So you Wanna be a Design Strategist? (Part 2)

by November 30, 2006

In part two of our So you Wanna be a Design Strategist? series, Bryan Zmijewski outlines four more of the eleven skills of a Design Strategist. Be sure to check out part one of the series first

4. Real-time performance

The best business people are ones who can adjust their thinking quickly. Pressed with tough decisions, they must be able to rally a team around business and financial goals and plans. If a big deal is on the line, tough decisions have to be made quickly…and once decided, they’re done. You can't hit CTRL-Z to 'undo' a business deal.

Design should be no different. As a designer you must be able to use your unique skills of visual thinking to rally people in a room. While this may come more naturally to some over others, it is a skill that will improve with practice. You need to be comfortable presenting whiteboard sketches in front of a group--no matter how much you wish you could call a time out to whip up something on your laptop, you'll lose momentum. If you can’t think and draw at the same time you’re going to limit your ability to listen to other ideas in the room--so practice at your own internal meetings until you're ready for your public debut.

5. Balance prep with w/ implementation

Everyone likes to see that you’ve done your homework--lists, research, interviews, overviews and competitive reviews. It’s an important part of the process of designing ‘stuff’. It validates that there is thinking involved.

Sometimes, however, it makes sense to just jump into a problem based on your hunch and your experience, and then go back and think through all the homework parts. There are times when simply taking action, creating movement and momentum are preferable to investing loads of time up front--in other words, sometimes any action, even a potentially 'wrong' one, is better than no action at all. It’s the blue-collar part of design that the rest of the business world lacks…that good ole roll up your sleeves and just get it done.

6. Justify decisions with the right kind (and amount) of research

Contrary to point two, there comes a time when the emotional side of design needs a good helping of “reality.” Designers need to drive research- otherwise we’re stuck with the research of others (and some of those 'findings' may include an ever-unhelpful 50-page document of how many people liked the color blue.) Large focus groups and studies are nice, but they rarely help you create a marketable product. Why? Two reasons: One, they're really expensive--that money could be better spent in the actual production. Two, they're prohibitively time-consuming: By the time all the data is gathered, your competitors are already building the product.

Designers have the unique ability to notice trends…and the 'way things are'. Heuristic evaluation and small tests are often all that's needed to keep a product team focused on the ‘wow’.

7. Everyone is a design expert

Everyone has their own favorite color or font. They can move elements on a whiteboard, write content to describe actions, photocopy a competitor’s website or talk about their great experience. Use this to your benefit and coach people through your decision making. Everyone wants to be an armchair design ‘quarterback’- let them play fantasy football by helping them make better decisions.

Involving team members in design decisions that are isolated from the ‘core’ design will help you gain more control of the final product. Being open to ideas that really don't impact your original vision shows that you're willing to hear others' input. Design is a team sport--be the best coach you can be, remembering that you're ultimately responsible for the end product.

There's More...

Continue to part 3 of So you Wanna be a Design Strategist?