Becoming a Strategic Designer

Or how I learned to stop worrying and love uncertainty

There comes a time in the life of many designers when they’re faced with a professional crisis. Design is not without its challenges, and certainly not exempt from criticism. Industrial Design is even more peculiar because at some point you have to ask yourself about the consequences of all the crap you’re helping bring to the world, and yes, there’s a lot of crap being made by designers. It’s not hard to feel like a cog in a machine. I’m pretty sure that most design work in the Industrial Design field is still being done in a product centered fashion, at least that’s the absolute reality here in Argentina.

I love design, I love its challenges and potential but It’s not hard to feel disillusioned, and thus I’ve been trying to move away from Industrial Design into a different design discipline that has a more meaningful impact in people’s lives. Last year I finally made the jump into Strategic Design and joined Uncommon Design Strategy.

Strategic Design, like many new design fields can be a little bit vague on its definition but in the end it’s all about using design methods and approach to guide strategic development and bring innovation into products, practices and the organizations themselves.

In practice it involves a bit of many Design disciplines, from Service Design, UX, Design Research, Design Ops, Futures Design and many more.

These past months have been an amazing journey. While the design processes and mindset is still the same I’ve been trained and practicing as an industrial designer there’s a lot of new tools and methodologies that I’ve been incorporating, and there’s even more that I’m still learning about. I say it’s like an accelerated master’s degree.

This learning process is a constant in all design disciplines, looking to learn new things and wonder at the broad scope of knowledge to be gained is a fundamental design skill.

There’s a great focus on collaboration and co-creation. Not only internally between team members (and what a wonderful team it is) but also with the project stakeholders. It makes a lot of sense too. Given the systemic complexity of the problems, the traditional model of the designer coming down from the sky with a magic solution given to him by his muse makes absolutely no sense. Here design is a facilitator, it is there to push things forward, to provide a different point of view, to support others, the designer isn’t the star player. And that’s amazing, because involving others in the design only makes the solution better, it promotes cooperation, gets everyone on the same page and ultimately makes people in the organisation care about the solution instead of it being just another thing handed to them by their superiors.

The biggest difference though, is not in mindset or even tools but it’s about focus. A product centered approach cares mostly about the how; how to solve a problem, how to make the thing, how to move it around, talk about it and all that. Taking a human centered approach means not only caring about the how but also, and more importantly, about the why, why should this thing exist, why will people care, why should I care. It’s a huge difference and it means that there’s real meaning behind the work, even if we have to search for it.

I guess that what this change has taught me that design is design, no matter what is it you’re designing, that at it’s core it’s a way to approach problems and challenges. I also learnt the importance and difference of looking at the ‘why’ in addition to the ‘how’. I learnt that design is about bringing the best of everyone involved and ultimately it’s about growth, and no one ever stops growing.

Designer with a passion for design and culture

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