The Value of Design Strategy

MentorMate
7 min readFeb 16, 2024

Discover how the right design strategy ensures the success of digital products.

Design strategy is critical to a digital product’s success. It helps you understand your market space, digital business tactics, and the people interacting with your product. Design strategy encompasses more than just the UX/UI of a product. It also includes the business and engineering aspects that help you execute your vision and bring value to users.

What is a design strategy?

A design strategy allows you to determine whether you are solving the right problems and fulfilling people’s real needs while focusing on the desired business outcome. It helps you create a fundamentally human-centered product, predict and measure impact, and devise a plan to bring your vision to functional fruition.

When done correctly, a design strategy is all about providing value to the user in a way that makes the technology easy to use and useful for them.

It describes a path forward or a roadmap to realizing and delivering on the value proposition of the products or services. It shows product teams how this value will be delivered to people as a goal. Delivering this value through technology is about making that technology disappear for the user.

Design strategy is an ever-evolving cooperative endeavor that considers the following:

  • Desirability: Is your product wanted? Does it solve a real need?
  • Viability: Does it make business sense?
  • Feasibility: Is it possible to implement? What effort is required?
  • Usability: Will it be easy to use?

Creating a design strategy abides by a particular set of rules, best practices, and methodologies, with the key components typically including:

  • Determining the objectives and goals
  • Understanding the users and conducting behavioral research
  • Creating a brand identity, a visual language that reflects the company’s values
  • Incorporating a design system that defines how to use visual elements across all touchpoints
  • Designing the user experience
  • Implementation and execution

Depending on the specific case, a conversation about design strategy begins with stakeholders or users.

The role of human-centered design: Stakeholders

Empathy and context are critical for understanding all the affected stakeholders (the people who can accelerate, slow down, and help shape a design strategy) and their feelings. Involving all stakeholders is a crucial initial step. It helps design teams understand the ecosystems of the business, their unique points of view for everything they do, their unmet needs, and what they’re dealing with as a business. Aligning those stakeholders and their leadership teams is one of the primary things a design team considers. The absence of alignment presents significant long-term problems that affect the design strategy outcome at a product level.

Familiarizing the stakeholders with the design process and introducing them to the users they’re trying to reach through research and synthesis outcomes provides them with an unabstracted perspective of the true landscape. Taking those initial steps with the stakeholders and walking them through the design strategy processes helps the design teams understand the context of their business, the systems in place, and the problems they must solve.

Even though stakeholders don’t always have the answer, they’re the ones who know the space and can help the design teams articulate the types of questions to ask users.

The role of human-centered design: Users

No user exists in a vacuum. Know who you’re interacting with and why. Then, consider what their world looks like to ensure you’re creating something that fits into it.

Design thinking does an excellent job of identifying users and unmet needs. Yet it does not tell you what’s going on in their brains and why they behave the way they do. That, again, is all about context. Not just the context of that moment when certain users interact with a version of a digital product but everything that might be happening around them. Why did they pick up their phone to interact with it? What is the context of that interaction? What happened to them that made them decide now is the time to do this?

Everything is contextual, and people do not always behave the way designers think they do, either. Conducting research and understanding the true context around user behaviors is one of the design team’s most valuable contributions during the early stages of the design strategy process.

While we often think about requirements and value, it is important to remember that this is not the only reason a customer will use and continue using a product. Successful product teams consider not only what the customer needs but also the feelings behind those needs. It all comes down to answering, “What can someone feel after using or acquiring the product that they couldn’t feel before?”

When considering how a product makes someone feel, we look at product stance and the quality between the brand and the product’s utility — the so-called soul of the product (the attitude and personality that the product takes on). In other words, what kind of person would your product be if it were a living being? And while the product isn’t alive, no matter what we do, people will anthropomorphize it, especially as interfaces become more and more conversational. Consider ChatGPT or BArd and how those interfaces behave.

Figuring out the feelings and the context around the users’ interactions with digital products beforehand saves time and money. It saves you from returning and fixing those initial steps later in executing your strategy.

The role of human-centered design: Industry Digitalization

With technology and user expectations constantly evolving, the business must be ready for change. Every industry and niche audience within that industry has unique specifics, pain points, and unmet needs to identify. To create a design strategy for a specific software solution, digital transformation teams closely examine the industry vertical, conduct thorough competitor research, and uncover gaps in the user journey.

When we think about design strategy, we always have to remember that as technology changes and the tasks within those modalities change, the goals of the human on the other side of these interactions remain constant. The design strategy must uphold these goals no matter the final design solution.

How does design strategy help product teams succeed?

A design strategy’s ultimate value is providing organizations with a comprehensive and detailed map that helps navigate the business space and focus on user needs and product goals. It helps target the right features to design, build, implement, or remove. A design strategy focusing on usability and value helps organizations plan their investments and make important business decisions backed by behavior science, research, and data. Design strategy intersects and complements the business strategy and the technical strategy, and in the end, these three things are inextricably linked to form an overall strategy. All of these are about a desired future state with an intended strategic goal.

When thinking about value proposition, it is important to have the answer to the question, “What can someone do after using or acquiring your product that they couldn’t do before?”

The right design strategy helps your organization:

  • Stay focused on the right things and maintain the product quality and usability over time: User expectations, problems, and needs your product addresses in the present and future context.
  • Separate behavioral fantasy from facts: Discover what got the people on the other side of the screen to interact with your product and the needs and context behind their behavior.
  • Prevent you from spending resources on unnecessary features: Understanding your users’ and stakeholders’ needs and business space specifics allows you to target the right things to implement in your product.
  • Leave room for innovation when user expectations and needs change: A design strategy helps your product remain flexible, scalable, and evolving. Technologies, user expectations, and needs change constantly, and by having the right design strategy in place, you can innovate without losing the focus of your product.

The MentorMate Enterprise Design Framework

Through decades of experience, our team has expanded upon the enterprise design thinking processes. We identified a need within our own company and recognized an opportunity to align our teams better. Gradually we grew into an interdisciplinary organization with an established framework that implements our design thinking approach across all the teams involved in creating a holistic design strategy. That framework allows us to leverage the expertise of BA and engineering professionals to ultimately design solutions that satisfy all different aspects of the problem space through collaboration and shared understanding.

Furthermore, our framework streamlines and aligns our work processes by establishing a common language, vocabulary, and measures for the success of our work. It keeps us moving together and makes developing a design strategy systemic and repeatable. By being rigid in our approach, we stay flexible to the specific needs of the design strategies we implement.

The approach to design strategy MentorMate has implemented consists of three main action points:

  • Observe: Comprehend the current state of the business and juxtapose it against the vision for the future product or the implementation of the new product. Discover if there are any behavioral or cognitive gaps.
  • Reflect: Conduct user, stakeholder, market, and business space research and analysis to set clear, actionable objectives and discover critical insights to help reach the desired outcome.
  • Make: Begin working on the right deliverables.

Unlike engineering, which is a space of absolutes, designers work in ambiguity. Each new business case begins with the unknown. Our process allows us to ask the right questions and conduct thorough research to accumulate the evidence we need to follow to create a successful solution.

After the ambiguity transforms into something concrete, we target the right deliverable to communicate whatever we find, be it a journey map, a service blueprint, wireframes, or ecosystem diagrams.

Final Thoughts

A solid design strategy helps organizations streamline their efforts in creating a product that solves real user problems. The right strategic partner provides a holistic understanding of the space in which they operate. Lastly, process transparency and collaboration amongst teams of wide-ranging skill sets is a surefire means to success.

Original post here.

Authored by Denny Royal and Annika Hey.

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MentorMate

Blending strategic insights and thoughtful design with brilliant engineering, we create durable technical solutions that deliver digital transformation at scale