What Is Design Strategy? (And 5 Steps To Define Yours)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated October 4, 2022

Published November 23, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A small team gathers to discuss strategy.

Strategic planning plays a key role in how a business achieves its goals. Design strategy applies the principles of design thinking to the structure of a business strategy to meet user needs in a way that ultimately improves a business. Understanding the core concepts of design strategy can increase customer satisfaction and promote business development.

In this article, we explain what design strategy is, its relation to business and information and its benefits and factors, as well as how to create a design strategy in five steps.

What is design strategy?

Design strategy is a method that applies the tactical thinking of a business strategy to the needs of the user to create the most effective product. This intersection between corporate strategy and design thinking achieves long-term goals through creative applications targeted at the end user. Unlike strategic planning, which collects data to decide how to approach a goal, strategic thinking involves an entire group that makes meaningful contributions at all levels of the business.

Related: Understanding the Basics of Strategy Development

Strategic thinking in business and marketing

Strategy is an essential component of solving problems both within and apart from the professional world. It allows you to get ahead of obstacles, move forward with applying methods and complete important tasks. Strategic thinking in the workplace involves moving toward goals that positively impact an audience or finances, using whatever tools or challenges along the way to most efficiently meet those goals.

Related: 8 Signs That You're a Strategic Thinker (And How To Develop Strategic Thinking Skills)

The benefits of design strategy

Applying a strong design strategy does more than just persuasively engage a user. It creates efficient work processes that are both goal-oriented and cost-effective. Applying a design strategy involves considering your starting point and your end goal and then plotting exactly how to get there. Here are some of the most prominent benefits of design strategy:

  • Defining a target audience

  • Creating a consistent vision

  • Diversifying opinions and ideas

  • Delegating tasks and goals

Related: Product Design vs. UX Design: Differences and Similarities

Design strategy factors for businesses to consider

In this type of strategy, design thinking moves to the forefront to help identify the needs of both the user and the client. Design strategy requires a business to consider the following factors to create a high-performing user experience:

  • Existing problems and challenges

  • Current success and benefits that they can leverage

  • Unmet client or user needs

  • Changing market/customer behaviors and attitudes

  • Emerging ideas and trends

  • Opportunities to differentiate from competitors

An effective strategy offers a simple and understandable design. When a design strategy is easy to communicate throughout a team or an organization, every employee can use it as a reference point.

Related: UX Research: What It Is and How To Conduct It

5 steps to create a design strategy

The following steps outline the process of creating and executing a design strategy from start to finish:

1. See the big picture

The first step is to look at the entire project and identify measurable goals. Analyze challenges and opportunities from the perspective of the business and the user. Starting with your overall goals and ideas can help you plan smaller steps and tasks while ensuring a clear end goal and consistent effort toward a common objective.

Related: Big Picture Thinking: Definition, Strategies and Careers

2. Find your competitive edge

Determine where your goals place you in the competitive market. This can include market trends, business objectives and other key factors you may have gathered while assessing your business objectives. Begin by creating a list of competitors and identify how your goals and target demographics compare. Determining your competitive angle and unique benefits can help with marketing, development and strategy.

Related: What Is a Competitive Analysis?

3. Set quantifiable goals

Now you can form a strategy to determine how the design of the project works to meet the identified challenges and opportunities. At this stage, you can establish indicators commonly used in strategic planning, such as key performance indicators (KPI) and objective and key results (OKR). Meet with the team to determine your goals, timelines and tasks.

Related: Types of Business Goals That Drive Success

4. Implement and evaluate

As your plan becomes more defined, you and your team can delegate responsibilities and establish best practices to ensure a successful outcome. Continue to reassess your needs and goals as you work to attain them. Design strategy thrives when employees allow flexibility with their ideas and relies on constant communication between departments.

5. Adjust over time

As your product continues to grow, check to see that it's still meeting the needs of its environment and optimally serving the user. Use tools and data, such as surveys, site data, market trends and customer reviews to identify changes or improvements. Constantly adjusting and updating your design can ensure the company remains relevant and provides value to the customer.

Related: How To Prepare for a Design Review Meeting (With Template)

Examples of design thinking

Ultimately, design thinking combines being shrewd and methodical about your business with the creative innovation it takes to generate a business-growing experience, all in the name of achieving goals. Here are a few examples of how a company uses a design strategy:

Example 1

A taxi service uses a telephone dispatch system to send drivers in company-owned cars to customers in need of transportation. But customers frequently complain about limited service. The in-house web developer comments that no one uses the phone anymore; perhaps they should make an app to streamline processes in a way that customers understand.

After meetings with marketing, finance and designers, the company develops a plan to create an app to streamline the ride-obtaining process. They also realized that if they design the means to hire independent contractors in their own cars who also work through the app, they can continue to grow their fleet of drivers and grow their business without the costs required to hire a taxi fleet or purchase and modify new cars that uphold the taxi brand.

Related: A Guide to Strategic Marketing Plans (With Tips)

Example 2

A client complains their website is outdated and they'd like a new look. Rather than just send the new assignment to the design team and begin a process of aesthetic trial and error until the client is pleased, design thinking can determine what the client's website misses and how it can provide improvements to their website. This would entail actual benefits for their business as opposed to just making aesthetic adjustments to meet trends.

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