Influencing Strategy by Design

by Luke Wroblewski August 11, 2009

Over the past three years, Tom Chi & I have presented our Influencing Strategy by Design workshop to over a hundred professional designers across the World. This full-day course teaches mid to senior level designers how to influence and improve strategic decision-making within their organization.

In particular we outline how organizational dynamics, metrics, design skills, and executive presentations can open up unique opportunities for designers and get them a "seat at the table". Over the years, I've been compiling the materials we have presented. Here's a set of our workshop materials and presentations.

Factors Limiting the Organizational Influence of Design

Each time, we start the course by asking attendees to share what factors they felt were limiting their organizational influence. Each time a common set of themes emerged: organizational imbalance, lack of shared understanding, resource constraints, and market dynamics.

When Design Influences Strategy…

At the start of each course we asked attendees to share what they wanted to see as a result of greater strategic influence. Here’s a compilation of what we’ve heard.

Organizational Dynamics

One of the first areas of focus in the Influencing Strategy by Design course is organizational dynamics. Many designers hoping to increase their role in product and corporate strategy start with their design organization and its position in the company.

Do these phrases sound familiar? “Our design organization needs to be more strategic.” “The design team is not included in up-front strategic decisions, we need to convince the organization we should be.” These circumstances are frequently blamed on either reporting structure (where the design team reports in), or a lack of organizational understanding about the role of design. While both of these factors may be in play, focusing only on them to increase influence is unlikely to yield results.

We also walk through some global trends that provide designers with an opportunity for leadership roles. Specifically Tom illustrates the transition from the 1800s craft economy to the 2000s creative economy.

Design Skills

Perhaps the biggest area of focus in the course is how a designer’s existing skills can be applied to business and product strategy. Many design organizations seek to impact strategic decision-making by learning how to speak the language of business. But until they master these new skills, they are likely to be the least qualified people to discuss business strategy at the corporate decision-making table. Yet no one else at the table besides the design team has a complete set of design skills. These skills define a unique perspective that designers can bring to strategic work. Additional information:

Metrics

We spend a fair amount of time discussing the impact of metrics on product design and strategic influence. Metrics are used by the organizations that track them to decide what initiatives to pursue, to understand the impact of behavioral trends on decisions, and to interpret the impact of past decisions.

Executive Presentations

One of the last topics discussed in the course is executive presentations. When working on strategic initiatives that impact business direction, more likely than not, designers will need input and buy-in from key stakeholders.

Presenting to executives doesn’t have to be a high stress affair. In fact, many senior level leaders relish the opportunity to hear customer stories and get an influx of data from “the front lines”. Because of their far-reaching responsibilities, executives can’t know all the information they need and are often short on time. As a result, they are data hungry and want the information they need presented with high data density and clarity. Understanding this mindset illuminates several ways to structure and get the most out of executive presentations.

We also outline several tips for presenting to executives or senior leadership within an organization.

3 Take Aways

At a high-level we advocate these three steps for any designer or design team interested in expanding their strategic involvement or influence.

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