Chemistry Team has been solving complex challenges as a Strategic Design Consultant since our conception in 2000. Yes, we are fully aware of the mind-numbing irony. A firm that specialises in human-centered strategic design throwing around potentially alienating jargon like “design thinking” and “innovation lab”. We’re going to try and iron it out right now – starting with the SEO description that we have given ourselves.
What exactly does a Strategic Design Consultant do?
At Chemistry Team, our experience with a plethora of industries provides us with valuable insights into the mind of the consumer. It is literally our business to understand how people live, work, and play. This information helps inform our strategy when solving multi-layered problems for our clients. By looking at their problems through a human-centered lens, we are able to facilitate a problem-solving process that begins and ends with the customer’s satisfaction. By reading the title quite plainly, it is quite intuitive that we use both design and strategy individually. However, the merging of both concepts produces its own meaning as well.
Marrying Strategy and Design
The dictionary defines strategy as a method or plan that brings about a desired future. This basically means that it is a research process. In addition, it entails the cognitive part of any planning process. On the other hand, designers are creators. However, they are often mislabelled as the ‘executors’ of a project… As artisans that merely create based on information provided to them. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, designers need to be extremely intuitive. Whether it’s a UI design or an industrial product, they need to unpack the ethnographic goals and the context way before the actual creation process. The aforementioned research process is largely cognitive and goal-oriented as well. As you can see from the definitions alone, these two apparently opposing concepts have more in common than you think.
Consultants using Design to be Strategic
However, when placed together, the concepts go way beyond a cognitive, research/goal-oriented process. Strategic design is an emerging and innovative problem-solving mindset that utilises design tools to achieve an outcome that benefits the implementer. The question then arises – what so special about design tools and design thinking? Essentially, the generational tides have passed. Consumers of today are extremely desensitised by traditional methods of communication and persuasion.
This sensitivity to authenticity has led businesses to realise that they can no longer instruct people on what to do or purchase. Instead, brands are learning that they have to cultivate an ethos that satisfies what the consumer expects of their industry or sector while maintaining authenticity. For example, banks were quick to pick-up on the reason why many fin-tech startups were winning over their customers. Essentially, these startups built their business as members of today’s experience-based consumers for their peers. They tackled digitisation with the customer in mind and facilitated smooth customer journeys from the get-go. This led to many banks (the smart ones) engaging a strategic design consultant to innovatively rethink their entire process.
Our design thinking process
Most strategic design processes flow similarly. However, while they differ in approach from time to time, almost all are never linear. A strategic design consultant is required to move from step-to-step at multiple points of the process. This means that they have to solve the original problem while new ones arise. In addition, each portion of the process occurs repeatedly and simultaneously as the process moves along. Without generalising, this is how the utopian, linear design thinking process would look like:
Research and Synthesis as a Strategic Design Consultant
Chemistry Team utilises human or user-centric design. Before any ideation can occur, we require a keen understanding of the target demographic and the context. This is achieved through quantitative and qualitative methodologies. From Likert’s scale to comprehensive code books, the data collection portion of the process is long, tedious, and absolutely essential. We then collate, analyse and interpret the results during synthesis. This allows us to understand user’s manifested and latent needs in context.
Seeking qualitative feedback is key to the strategic design approach. Although cold, hard statistics possess significant value, the hallmark of strategic design thinking is empathy. This involves the creation of personas and digging deep into what motivates, angers and satisfies each of them. The synthesis and hypotheses derived from qualitative feedback is essential to human-centered design.
Problem Solving and Prototyping
After attaining a wealth of insights, strategic designers would have to prototype a solution. This could include the creation of a new product, a change in the design of a user interface, or even altering how customers navigate through a physical store. With data backing creativity, the ideation behind the strategy is largely innovative.
Subsequently, we create a prototype of this ‘product’ (tangible or otherwise). This is one of those points where the utopian bubble bursts as another round of testing and research is necessary. Prototyping allows for us to understand how consumers are reacting to the entire narrative of the strategy. With this we can pinpoint if and where our solution requires altering. Traditional tools like focus groups and usability tests are handy in these situations. However, more modern methods like AR or VR could potentially be groundbreaking when gathering insights on experience. Essentially, any methodology that captures organic experiences is viable.
Implementation and Road-Mapping
After testing is complete, the final product has ideally reached its optimal state and is ready for implementation. This is when road-mapping comes into play. As strategic design consultant, we would now sit with the client and decide what the next steps would entail. This could come in the form of a five or ten year plan where content maintenance strategies and ongoing data collection methods come into play. This could potentially restart the entire strategic design process depending on the client’s goals moving forward.
Application in today’s consumer landscape
Designers are establishing successful startups worldwide. This is due to the new experience-oriented generation of consumers. This includes powerhouses like Kickstarter, Youtube and Airbnb. These companies are driven by design principles and philosophies. Rather than approaching business traditionally through the analysis of precedent and static data, these companies based their models on empathy and innovation. A good way to analyse the implementation of strategic design is by looking at companies that did not exist during the traditional era. Companies like Coinbase, the successful crypto-currency exchange platform, depicts the use of design thinking to rise above a new and saturated market. By building their company on principles like empathy through brilliant ui and ux design, Coinbase conquered the market with less products and funding than its competitors.