Design strategy

Design strategy is a discipline which helps firms determine what to make and do, why do it and how to innovate contextually, both immediately and over the long-term. This process involves strategic design, the interplay between design and business strategy.

While not always required, design strategy often uses qualitative and ethnographic methods to help ground the results and mitigate the risk of any course of action. The approach has proved useful for companies in a variety of strategic scenarios.


Design strategy can play a role in helping to resolve the following common problems:

  • Promoting the adoption of a technology (Example: Tesla deleting the traditional automotive grille on its new Model 3 and removing the grille in a facelift of the Model S reinforces that these new vehicles are EVs and no longer require the kind of air intake / cooling that traditional internal combustion engines do. [1]
  • Identifying the most important questions that a company's products and services should address (Example: John Rheinfrank of Fitch Design showed Kodak that its disposable cameras didn't exist to replace traditional cameras, but instead to meet specific needs, like weddings, underwater photography and others)
  • Translating insights into actionable solutions (Example: Jump Associates helped Target turn an understanding of college students into a dorm room line designed by Todd Oldham) [2]
  • Prioritizing the order in which a portfolio of products and services should be launched (Example: Apple Inc. laid out the iPod+iTunes ecosystem slowly over time, rather than launching all of its pieces at once)
  • Connecting design efforts to an organization's business strategy (Example: Hewlett-Packard's global design division is focused most intently on designs that simplify technology experiences. This leads to lower manufacturing costs at a time when CEO Mark Hurd is pushing for cost-cutting.) Mark Hurd discussed HP's design strategy for determining environmental footprint of their supply chain.[3]
  • Integrating design as a fundamental aspect of strategic brand intent (Example: Tom Hardy, Design Strategist, developed the core brand-design principle ″Balance of Reason & Feeling″ for Samsung Electronics, together with rational and emotional attributes, to guide design language within a comprehensive brand-design program that inspired differentiation and elevated the company's global image.)[4][5][6][7]

Educational programs

Many schools have pioneered thinking that has contributed to the theory and practice of design strategy, most notably Maryland Institute College of Art and Johns Hopkins University which in collaboration they offer a dual Master in Design Leadership/MBA, Pratt Institute MPS in Design Management, IIT Institute of Design which offers a Dual Degree program in which students receive both a Masters of Design and an MBA, The California College of the Arts' MBA in Design Strategy, Parsons School of Design MS in Strategic Design and Management, The Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm (The Ulm School of Design: 1953-1968),[8][9] Centre for Design Management - The London Business School,[10][11] Stanford Joint Program in Design ,[12] Strategic Product Design at Delft University of Technology.[13]

Those in academia having a significant influence on the field include: Tomás Maldonado at Ulm,[8][9] Peter Gorb at The London Business School,[10][11] Jay Doblin and Patrick Whitney (1937–present) at IIT Institute of Design [14] and Rolf Fäste (1943-2003) at Stanford University. From1994 and onwards, Naomi Gornick and David Walker in the MA Design Strategy & Innovation program at Brunel University London. It is important to note that traditional art and design schools typically will not offer programs based on strategy.


Several notable design-related consulting firms have made design strategy part of their overall process:


  2. Duan. M., ″Getting jump on good ideas″, Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal, January 12, 2007.
  4. 1 2 Chung, K.; Freeze, K., “Design Strategy at Samsung Electronics: Becoming a Top-Tier Company″, Design Management Institute Case Study - Harvard Business School Publishing, 2008.
  5. 1 2 Krishnan, R.; Kumar, K., ″Capturing Value in Global Markets: The Case of Samsung Electronics″, SCMS Journal of Indian Management - Indian Institute of Management, October - December 2005.
  6. 1 2 Buchanan, L., "From Cheap to WOW", Case Study, Thunderbird School of Global Management, 2005.
  7. 1 2 Chung, K.; Hardy, T.; So, S., ″Strategic Realization″ , Design Management Journal, Winter 2000.
  8. 1 2 Ulm, Ulmer Museum/HfG-Archiv. "HfG-Archiv Ulm - The HfG Ulm". Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  9. 1 2 Lindinger, H., (1991), Ulm Design: The Morality of Objects, Cambridge: The MIT Press.
  10. 1 2 Gorb, P., (1990) Design Management, London: Phaidon Press
  11. 1 2 ”Design Management”, Papers from the London Business School, London: Architecture & Technology Press, 1990.
  12. "Welcome to IIT Institute of Design - IIT Institute of Design". Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  13. Bloomberg Businessweek, “World’s best design schools”, Bloomberg Businessweek.
  14. "2004 AIGA Medalist: Jay Doblin". Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  15. Kay,, Solomon, Lisa; Justin,, Lokitz,. How to design a better business : new tools, skills, and mindset for strategy and innovation. ISBN 9781119272113. OCLC 962369908.
  16. Eales, Michael. "Gold Category Award Design Strategy". Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  17. Bortolot, Lana. "Designing a Better Office Space". Retrieved 26 July 2014.
  18. Pepitone, Sara. "Workplace Strategy In Design". Retrieved 24 May 2013.
  19. Ikenson, Ben. "Gensler's Secret Sauce". Retrieved June 2013. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)

See also

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