Strategy & Design Thinking

Designing ‘beyond’ graphics, using the process or method of design to solve problems is where the magic happens, as a methodology it can be universally applied to almost anything and for me this is the most exciting and rewarding thing about it.

Fortunately I have been challenged by many clients to participate in all aspects of their businesses from strategy to production and everything in-between. In practical terms they have viewed my ability to gain a quick and concise understanding of a challenge and then provide reasoned and insightful suggestions and actions as a valuable asset to their business that reaches far beyond graphic communication.

Using design thinking and forming strategy that answers a business or communication objective is probably the most interesting aspect of design for me. Creating sound strategy requires being able to synthesise and objectively evaluate a myriad of complex information relating to all parts of a problem, all the while maintaining empathy with the powerful emotional drivers.

In recent years the tools we use to objectively evaluate and create strategy have become more refined and sophisticated. While everyone has their own flavour they all generally subscribe to the same underlying principles and methods. Below I demonstrate some of the tools and methods I utilise when solving brand and business problems when working with creative teams.

Creative management for me is not about coming up with the ‘big idea’ in isolation and then disseminating it for execution. In my experience this strategy often poisons a creative culture and is prone to boom and bust success and failure trends from project to project.

I think energy is better spent in generating an environment that leverages the creative minds of the collective. By doing this everyone in the talent pool develops and it allows for insight and inspiration that would otherwise remain locked away. To generate focussed results the team needs good structure and direction and by applying a strategically sound methodology this can be achieved.


Strategy & Brand Quantification

Perception equals reality and a brands success is determined by perception. Any business or organisation that wants to succeed must strategically foster the right perception with it’s audience, which is where it gets really interesting because every case is both similar and unique. By creating a framework that allows quantification of every facet of a businesses relationship to its customers, it allows not only retrospective analysis but also pre-emptive planing on how and where to invest energy in shaping customer perception.

Brand perception is shaped by both emotions and facts, with emotions being dominant except in the case of true monopolies. Research has proven that even the most cool and reasoned among us still make emotionally driven decisions. In the diagram above you’ll see the 14 key facets governing brand perception. By addressing each of these facets we can both identify a brands unique signature but also profile a brand or business problem to determine where to put the most resource and energy.


Who really owns a brand?

Ultimately it’s customers who own brands, businesses take on more of a stewardship role as a brand matures, this is because a business can’t own a perception held in a customers mind. As brand guardians the most we can do is carefully try to shape a customers perception to be one that we want them to hold and share. It is rare that brand professionals actually even create brands, what we really do, is create the ingredients for a brand and then disseminate them strategically. The goal is to create an environment of genesis where a brand takes on a life and of it’s own.

The other key outputs where we can apply our methodology are ‘brand focusing’ and ‘brand extension’. By examining the 14 facets that contribute to a brand relationship, it is possible to generate insights at the point of conflict between how we want a brand to be perceived, and how it’s ‘actually’ perceived. In doing so we can work with brands in many ways. We can assist in re-focusing a brand to get better brand perception and alignment, or help a brand to extend its reach into new categories, markets and industries.


Design as a method

Design is primarily a linear method with structured feedback loops, but it isn’t linear in intensity. While every design problem is similar it is also unique and this requires the application of varying degrees of intensity to different aspects of a problem to create a tailored solution. For example just because a prototype has been generated it does not mean that it is effective, it has to be tested and re-submitted to the design process until it achieves the desired outcome and level of effectiveness for its intended purpose.

The key to this process is empathy, and it’s used to both understand the problem being addressed and also to measure the outputs. By using empathy to understand, we can then counter this with an objective point of view to investigate and diagnose what needs to be fixed. Once known we can form a strategy to guide the process of exploration, prototyping – So long as the problem has been accurately defined, an empathetic world view retained, along with a rigorous execution of the design process, you are guaranteed a result.


Defining the paradigm

It’s imperative to get the business case right up front so that the right problems get solved, with design being broadly a linear process, it requires high quality inputs to avoid excessive feedback loops at the wrong stage of the project – Poor quality inputs won’t create high quality outputs or solve the real problems. It’s vital that before entering the creative process that the paradigm is clearly defined.

Whenever possible pre-project partnering is an investment in getting good information and great outcomes. By casting a wide net early, involving not just the marketing and account management team, but also senior members of the design team and client side senior management, it is possible to capture the value of objective points of view when questioning and defining the initial brief.


Structured Creativity

The freedom of a tightly defined brief – Designers work best when they have a good understanding of the parameters that they should work within, particularly when they need to generate results under time and budget pressures. A sound brief developed from solid strategy, that also effectively answers a business case allows for all the energy to be applied to solving the creative challenge.

A bi-product of a poor brief is that designers will spend half there energy trying to define the brief and the other half solving problems that are ‘interesting’ but out of scope. There is a balance to writing a great brief, it must contain enough mandatories around the task to keep it focussed, while also allowing enough freedom to create the magic ‘unfiltered’ thinking.

Using a sound process that segments the creative process into measurable components, allows for both effective effort to be maximised, while also providing mechanisms and feedback loops to test the results stage by stage.

Demonstrated above is a method that keeps the creative outputs focussed while providing stage-gates for client approval as the project moves forward. Each segment in the process acts as a measurable point where the outputs are reviewed against the strategy outline and brief. As the project progresses it builds outwards and the results can continuously be reviewed against each previous stage to ensure that development stays on track and on message.