Design Strategist Skills

by Luke Wroblewski June 15, 2007

At the So you Wanna be a Design Strategist? event last April, Bryan Zmijewski, a panel of design leaders from Yahoo! and I discussed the skills that defined a design strategist role. We organized our conversation around skills related to working with people, numbers, and process. Here’s a recap of some key points from the discussion.

Some people won’t like you. Who cares?

Design strategists need to be able to read the people in a room and understand each person’s perspective so they can focus a group on what they have in common. Often times, bridging gaps between people’s desires means confronting issues.

Yes, you will have to sell.

Designers typically want their work to speak for itself and are not inclined to put in the effort needed to sell their visions. Though it’s easy to hide behind your pixels, they won’t sell themselves.

You need to design in front of people…

…not just in front of your computer. Explaining ideas on the fly is crucial when working with groups of people.

Confrontation is a must. Gloves are optional.

People appreciate when you fight for something worthwhile. Get out of your comfort zone and don’t shy away from confrontation.

Design is a playing field. Designers need to win.

Think of a project as something you have to win at. Then bake in milestones along the way that clearly show your progress. Success sells.

Make sure the research fits the size of the project.

You don’t need to validate every idea with research. Sometimes just jumping in is enough to of a process to build on.

Spontaneous is OK.

Sometimes you have to be an artist. You have a talent for design –use it.

Just get it done.

There’s a blue-collar aspect to design –you learn by doing. Rolling up your sleeves and getting things done sells people through momentum and execution.

Get Your hands dirty.

Bottom-up strategy works for designers because they have communication skills & empathy. This can influence and rally people.

Make sense of all the design options.

Everyone wants their idea heard. Design strategists need to funnel suggestions in the right direction without shutting them down.