what exactly is... Design Strategist?

yep what is it?
how to pursue this career?
essential position for the design process?
recommended books on design strategy?

Good question, I think this discipline is very little talked about.

Design strategists are sometimes also called design analysts, in some companies also “design directors”

The function entails making an analysis of the enviromnment of the future product (mainly qualitative as opposed to quantitative research) and making a mapping of the product related to its users, the companies competition and economic influencing factors or any other element that might be deemed important. Presentations also require often some storyboarding/storytelling.

It’s basically about determining a product “candidate” that will then be further developed by the design team. This is a position that deals more with ideas than with “styling”, and is rather abstract in its implementation and requires the designer to think holistically.

People with a good background for this kind of position come mainly from a design research background, and some also hold an MBA, if they strive for a position as a “strategic design manager”. This will give them the necessary business skills to make the strategic decisons required for the job (generally corporate). But in the end, it all comes up to yourself, your interests, and experience (and whether you have the mindset of a strategic thinker or “mastermind” (for this a good test is the “MBTI” personality test you can find on the net)

I guess this is a “distilled” function that one can usually find in bigger design offices, in smaller ones, the design team does this job too. (if the client is innovation-minded enough to ask for a new product development in stead of a redesign, which is what most designers are sadly enough are doing for a living.)

Maybe most design offices can’t yet afford MBA holders, but some already do (Designcontinuum, Ziba, and I’m sure Ideo and Frog have got them too).

Things are looking good for design strategists I guess. Companies see that they need to turn to design companies (or any other souirce of creativity and innovation) to compete these days. Although in the past design offices didn’t sell business consulting services (The reign of marketing made sure we didn’t get a piece of that pie), nowadays design is going “upstream” in the development process, as companies start seeing the sense of having design on all levels. So, for what I believe, there will be more and more design strategists required to do business consulting. And companies will we prepared to pay for that (someone will have to do the strategy anyway, they can either turn to good old consultancies with marketing-based MBA’s or go for the new wave of design consultancies with MBA’s, I put my bet on the last one.) A lot of people from marketing will start going for MBA’s in strategic design management to ride that new wave. Question is, do you want them to get the job you as a designer could probably be better at? I think we designers at this moment have an advantage over marketing people, and we should use that advantage. If you feel you have the dna of an business strategist, and want to take the calculated risk of spending a lot of money obtaining an MBA, go for it, I’d say. Now’s the moment.

Here’s a statement I found on the net lately (lost the source though!)

design sensitive, strategically driven group of creative managers who can deal with manufacturers, consumers, technologists, stakeholders especially designers with élan and empathy. The design managers should understand and appreciate design, fully assimilate, articulate and interpret a design brief, manage designers, design processes, design projects, and design outcomes in a systematic and professional manner, keeping in mind various tangible and intangible parameters. They shall bring clear customer focus and design response to their aspirations, culture and values. The design managers are not expected to compromise on design excellence but work within constraints to stretch the output in the given socio-cultural and commercial context.
This new generation design managers will be different from typical MBA because of their understanding of design and how it operates at different levels and in different domains. This knowledge is superimposed with managerial skills, knowledge and attitude to help them to develop as creative team leaders, project and R&D managers, collaborative network administrators, executives of innovation enterprises and technology- design ventures while offering thought and action leadership. Day-to-day problem solving and motivating of multidisciplinary teams are in the ambit of responsibility of design managers. The design managers act as “glue”, i.e. a small amount can hold number of disparate people together and create a challenging but stimulating frame work, to achieve common goals. The design managers are expected to be employed in a wide spectrum of careers and are likely to be unique individuals who have empathy for design and hard-nosed business sense, to plan, visualize and effectively execute projects for achieving measurable success. The “right” and “left” brain combination in this case aims to create an individual who is able to manage contradictions, to make connections between the unconnected and to resolve conflicts for synergistic advantage, where whole will be larger than the parts.

Here are some schools offering MBA’s in design management (in Europe though):


I believe Stanford has one too, and Carnegy Mellon (for the US)

a design strategist creates the infrastructure(s) whether from ground up or by reconfiguring it or gnerating a new one. has to have a high knowledge of logistics for manufacturing purposes and very good command of the market. high skill in modern tools for communication and development. not scared of breaking the mold but have solid research and analysis when taking action. use up minimum resourcse for high output.

a wizard of some sort.

Pratt and UArts in Philly both offer Design Management post-graduate degrees. Both emphasize working professionals, with classes at night and on weekends. I’ve contemplated these programs…