Tigers of a different stripe

August 22, 2012

I sat down recently with two of my Design Concepts' colleagues, Dave Franchino, president, and Stefanie Norvaisas, director of research and design strategy, to discuss, for our OWN clarity, the difference between design strategy and business strategy.

We have often wondered if the two were tigers of a different stripe or more akin to a leopard and a lion. I’m not sure that our conversation necessarily answered this question, but it was at least interesting enough that we published the transcript of it as an Industry Forum Exclusive. Let me give you a nugget or two that I think are important.

For clarity’s sake, it was important for us to delineate the ways in which the two types of strategy are different. But in practice, it is the way in which the two co-exist that is powerful.

It was important to delineate the ways in which design and business strategy are different. But in practice, it's the way the two co-exist that is powerful.

Let me give you an example.

If a client hires us to do a ton of research and create concepts for lots of new products, we are helping to move them forward in terms of innovation. But without applying business strategy, we might be moving them backward. Sometimes the delivery of a bunch of fabulous, user-centered ideas can prompt a company to lose its way. It can lose focus and try to do everything or become overwhelmed and act on nothing. Or sometimes, a company will choose a single area of focus and give it the appropriate amount of effort, but it is the absolute wrong thing to do given their business objectives.

With an articulated business strategy, the decision-making process becomes clearer and the priorities (and capabilities) of an organization are better understood. Business strategy enables innovation by acting as a filter for what to do, how to do it, when to do it and, most importantly I think, what not to do.

As my colleague Stefanie said during the interview, “it all works together in an attempt to be smarter.” And in my book, that is what strategy of any stripe is all about.