Pixels Aren't Enough

The Role of Business Strategy in Design

Client meeting

Hey Anne,

I found you through a Google search recent­ly and I’d like to talk about hir­ing your firm. My com­pa­ny needs some­one to help us cross the waters in the next few months and it looks like you can help. Can we talk?


Anne had received sim­i­lar emails in the past. Know­ing this was right up her alley, she hopped on a call with Stephen to chat. They dis­cussed her method of cross­ing the water, how many peo­ple she’d helped in the past, etc. The con­ver­sa­tion left Stephen impressed so they decid­ed to do busi­ness together.

The project came to an end and Anne deliv­ered the boat Stephen would need to get across the water. He saw her final prod­uct and was tak­en aback. After a long pause, he final­ly broke the bad news.

This is not what we expect­ed nor what we need. Don’t get me wrong; your work is beau­ti­ful. But we need a sea freight to get car­go across the ocean — not a cruise ship for lux­u­ry. The size is about right and it will car­ry the right num­ber of peo­ple, but this doesn’t help our busi­ness at all.

The Role of Design

Design is a tool. If used effec­tive­ly it can help orga­ni­za­tions achieve great things. For exam­ple, a well designed cruise ship can make the expe­ri­ence of a get­away a great joy. A well designed sea freight can max­i­mize the num­ber of goods trans­ferred while min­i­miz­ing the amount of time need­ed for the trans­fer. While both cross the seas, these two ves­sels are very different.

If your design part­ner doesn’t know your strat­e­gy, you pre­vent almost all oppor­tu­ni­ties for innovation.

A good design part­ner will spend more time than Anne did explor­ing Stephen’s needs. Even though Stephen thought he could clear­ly express his needs to Anne, he left out some details which, to him, were obvi­ous. Unfor­tu­nate­ly what’s obvi­ous to one per­son is often hid­den to another.

Photo of a group meeting around a table

Your busi­ness struc­ture, strat­e­gy, and goals play a sig­nif­i­cant role in the deci­sions and plans of a design part­ner. My agency, Focus Lab, is in the busi­ness of help­ing peo­ple get from one point to anoth­er and we do this with design. Because this is our busi­ness, we often know bet­ter than our clients/​partners whether they’ll need a motor­cy­cle, car, plane, train, boat, ship, or a com­bi­na­tion of these things.

What’s more, some­times a new ven­ture is so unique that the design firm cre­ates an unheard of form of trans­porta­tion. Imag­ine if Phileas Fogg, of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days,” found some­one to turn his adven­ture into the first transat­lantic flight — rather than just trav­el­ing by rail and steamship. If your design part­ner doesn’t know your strat­e­gy, you pre­vent almost all oppor­tu­ni­ties for innovation.

Design is a tool. If used effec­tive­ly it can help orga­ni­za­tions achieve great things.

Dis­cussing Strategy

At Focus Lab we love ques­tions. We ask lots of them and enjoy when they’re asked of us as well. Here are some exam­ples of ques­tions you could expect from us if we were dis­cussing your busi­ness and deter­min­ing how we could help you move forward:

  1. What does your orga­ni­za­tion do? Why does it matter?
  2. What is your busi­ness mod­el? How do you make profit?
  3. What growth plans do you have?
  4. How do you sug­gest we best learn about your busi­ness so we can be proac­tive in help­ing you max­i­mize your busi­ness success?
  5. Tell us about your cus­tomer demographic(s).
  6. Has any­one suc­cess­ful­ly done what you’re try­ing to do? If so, what makes you dif­fer­ent from them?

These are just the tip of the ice­berg when it comes to get­ting every­thing on the table. They give a decent glimpse into the types of ques­tions you should be ready to dis­cuss though.

When search­ing for a design part­ner, be ready to dis­cuss your business’s strat­e­gy, goals, etc. It will only help you both pro­duce some­thing successful.

Tags for this entry: business design strategy

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