The Who, What and Why of Strategic Design
Anyone can make a logo or flyer, but a successful creative piece is made by a designer that has a plan and a strategic mindset when solving creative problems.
“Do you make things look nice? Do you spend more time worrying about nuance and aesthetic than substance and meaning? Do you fiddle with style while ignoring the big picture? If your answers are yes, yes, or yes, you are a decorator.” – Steven Heller, Design Cult
The quote from Steven Hellen is harsh, but the point is that if designers are more fixated on the visual nuances of a piece rather than the strategy and thinking behind the solution, it will lack in overall impact and effectiveness.
So, how do you start implementing strategy into your design process?
The very simple answer is: ask questions. Start asking them up front before you get into any design or creative brainstorming and inquire when there are changes to the design throughout the duration of the project.
The types of questions being asked are just as important as the questions themselves.
Try reframing a question like: “Do you like the color red to represent your brand?” to “What colors do you find best represent your brand and product?” By framing the question as such, you will be provided with insight into the brand versus a general confirmation of a fact.
Starting with questions that have open-ended answers will garner information that you can utilize once you get into the design process. This is a common trick for interviewers as well. If you give someone the answer in the question that you’re asking, they will likely mirror it back to you. The point of the question is to get as much insight and thinking from the client as possible.
With the above in mind, here are the five basic questions you should be asking before you start on any design project.
1. What is the creative problem we are trying to solve?
This is often the biggest question that gets overlooked. Many times we see a project start with what the solution is without looking at the problem we are solving first. This can also be boiled down to the simple question of why we are creating the design.
2. What is the best design piece to solve the problem?
This is typically already answered as a project is kicked off. This usually refers to the type of project itself: a logo, email, landing page, etc.. Still, it is a good question to ask yourself or team members to ensure that you are building the correct or best possible solution.
3. What does success look like for this project?
It is important to know what the key performance indicators (KPIs) are for any project in order to be able to measure success. For example, is a website being created to gather leads or is it meant to be informative. This will affect the design process as well as the post-design success measurement.
4. Who are we talking to?
We may have a demographic that we are marketing to for a brand already set in place, but with different areas of marketing, it’s important to always be aware of who is going to see, use and interact with this design solution and cater it to them.
5. What are we trying to get our consumer/audience to do?
At the end of the day, what it boils down to is this: if we aren’t catering our design solution to what we are actively pushing as a brand, we are nothing more than decorators, as Mr. Heller suggested.
By asking these broader questions up front, we are starting to form our design thinking from a point of strategy, rather than what colors, photos, elements, and layouts will work well together. Once we have our answers on the big picture, we can dive into the design-specific questions to marry the two together in a solution that is both visually and strategically impactful.
If you find yourself in need of this kind of thinking, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’d love to support you.