Book Notes: Strategic Design

Strategic design: Eight essential practices every strategic designer must master
By Giulia Calabretta, Gerda Gemser, and Ingo Karpen
BIS Publishers, 2016

Design isn’t just good for making better things, it’s also good for making things better. In other words, design can be both tactical and strategic. Many designers come to the field with a tactical mindset, and as they grow in their careers find themselves drawn towards higher-level challenges that add greater value to their organizations. This book offers frameworks that allow them to transition to a more systemic and strategic practice.

At the core of the practice is the alignment between three core domains:

The premise of this book is that successful strategic design solutions emerge at the intersection of what is desirable from a customer/user perspective, viable from a business perspective and feasible from a technological/organizational point of view. Blending and aligning these three very different facets for an optimal intersection is not an organic process, and so needs to be managed explicitly.

As promised in the title, the book offers eight practices that are central to achieving this alignment:

  1. Defining and articulating a clear vision
  2. Co-creation and prototyping
  3. Assessing the current circumstances (e.g. ownership, visioning) in the organization
  4. Shedding light on the design process itself
  5. Creating alignment through storytelling
  6. Evaluating feasibility
  7. Evaluating viability
  8. Building lasting design capabilities in the organization

There’s a chapter focused on each, all authored by different teams of practitioners and academics. While this variety of voices could be a liability, in this book’s case it’s a strength, since the various authors present a range of case studies (mostly from Europe) that illustrate the practice highlighted in each chapter. It makes for a rich and actionable compendium of key strategic design practices.

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