How to formulate a design strategy that works for your business

Published on 23 August 2017

Think of a design that’s really stood out to you in the last few weeks.

One that’s made you think “wow, I want to use this.” It could be a website or a mobile app or even a newsletter that left you with a clear and impactful message about a brand.

How do you think that design came about? Well, I’m going to let you in on a secret.

Good design does not just rely on creativity. If you want your business aesthetics to truly stand out, then you’re going to need a solid design strategy that your users will remember.

What is a design strategy?

All too often, design can be sidelined while you concentrate on the development of a new product or service.

Your design strategy must coexist with your wider digital strategy to meet your business objectives. Good design is so much more than a flashy skin popped on top of a functionally correct app at the last minute.

Think back to that standout design you just thought of. Did you like it because of the way it looked? Or did you enjoy the experience of using that design? Or both?

Users experience much more than just the look and feel of an application. If you don’t use a design strategy then the user experience can be neglected and your users will be left uninspired – and clicking on your competitor’s site.

Simply put, a design strategy will help your business determine what you make and do, why you do what you do and how you can innovate both in the long and short term.

There are a number of ways a design strategy could help your business and you will need to pull in elements from your wider business strategy.

For example, a design strategy could help you to promote the adoption of a new technology, identify the most important questions that your products and services should address or prioritise the order in which your portfolio of products or services should be launched. A design strategy will also inform your wider business strategy and bring consistency to your brand.

How to devise your design strategy

A design strategy will change depending on the exact needs of your business. We take a multi-stage approach to every design process to make sure you get the design you need. Here are the core elements addressed by a design strategy:

1. Outline the objectives

You need a results-focused design strategy. Otherwise, how will you know if you have achieved anything from your work? Your design objectives are derived from market and product objectives and must be explicit in nature. They must also outline which parts of your product or service will be subjected to design, and how success will be measured.

For example, do you want to improve the lifecycle of your marketing campaigns? Or provide decision makers using your app with better information? And how are you going to measure these goals?

Stakeholder interviews are a good place to start and you should really try to answer one fundamental question as you draw up your objectives: “what will people actually do with your application?”

2. Identify your personas and use cases

You need to identify who will be using your application. Sometimes, you will have one core user group but, most likely, you need to appeal to two or three groups.

Once you have worked out who will use your application, you need to understand how they will use it. Break your use cases down into different user groups and allocate two or three goals for your application – and the key interactions you need to provide to achieve this.

3. Conduct an audit

Next, you need to analyse what has gone before. In other words, you need to conduct an audit of any pre-existing product or service to identify the elements that need improving.

If you are launching a new product or service, then you should still conduct some basic market research to establish benchmarks for your new offering and explore the expectations of your target audience.

4. Identify risks and constraints

You should identify any element that could complicate, slow down or stop the design process. Also, make sure you identify the actors and whose responsibility it is to resolve these issues. You can also propose solutions to these issues at this stage to further help prevent problems from escalating.

5. Identify your sequence of events and deliverables

This is the most important part of any design strategy. You need to work out the project phases and the sequence of events.

An agile approach could be adopted, where you break the key user cases into manageable chunks of work and order them accordingly. The order of work is important as it will take stock of the constraints and objectives you outlined earlier.

And finally…

Remember, good design isn’t just about looking good. You need to connect with your users and give them an experience they will not forget. And you need a clear design strategy to achieve this.

So, the next time a user interacts with your brand, they’ll think: “wow, I want to use this” because your design doesn’t just look good – it works for your business.

Written by
Joe Dawson

Joe Dawson

Director

Joe is director of Creative.onl and is responsible for all of our design work. Follow Joe on Twitter or learn more on his web page.