Can Strategic Design Change … Well, Everything?

May 29, 2024
When we think about design, it’s usually relegated to a specific object. The shape of the iconic Coca-Cola bottle, Charles and Ray Eames’ legendary recliner, or the Nike swoosh that dates way back to 1971. All are timeless examples of great design, but they put design into a box as a something – an end product that can make people point and say “oh, I love that.” Design, as a discipline, offers something far more important to today’s business challenges: the ability to rethink and reframe new solutions to real challenges. Don’t get me wrong, there are thousands of brilliant packaging, product, architecture and graphics designers producing artistry every day, but when thinking about design in the future, consider, if you will, the idea of strategic design and what it can do for your brand and your business.

What strategic design does

Design is more than just an aesthetic – it’s a powerful force that can open up new possibilities from packaging to society in general. It is about solving problems, reducing friction, and creating innovative solutions that improve all of our experiences. With great design, we hardly notice it because it just sings to us, its melody striking a cord within us. Think of the services or brands you’ve adopted and stayed loyal to over the past few years. Or things that just work well in the world. They’re the end product of successful – and strategic – design. And they’re effective because they manifest empathy for users and the curiosity to uncover better ways of both creating and experiencing something. Remember, everything is designed - whether good, bad or mediocre.

Reframing challenges and perspectives

One of the most remarkable aspects of design is its capacity to reframe challenges and offer fresh perspectives. By approaching problems from new and possibly unconventional angles, strategic designers can uncover insights that others may have overlooked. This ability to think outside the box has led to groundbreaking innovations from the sleek and intuitive interfaces of modern technology to the sustainable and eco-friendly products reshaping our relationship with the environment. 
By challenging traditional notions and proposing alternative ways of living, working, and interacting, strategic designers inspire paradigm shifts that ripple through consumers and communities (TikTok anyone?). Examples are everywhere. Singapore’s use of design thinking to reimagine congested cities as greenspace, efficient and people-first. New York City’s transformation of the elevated train line into the High Line. Or new thinking in smart shipping containers, networks of last-mile logistics providers, and automation to make product deliveries faster, more reliable, and better for the environment. Strategic design in every instance produces “how easy/cool/fun/exciting was that?” experiences.

What can strategic design do for your business?

Social impact is essential, but in practical terms, what can strategic design do for your business?
Spark Innovation. By questioning existing norms, usage conventions, and processes, strategic designers can uncover new perspectives and deep insights that lead to innovative products and experiences – helping brands stand out from their competitors.
Unlock New Opportunities. Choosing to deviate from conventions empowers strategic designers to explore alternative approaches and create novel solutions to persistent friction points. Uncovering a better way is often the juice from the squeeze of challenging default ways of working and the process of doing so can identify opportunities for cost savings, additional services or adjacent business opportunities.
Promotes Cultural Creativity and Vision. Giving strategic designers the authority to challenge what is, empowers them to think, what could be. This exercise is not only good for designers, but those who design strategy, product and operations inside a company. When a corporate culture adopts the power of design, it becomes a place that attracts the best talent.
Enhance Engagement.  Familiarity might mean consumer comfort, but breaking norms and conventions can create unexpected consumer delight, interest, and curiosity to try new products and offerings.  When done well, this experience becomes cultural currency and highly marketable talk value success.

A strategic design success: Aroris Health

Here’s a real world example of strategic design. Over the past 2 years, Latitude has worked closely with Aroris Health, a company focused on reinventing the healthcare payer vs. provider dynamic.  
In 2022 Aroris Health entered the marketplace to try and solve a significant disparity between the value of the care healthcare providers offer patients and the compensation rates payers offer. Latitude was asked to problem solve with a go-to-market strategy and brought strategic design principles to the table with one goal. Help negotiate fair compensation rates for doctors to reinvest into their practices and people to provide better outcomes for businesses and the patient community.
Our team named the new startup for the Aurora Borealis – a disruptive force of beauty in a dark sky, and an incredible metaphor for the company’s mission. This idea of disruption informed brand identity, logo treatment, the creation of a new website and proprietary contract management platform as well as a comprehensive go-to-market strategy across paid, owned and earned media designed to generate awareness but speak to the much needed human touch in the business end of healthcare.

What this all means

Conventions are named just that because they’re, wait for this, conventional. But doing things the same old way can only produce the same old dissatisfying results. That way of thinking doesn’t help the Aroris Healths of the world, solve the problems societies and businesses need to address, or ignite the kind of growth we know strategic design delivers. So next time you’re looking to reinvent, rethink or retool an approach, start by asking the question we always do at Latitude: what can we do that can change everything for the better?
David Denham — Managing Director