Strategic Skills of Designers

by August 7, 2007

In a recent workshop, I outlined how designers can apply their existing skills to strategic work. The natural follow on question is: what are these skills?

In the How Designers Build Strategy workshop, I focused on pattern recognition, story telling, visual communication, and empathy.

In Defining Design Thinking, I compiled a number of attributes that constitute a design-driven methodology for problem solving. Some of these directly stem from the skills of the designers doing the problem solving others are tied more closely to specific problem-solving methodologies.

When discussing the Creative Class, I pointed out a few distinguishing factors that distinguish people working in creative capacities. Some of these attributes also directly map to designer skill sets.

My compilation A Difference of Design outlines how design approached to problem solving, validation, patterns, teams, and more differ from traditional business-driven approaches.

In Leveraging Design’s Core Competencies (PDF), Chris Conley outlined the kinds of expertise that are at the core of design. It seems pretty clear that these core competencies are quite relevant to strategic work:

  1. The ability to understand the context or circumstances of a design problem and frame them in an insightful way
  2. The ability to work at a level of abstraction appropriate to the situation at hand
  3. The ability to model and visualize solutions even with imperfect information
  4. An approach to problem solving that involves the simultaneous creation and evaluation of multiple alternatives
  5. The ability to add or maintain value as pieces are integrated into a whole
  6. The ability to establish purposeful relationships among elements of a solution and between the solution and its context
  7. The ability to use form to embody ideas and to communicate their value

Dick Buchanan has also assembled a compelling list:

  1. Whole/part: designers look at the whole in relation to the parts; they see the big picture
  2. Bring to life/creativity: designers have a passion for making things
  3. Comfortable with ambiguity: openendedness; not prejudging the solution; take chances, take risks; try multiple solutions
  4. Polysensorial aesthetics: an aesthetic of many senses; this is about the actual making: prototyping; drawing; visualizing
  5. Emotion/empathy: emotion is a way to engage with the world; passion; designers care about people

Clearly, there are lots of interesting parallels between these compilations that merit further synthesis.