence: Strategic designers are agents of emergence, fostering the conditions for new possibilities and patterns to emerge within complex systems. Like gardeners who cultivate fertile soil for diverse flora and fauna to thrive, they cultivate an environment that nurtures the emergence of innovative ideas and transformative change.
  4. Navigators of Complexity: Strategic designers are skilled navigators who navigate the complex terrain of societal challenges and systems. Like seasoned sailors who navigate stormy seas, they steer through the complexities and uncertainties, charting a course towards transformative solutions.
  5. Bridge Builders: Strategic designers are bridge builders who span the gaps between different stakeholders, disciplines, and perspectives. Like architects of sturdy bridges, they construct connections and facilitate collaboration, enabling the exchange of ideas and the co-creation of transformative solutions.

Benefits of strategic design

  1. Increased agility: Future-focused strategic design provides organisations with the ability to quickly adapt to changes in their industry and create innovative solutions to challenges. This agility can give organisations an adaptive edge and help them detect early and absorb shock.
  2. Improved decision-making: Having a compass pointing in the right direction can help organisations make informed decisions about how to allocate resources and invest in new projects. This can lead to greater efficiency and productivity, as well as increased success with corporate innovation towards a preferable future.
  3. Enhanced collaboration: Strategic design encourages collaboration between different departments and teams. This can help organisations identify creative solutions that could never have been achieved working alone.
  4. Reduced risk: Strategic design can help organisations identify potential risks and develop strategies to mitigate them. This can help organisations avoid costly mistakes and foster a culture of innovation and risk-taking.

Strategic Design Ethics

Strategic design goes beyond the logic of linear technical problem-finding and the confines of profit-driven imagination. It offers an alternative approach that fosters critical thinking, creativity, and the exploration of transformative possibilities.

Unlike many problem-solving approach that focuses on technical challenges, strategic design acknowledges the complex and interdependent nature of social issues. It recognizes that the solutions to these challenges cannot be reduced to linear processes or isolated problem statements. Instead, strategic design invites a holistic exploration of the broader systemic dynamics, power structures, and cultural contexts that shape and perpetuate the problems at hand.

By breaking free from the cognitive straightjacket of profit-seeking, strategic design opens up new horizons for envisioning and co-creating a preferable future. It encourages designers and organizations to think beyond short-term economic gains and consider the long-term social, environmental, and ethical implications of their actions. This broader perspective enables the identification of more meaningful and sustainable solutions that address the deeper structural issues contributing to societal challenges.

Strategic design aims at liberating creativity by providing the necessary space and methodologies for interdisciplinary collaboration and imagination. It encourages teams to draw on diverse knowledge, experiences, and perspectives, fostering an inclusive and participatory process of sense-making and solution generation. This collaborative approach ensures that the voices and needs of those directly affected by the problems are included and valued, leading to more relevant and transformative outcomes.

Finally, the practice of strategic design challenges the notion of a predetermined and fixed design brief. Instead, it embraces an iterative and adaptive process that continuously evolves in response to emerging insights, feedback, and changing circumstances. This flexibility allows for a deeper exploration of the underlying systemic issues and encourages the development of solutions that can address the complexity and interconnectedness of the challenges at hand.