Who wants to be a design strategist?

I’m just wrapping up a 6-month internship at a design consultancy in Boston. I am graduating with my BSME in May, but would like to eventually get into Design Strategy. I have spoken with some the strategists here asked them:

  1. What are some college majors that would benefit a design strategist?

  2. Short of going back to school, what else can I do to put myself in a better position to work as a design strategist?

Their answers were:

  1. Sociology, Anthropology.

  2. Practice looking at people and their situations, and publish what you see.

I have started to do both of these (Taking sociological research and ethnographic research in the spring), but I was wondering if any of you can suggest other ways to enhance my design strategy skills

Many thanks


Since the word “design strategy” is being used in many ways at the moment, put down your definition.

I ask because the design strategy I am going after is how to rebuild companies so that when they come to strategic “what will be?” questions, they use more design methods versus analytical methods.

Sorry for my ambiguity.

The Design Strategy I am speaking of of the product design kind variety. The people that turn business and consumer insights into useful direction for product development. They obtain these insights through consumer interviews, brainstorming, etc.

it sounds like marketing…

i once heard from a very wealthy entrepreneur that the most successful businessmen are creative ones that can seamlessly fuse that creativity into their business tasks.

it seems like you’ll get where you wanna go if, 1. you’re interested in design, and 2. if you gain some business/marketing skills.

There are a few different varieties of “design strategy”, IMO. Here are some crude definitions:

  • Design research is often confused with design strategy, but is more focused on user need finding, usually combined with some competitive research. Research is not the same as strategy.

  • Design strategy is more focused on evolution of design language as a competitive advantage. It may or may not incorporate design research as an input

  • Product strategy takes input from design research as well as multiple other research types (tech, brand, business, secondary) and outputs product definition (MRD, PRD, etc.), product roadmaps, product/experience ecosystems, and typically incorporates light business case/value proposition.

How you proceed over the next few years depends on which of these you want to pursue, as they are not quite the same. I have talked with a lot of people who have done design research, but they are not yet ready for product strategy as they do not have enough business, market and secondary research experience.

If you want to quickly get into product strategy without going back to school, you could do worse than going the corporate route - you’ll get to see more of the development and decision-making process and understand how corporations think. That’s essential. But design strategy (whatever flavor) takes several years of experience before you can really start doing it, you have to have been through several cycles of product design and launch before you know enough. It’s more complicated than straight ID.

Also, be aware that “products” are less and less treated in isolation. You can’t isolate hardware from software, or from services and partner ecosystems, or from brand and retail.

Right now there is no single path for design or product strategy. People are coming at it from lots of different angles. I myself have both design and sociology background, but other people have design and MBA combos, or psych and MBA or… Honestly, at the moment it’s more about acquired experience, attitude, and a bit of luck about what kinds of stuff you work on and what role you play.

Definitely start reading some of the books on business innovation - not the IDEO stuff but people like Clayton Christensen, Donald Reinertsen, Gary Hamel…