One of the early and simplest aspirations of those in the design community who feel that design can and should play a role in the formation and realization of business strategy is that design not simply be used in a tactical, ad hoc fashion…later in the process of bringing a product to market…just to add aesthetics and make something look good. Over the years there have been enough market success stories to allow for this expanded role. Many companies would even describe themselves as design-driven. This has expanded the role of the designer and design strategist.

However, when design has succeeded in making its way up the strategy ladder to have a more front-end role, communication between business strategists and design strategists has not always been the smoothest. Separate left and right brains have not always easily been able to produce a shared creativity. The language is not the same. The thinking is not the same.

I have always advocated that the best-case scenario driving innovation by design is the designer as design thinker who can move up the process to become a business thinker and naturally integrate the two. Why? Because the designer cannot just designthink but can also designdo and is in a great position to translate the strategy into action by producing a design. I like the designer as strategic designer!

With business realizing the benefits of good design business schools around the world have been introducing innovative new programs to teach design thinking as a valuable compliment to traditional analytical business thinking. Much of the design thinking portfolio of approaches are essentially the approaches to forming strategy for good design; it is the innovation by design process exploring the fuzzy front end. Many of the program attendees are non-designers. They are business students getting a business education…not designers getting a design education.

This begs the question…is there a danger that the business thinker who is learning to be a design thinker in a business school will take over design strategy from the designers once again excluding designers from a leadership role in the strategy process, because now they believe they can do it themselves, and once more use designers tactically to, for instance, pretty up my quantitative personas, make a prototype, make a strategy presentation look good …and then hand off to a design team for full development.

MediaCatalyst attended the Creative Company Conference in Haarlem this week and had the opportunity to pose this question to one of the presenter’s, Banny Banerjee from Stanford’s I asked him if this worried him. In short, Banny, who himself is originally a designer, agreed that this was a concern. Design agencies have successfully used the design thinking movement to market this more strategic approach to design. However, it is not a time to rest on our laurels. Design agencies need to continue to innovate the services and level of consultancy that they provide business. Design agencies don’t own creativity but they do have the ability to take an idea and make it real. Showing the real value of naturally integrating strategy and design through creativity is the future.  I will close with this link to a snippet of an interview with Mark Parker, designer and CEO (of Nike).

(This blog first appeared on

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