The Design Strategist

Is this just another fancy name for Product Designer or is there really something else behind it? On one of my last trips to Asia I met someone from a larger American design consultancy . That person gave a talk about who they work for and what they do, mentioning the word innovation at least in every other sentence and how different they are from everyone else. In all, the presentation was really good but it got really interesting when a student from France asked " could you please show us what products you have designed in which you have applied your design strategy to create your clients product?"
The answer was ahh mmm I don’t have any examples here but we designed this and that… Later I went online to check the product (Swifer Mop) and I thought that could have also been done by some collage students or any other design consultancy.

I understand in order to achieve a great product you need to do great research. Aren’t we all supposed to do that. From the speech given I understood that the so called design strategist is a great researcher, explorer and observer who then passes on his findings to the ID department.

So what is it that they really do??? Is the word Design Strategist just some fancy name? Anyone have any examples?

Its a bit more than just passing research over to the ID guys. In my opinion the big difference here is the greater understanding of the business you are working on and understanding how to use design and insights to change, heighten, improve, drive sales, etc… This is not just a product thing, but could very well be a communication strategy, supply chain strategy, and so on. In you example above of the Swifer Mop the actual design of the mop was just a normal ID project. The creation of what that category should and ended up looking like as well as the identification of the opportunity and the challenges was a strategy project. That mop single handedly created a category. There are entire aisles devoted to it which Most CPG companies could only dream of doing.

Thank of it in more of ID challenges are creating the artifact, and a Design strategy problem is creating a road map. When we do strategy projects we are looking at a much broader picture than just the physical object. We are working with Marketing and Sales on what the future state of that business should be and what steps, maybe multiple products. services, packages, communications, need to happen in order to get there.

My quick two cents.


When you say “to use design and insights to change, heighten, improve, drive sales, etc…” does that mean the product designer is crossing over into other professions? Do you have any examples that I can visually look at? I’m very curious about this type of designer since I have noticed that my business sense is very good and has been complimented by several clients. I’m looking for a way to expand my horizon and maybe being a Design Strategist is the right way to go, don’t know for sure yet, but maybe.

Product Design=Designing the product
Design Strategy=Discovering what to make and for who

I guess the firm was IDEO? I’ve seen them talk about Swifer and in general they especially emphasis research and processes


Thanks for the Vid, I saw it a few years ago. I understand the Product Design = designing the product (styling) but for some reason it always felt natural to me to discover what to make and for who. I’m not trying to show off, but I thought it’s common sense that Product Designers have to look beyond the existing product in order to move ahead and succeed. Still I would like to see some real examples with process. Ideo / Continuum if your reading this post something, we want to see some process, that would be great.

Consider the range of work from pure labor to abstract intellectual.

Design falls somewhere in the middle. We use our minds to solve, our hands to create, we visit factories. We occasionally have to sweep up debris from our process. Although it is a physical process, good designers knows who it is created for and how it will be used, this is the considerable intellectual part of the activity.

Progress in society, is viewed as moving from the physical to the intellectual. Design Strategy is therefore superior to just making an object. It separates the intellectual part (intangible) from the physical.

Strategy also generates more money because it is more abstract and harder to quantify, it plays on the communicated superior knowledge of one party over another. Firms that lack confidence in their own strategy can find confidence purchasing from strategy providers.

A mop can be designed by a major design house for 45,000 dollars. A resonant housewife quality of life fulfillment ecosystem package strategy could cost easily ten times that much.

Thanks nxakt for the explanation, I really appreciate it. Do you have any real examples of products that emerged from the use of design strategy?

You are like…

A man who works at a factory producing finished widgets ready to be sold and used. One day, he meets a “designer” who says he created the widget. The factory man scoffs and says, “No, I create the widget. I have the evidence at the factory. Show me YOUR evidence.” When the designer can only produce sketches, 3D files, and a useless broken mock-up - none of which are exactly like nor as tangible or usable as the actual widget finally made at the factory, the factory man exclaims, “See, you do not have the evidence! You cannot complete the entire process from start to finish by yourself. Therefore, what you do is useless!”

Everyone has a part to play in the product development process, and a good/real “design strategist” can play a useful part in discovering, guiding, translating, filtering, testing, justifying, quantifying. Particularly in large, complex, global multi-million/billion dollar programs, focused and specialist talents are helpful. Even if some of the strategy work ends up modified along the way or the original contribution goes unrecognised a year later when the product is finally produced half-way round the world, it does not mean the work was useless or any less real than one of hundreds of sketches or mock-ups prepared along the way.

Finally, I would say there are some design strategists that are more “good or real” than others. I believe those who have worked hands-on in design or product development before, those who have obtained additional education (in business, consumer research, anthropology, human-computer interaction, marketing, project management, etc.) along with design degrees, and those who have worked outside of design environments (in business, marketing, see above) for a time bring valuable and needed skills back to the design table. Those who come straight from design school and call themselves “design strategists” because they could talk better than they could sketch are suspect in my mind and may be doing the title harm…leading to your justified scepticism.

I think a product designer does get into design strategy, especially when they are part of the discovery and development of the brief … even the decision on what kind styling to work up & it’s materials is a strategic decision based on what will push the end user’s buttons

In bigger companies designers can specialize though, and some might just focus on what to design and how to plan products… in much more depth… then brief other teams for the execution. They might be more fluent with analyzing research and the market, knowing about and using relevant tools, and better at working up compelling strategic presentation. I think many have MBA like business skills

Some examples (arguably are) are the Swifer (which invented a new consumable market in stale floor cleaning products). Mach III razors surely had strategic design influence for the same consumable $$$. The original Razor phone, evoking brand heritage and forward thinking materials at the time - a designer used the cutting edge materials in the design and made the Star-tac reference, but the strategy was to bring back the classic and invest in the new phone metalwork. Premium packaging, like mobile phone boxes, have the same cost vs. benefit decisions. Creating an appropriate company design language (and it’s evolution). Brand extensions like Ferrari laptops. Looking into the future of products or technology and/or finding new markets for them. There’s tons more…

I don’t really agree with those examples. While deciding what kind of styling is “strategic” that’s not design strategy.

Design Strategy is deciding the Why. That is “why” should we be making a product X based on context Y. Or less confusing perhaps, what should X be to achieve goals Z.

Design is deciding the What. That is what should product X look like/be.


I agree with rkuchinsky that styling is not strategic design. I’m starting to understand more about this field by all the responses that were posted here and it seems that I have been doing strategic design for some time without really thinking about it. It’s definitely become a part of the way I work and how I approach designing a product. I also agree with Tixie in a way that one must need plenty of design experience to call themselves a design strategist. Maybe a few have natural talent but experience is probably what makes the difference

By definition, not possible.


Hahaha, yes the sentence is strange, i admit.

Well surely enough, very possible. We have created a new segment in the drinking beverage market. We basically pitched the final idea to some potential clients and won, BIG TIME! We had to rethink the whole market. There was no styling involved or fancy renderings, just conceptional ideation presentation. That’s why I have been asking about strategic design since I have been doing more than just styling in recent years. Gonna apply for an internship at Continuum with my 40 plus years and learn more.

strategy is deciding ‘what to design’, design is the ‘doing’, but I also think there’s a grey area between the two. (I also think companies using design itself is a strategic activity). I can see why you say styling isn’t strategic though… I’ll try to explain why I think it is. IMO…

Designing in an established design language is not design strategy. Neither is styling a product that fits an established market, like just another stapler, hair blower, or bezel. Spitting out designs and letting a client choose on appearance alone, isn’t strategy either

BUT if your brief is to create a disruptive product in a market, that’s strategic. Driving a styling solution based on market insights, not just aesthetics, is too. So is applying design research for a design solution.

Creating a product style for one market that could work in other markets is strategic too - like a military product that also fits camping/hunting market aesthetic. Or styling targeting a niche group vs a larger more generic group… sometimes a client decides this, sometimes the designer.

Also, styling that sets the character of a design language or it’s future is strategic - it affects a company’s big picture success, not just sales of one product. Like the shoe for the startup footwear company that you shared online R. I’d even call that strategic branding for a product company.

I think what Nxakt said was the right direction, describing it as the intellectual side - making design decisions based on business, marketing, and research rather than carrying out a design brief where someone else has considered the business, marketing and research

Thanks Travisimo for you insights, everything can be strategic in a way and I agree with you on that. However I’m still looking for more examples that were done by some of the larger design studios such as IDEO or Continuum which shows their process but I guess there is no one on the boards that works there or willing to give us more insight. I’m still very skeptical when someone tells me I’m a Design Strategist when meeting them at trade shows or gatherings. When I ask how much money have you made with design strategy you can tell that the answer is ZERO $$$, instead i get a lecture about design and how it could be done like this and that. It was mentioned before that there are probably only a few who can really pull it off and make millions with it. A friend of mine just interviewed a recent grad who was selling himself as a design strategist and he also asked the question 'How much profit has been made with your design strategy?" He then told him that his company make more than 100 million $ without strategic design ( he is in the design & manufacturing business, with his own brand). I was told that the look of the grads face was priceless.
The problem is obviously that there is not much knowledge about strategic design or any real good examples for us to look at.
Anyway, I get the laughs when i see grads with strategic designer written on their business cards or even better human centered designer!

You are not getting responses on process and examples of this work because they are product and consumer strategies!!! The are strictly confidential to the company that has created them. I have work/lead numerous project like this and the primary goals are for us to discover white space in the market, defend againest the competition, create optimal consumer experiences, as well as optimal brand strategies. Why would I put that information on a public forum. I am already nervous that I said too much.

I will also argue you point thatbdesign strategy makes zero $$. There are always dollar amount attached to all of these projects. If there wasn’t we wouldn’t do them. And to be honest I find that statement rather offensive. The Swiffer mop is one that has turned into a billion dollar brand. Method changed a catigory and built a company around design strategy. So to say it is just bullshit that does not make the corporation money is obserd.



I will also argue you point thatbdesign strategy makes zero $$. There are always dollar amount attached to all of these projects. If there wasn’t we wouldn’t do them. And to be honest I find that statement rather offensive. The Swiffer mop is one that has turned into a billion dollar brand. Method changed a catigory and built a company around design strategy. So to say it is just bullshit that does not make the corporation money is obserd.


I’m not saying it makes no money,I’m saying the designers I met have made little to nothing with it because they are just out of school. I actually think strategic design is the biggest thing now but it’s not clear to me how to approach it, if there are no examples i can learn from. I’m looking for information to gain knowledge and not to copy and apply. Again it’s the Swiffer Mop as an example, give me something else. I never mentioned it’s BS because I’m actually working in this field in a way and judging by your folio you’re light years away in giving anyone advice on this topic!

This page seems to have a lot of examples.

thanks nxakt, I saw this a while back ago will take another look at it. I’m China now as well, Shanghai rocks dude!!!
( Not like NJ )