Schooled in Strategic Design

Designers work hard. We bring all of our expertise and aesthetics to each project. We brainstorm and iterate. We think through how the end-user, the visitor, or the reader, will interact with our design. As we should.
To most people, designers work behind the scenes. People are likely to see the client as the one responsible for the project. Understanding the world our clients and stakeholders inhabit, and thinking through their point of view, is essential for strategic design. An experience at an in-house agency made this clear.

How I Learned Empathy for Stakeholders

I was a designer in the in-house design group for a communications company. We took on projects from other departments. We wrote design briefs with position statements and unique selling propositions, presented concepts, and then iterated until our clients were satisfied.

We hired this super-talented new designer from California. His work was amazing! For a division that sold physical products, he designed a brochure that we all thought was beautiful. The photography was playful and innovative, the typography took our branding to new aesthetic heights.

A few months later we went to an off-site celebration for all employees. One session was “Worst Ideas of the Year.” First, we all had a good laugh about the misguided soul who decided we should answer the phone with the current branding tagline, a practice that was universally hated. I was shocked to see that on the very next slide was the fabulous brochure! The laughter continued as the speaker gently mocked the photography I loved.

But it wasn’t my department that was being mocked. It was our internal clients. That brought home to me that our clients are accountable for our work in ways we are not. They have to answer to their customers and peers for what we do.

Strategic Design takes into account the client’s business goals, needs, and preferences

Because figuratively —and sometimes literally as in the case of tradeshow booth designs— clients and stakeholders have to stand beside our design work.