Type 1: Strategy Through Design
In strategy through design—often referred to as human-centered design—designers employ their design process to identify people’s needs, then define a new strategy to meet those needs. While the process itself varies both in name and execution, it always involves an iterative process whose focus is empathy with users, prototyping, testing, and refining ideas. This approach refocuses strategy on the right question: What do our consumers need? This is in contrast to what businesses typically focus on:
- What are our competitors doing?—according to market research
- What is selling right now?—on the basis of financial modeling
- What does the CEO say we should do?—which is just guessing
Companies using this approach often describe it internally as innovation. Capital One, for example, has an in-house Labs team whose goal is to integrate human-centered design throughout the company’s processes. One of their products, Capital One 360 Cafes, lets their teams practice design strategy, gaining customer feedback on in-flight product concepts.
IDEO and companies like it continue to evangelize this approach—and are partially to blame for the explosion of design thinking as a buzzword. But adopting this buzzword and actually putting the approach into practice are light years apart—similar to the way many companies are now approaching product development by using a bastardized agile process or Lean Startup mentality. The failure of design thinking is not in the theory, but in its practice and expansion. While people can learn this type of design strategy, being able to apply it successfully within your organization takes more than just a three-hour seminar.
Type 2: Design as Strategy
With this type of design strategy, companies create products, experiences, and services that differentiate through design. While the good / better / best and razor / razor blade models are valid for design as strategy, their scope is limited to the product itself. The goal of design as strategy is to find design advantages across all stages of the product lifecycle—be they in the
- design of the product—for example, branding, ease of use, or defining the feature set
- process of creating the product—for example, supply chain, delivery, or end of life
- experience of buying the product—for example, kiosks, leaflets, or merchandising
- or anywhere in between