So you Wanna be a Design Strategist? (Part 3)

by Luke Wroblewski December 13, 2006

In part three of our So you Wanna be a Design Strategist? series, Bryan Zmijewski rounds off the eleven skills of a Design Strategist. Be sure to check out part two of the series first.

8. Bottom Up Strategy

Designers are in a unique position to control a company's vision through a visual--they're probably the only people who are consistently expected to show up with colorful items at staff meetings. Take advantage of your visual aids--use a ‘hands on approach’ to get people rallying behind ideas. Designers tend to be ‘doers’ rather than 'dwellers', so use your vision to change the course of business planning by implementing ideas. Waiting on management to decide on a direction can have a negative impact on momentum of a project. Take some risks.

Now, if that doesn't sound good, you could always try to justify your ideas the same way the folks in accounting do--with reams of spreadsheets. But when is the last time you saw people get excited about a spreadsheet? For every 10 people, most organizations already have 9 workers doing paper jobs. Break up status quo.

9. Know that you will fail, and how to do it

Good design stimulates emotion, inspires participation and gets people engaged. But not every design that you create will succeed--sometimes a design will do none of the above, and will fall absolutely, unequivocally flat on its face. And that's okay! Build failure into your design process- you shouldn't even try if you want to completely avoid failing, and nothing tried is always nothing gained. A great designer will push boundaries and learn from mistakes. Some of the stuff that you do will stink. Learn how to use that to your advantage to make your projects more successful.

10. Be a salesman

Things happen for a reason. Oracle didn’t become a powerhouse because they had “great design”-- design just didn’t get in the way. If you want to influence people in the room you need sales skills. Half of getting your idea implemented has nothing to do with a computer, wireframes, research or sketches. It’s because people like you. And if they don’t like you, then they've at least got to respect you…you’ve got to have some proven ‘game’.

People want to support other successful people and ideas. It’s contagious. And while I’m not suggesting you throw yourself at business associates looking for a best friend, I am suggesting that you be confident in yourself and personality. There's no need to be fake. Just put genuine effort into solving problems for your customers, whether they're your internal customers or the ones who buy your products.

11. Fight when you have to; know when you shouldn't settle for a watered down compromise

My final suggestion for the aspiring Design Strategist is less about design or strategy- it’s about winning. You’ve got to want to influence people, make a difference and convince people to believe in you. You’ve got to throw yourself into the ring.

Business is brutal. Capitalism drives us to be more successful- and that’s a good thing. It pushes us to make decisions. Don’t let a conference room intimidate your business sensibilities. Design requires putting on boxing gloves. The beauty of design is that you can always use the emotional side to calm and inspire after a difficult interaction with your “financial” nemesis.

And that's it. Being a design strategist isn't the easiest job. When you're sitting in your third client meeting of the day (you know, the one that begins at 4PM and promises to go right through dinner?) trying to 'enlighten' the client as to why they shouldn't use their favorite 'stacked rocks' image on the home page--those days of sitting in the cubicle, pushing pixels while your iTunes is blaring in your ears--may seem real attractive. But take heart in this--the world is a more attractive place because you marry business and design on a daily basis. And for that, we thank you.