Tell us a little about yourself
Generally speaking, I would describe myself as a humble, well-spoken guy who is creative in business and innovation, as well as design. My career as a design strategist developed very organically and it was not my original intention to go in this direction. It has been quite a challenging experience to date and I’ve committed many long hours to my career, especially when I worked in Asia.
Please share your career story
I started off in what you would call the traditional design crafts – as an industrial designer/product designer in hardware. However, following the launch of the iPhone, my role became broader – from research and branding to UI/digital touchpoints, business and marketing.
What kind of person are you out of the office?
Out of office, I’m fairly quiet and like to read books on management and innovation. I spend my downtime with my wife and a small group of friends. I still do creative work on the weekend from time to time, mostly industrial design projects. Recently, I learned all about a new design tool and have started to get into coding too.
What is your favourite source of knowledge?
I would have to say books. Among the best I’ve read recently are This Is Service Design Doing, The Lean Startup, The Power Of Habit, Reinventing The Product and The Business Model and Value Proposition Canvas books. I also like to watch TED talks on YouTube and read articles on Medium and LinkedIn.
What does Design Strategy mean to you?
Design strategy is a difficult term to define universally and can change depending on a company’s culture and the context of a project or industry. However, for me, strategy is about making sense of all the insights and data that each company function or activity brings to the table, and finding just one or maybe two golden threads that create advantage and value for that product or company. Design Strategists usually need to jump from the micro to the macro and back again very quickly: seeing the details and then zooming out to connect the dots.
What do you think design strategy should address? In your experience, does having a strategy result in more creative solutions?
Strategy should identify the ‘why’ of something has value, make sense of that value and translate it into something actionable – towards a vision that is the ‘what’ and the ‘how’.
A lot of designers get a “seat at the leadership table”, but don’t know how to use that power. How do you approach strategy?
In the last 10 years or so, it’s been great to see that designers are getting a seat at the top table – this was not the case when I was starting out. I generally approach strategy with a balance of creative thinking and an analytical mindset. By this, I mean that you need to be able to creatively sketch value propositions using pen and paper or carboard prototypes and more. Then overlay that with, dare I say, it a ‘Vulcan’-like logic to form a lawyerly argument that is watertight and sensible.
How would you define a successful strategy? What’s the most important part in your opinion?
A successful strategy is one that does not take months to form in some basement, but is crafted in the heat of the forge, i.e. tested and improved continuously with real data, people and testing. A successful strategy in my opinion should always align with your company’s or brand’s future vision. For me, and for the teams at designaffairs and Accenture, the post important part of a vision is the ‘why’: why are we doing it; why is it important to our product or brand/company and why is this something we should spend time and energy on. Only after the ‘why’ can we properly define the ‘what’ and the ‘how’.
How do you generally approach connecting the design team to the rest of the organization – engineering, product, etc.?
Mostly by using artful persuasion behind the scenes and then carefully moderated design–thinking workshops. These workshops might be in the form of co–creation or design sprints, which really help teams to come together, connect and talk in a common language or currency. This unification is often achieved through design tools, dialogues and ─ most critically ─ through the art of creating prototypes and experiences.
What kind of competencies and skills does a design strategist need?
Strong creative and analytical skills ─ I like to think of this as the partnership between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock from Star Trek. Kirk is the creative, the emotive and the entrepreneur and risk-taker, while Spock is logical, rational and more risk averse.
In general, I find that designers from a mixed hardware and software background make for strong design strategists, provided they learn and experience other functional disciplines ─ such as marketing, branding and finance ─ through self study.
The other skills required are perhaps more specific, but you need to be an excellent purveyor of stories and ideas/visions ─ you need to be a salesman without the con that comes with selling. You also need to know how to negotiate and when not to compromise on an idea or strategy simply because it differs from the status quo.
YOUR PROCESS + ORGANIZATION
As a design strategist, what is your management style?
I always try to communicate my management style from the outset of a new project or with new team members – I find this helps set the tone and manage expectations within the team. I explain that we should be lean and operate with a high degree of autonomy, so I am open to any advice or improvement in the project approach that anyone wants to offer. Lastly, I make clear that, as a project lead/project manager, I am not afraid to get my hands dirty and lead from the front.
What are the qualities of an effective design organization or design department?
The best qualities of an effective design organization include a clear vision of what the team wants to achieve as a mission and what it stands for as a unit, tribe and culture. This means they need to be excellent listeners, great communicators, strong team players and, most importantly, creative problem-solvers in crafting beautiful user and customer experiences.
What would you call a good design management style?
Allowing people to test, learn and fail quickly and in relative safety, then gradually increasing the difficulty level depending on their characteristics. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, providing high levels of autonomy, mastery and creative purpose – giving them the opportunity to design a better world.
What is design’s role in business?
Design’s role should be to visualise the intangible concepts ─ such as the future of HMI in level 4 cars or the future of smart cities ─ and to innovate more closely with the customer or users than most functional disciplines tend to offer.
What would your ideal design team look like?
My ideal team would be a cross-functional, cross-matrix team with a mixture of deep academic thinkers, entrepreneurs with gut feelings, pragmatic engineers, business analysts and creative marketing/branding experts ─ all with a balance of male and female staff. Experiences here should also be mixed ─ some novices and some who have walked barefoot through the design trenches and have the scars to prove it!
What do you think about distributed design teams?
It’s a good idea if they are co-located in the same time zones, although I would not impose this on any team that is new or freshly formed – I would prefer that they build up some mastery before adding this to the recipe.
MORE ABOUT DESIGN
In your experience, how does design help to foster innovation?
Design brings the brand tangibly closer to the customer’s true pain points and needs. It drives innovation through analytical and creative problem solving, which is continually iterative and which should always rely on real customer validation if it’s done correctly.
Design-centric companies outperform companies without a design department. In your experience, how can design become a competitive advantage for the business?
Put simply, design is a force multiplier – it adds to any business function and means greater customer innovation and competitive advantage.
As we scale our design maturity, we deliver more strategic and valuable results for the business. What are your go-to design metrics, if any?
Start with low-fidelity, low-resolution prototypes and then incrementally improve and pivot every time, based on feedback. Oh and document a lot less… instead, measure project progress by how well and how fast you iterate through MVP 1, MVP 2, MVP3, etc.
What tools do you use/recommend?
Other than great sketching skills, empathy and curiosity, I would recommend Post-it notes, sharpies, user interviews, paper wire-frame templates for digital topics, and foam core and cardboard.