Design & Strategy

Talk at Cumulus Antwerp

Super excited to be invited to speak at the Cumulus Conference in Antwerp (Belgium). I talked about strategic development of design, based on my book Design and Strategy. Thrilled to meet design academics from all over the world. I am happy to share an excerpt from my talk.
Cumulus talk: How to bridge the gap between strategy and design? In this talk, Prof. Grimsgaard will encourage designers to see design through the lens of strategy, process and problem solving, and business managers, innovators and developers to see the value of design, as a means for the company to realize its strategy and achieve its goals. (Cumulus Antwerp 2023)
Cumulus talk: How to bridge the gap between strategy and design? In this talk, Prof. Grimsgaard will encourage designers to see design through the lens of strategy, process and problem solving, and business managers, innovators and developers to see the value of design, as a means for the company to realize its strategy and achieve its goals. (Cumulus Antwerp 2023)

Bridging the gap

In my talk at Cumulus I encouraged designers to see design through the lens of strategy, process and problem solving, and business managers, innovators and developers to see the value of design, as a means for the company to realize its strategy and achieve its goals. It involves bridging the gap between strategy and design through – strategic development of design.

At the intersection of strategy and design lies the key to creating unique, targeted design solutions. The challenge is to bridge the the verbal and the visual. Here lies the designer’s greatest potential linking strategy and design, transforming insight, goals, and strategy into visual images, identities, and experiences. © Grimsgaard, W. (2018) 
At the intersection of strategy and design lies the key to creating unique, targeted design solutions. The challenge is to bridge the the verbal and the visual. Here lies the designer’s greatest potential linking strategy and design, transforming insight, goals, and strategy into visual images, identities, and experiences. © Grimsgaard, W. (2018) 

Strategic development of design

With strategic development of design, I mean that the process is rooted in the company's goals and strategies. Strategic design development requires the right methods for insight, analysis and strategy development, and the ability to incorporate this strategy into the design process and thus complete a task or solve a problem. The solution must help the company realise its strategy and achieve its goals, or other value creation.

The figure illustrates where strategic design is located between the extremes of art and business. Strategic design is close to business. The direc­tion of art is often more indi­vidual, while the direction of business operations is more client-driven. © Grimsgaard, W. (2018) 
The figure illustrates where strategic design is located between the extremes of art and business. Strategic design is close to business. The direc­tion of art is often more indi­vidual, while the direction of business operations is more client-driven. © Grimsgaard, W. (2018) 

The process

The six phases process I present in the book Design and Strategy is universal and timeless. It is a process that is more robust against trends. All trends that come and go can fit into the model. I have created a rich toolbox of methods and models to support the phases. I'll show you the process and some examples of what's in between.

Strategic design is an area I have worked with for many years. I have interviewed designers across professions and disciplines about their expertise, about what is typical and what you have in common, and there is a lot. I have interviewed and talked to experts in the fields of social science, strategy, brand building, marketing, communication, design methodology , typography, prototyping, color management, technology, paper, cardboard, packaging, manufacturing and legal rights, to name a few. And I have delved into loads of literature and research articles.

As a result, I have developed a universal and unique process, a system, that is easy to use in a work process, as a tool – for working strategically with design. The process helps bridging the gap between strategy and design. The process can be used in a design project or any project. It can help solve the client's problems, strengthen innovation, and increase competitiveness. It is a process you can use to solve any problem.

The process consists of 6 phases. The phase structure is explained linearly, but also takes place circularly. You go back and forth between the phases.

The figure shows the design process as a linear phase structure and the way we navigate back and forth and circularly in the phases. The initiation of a design project can take place in phase 1 or phase 4, depending on the need for insight and strategy development. © Grimsgaard, W. (2018) 
The figure shows the design process as a linear phase structure and the way we navigate back and forth and circularly in the phases. The initiation of a design project can take place in phase 1 or phase 4, depending on the need for insight and strategy development. © Grimsgaard, W. (2018) 

I will use a design project as an example. This means that the designer is working on an assignment for a company. The main characters in a design project are the company, the designer and the user. The user is the most important person. Without the user, the business has no customers and the designer has no assignment.

The figure shows the book’s main characters: the company (the design buyer), the designer (the professional) and the user (the customer). © Grimsgaard, W. (2018) 
The figure shows the book’s main characters: the company (the design buyer), the designer (the professional) and the user (the customer). © Grimsgaard, W. (2018) 

Phase 1 Initiation

As you can see, this phase is divided into nine levels. This applies to all phases. In addition, there are two sub-levels. In Phase 1 Initiation you lay the foundations for a good collaborative climate, and good project management.

  1. Initial preparations
  2. Project brief
  3. Initial meeting
  4. Initial workshop
  5. Project description
  6. Progress schedule
  7. Price quotation
  8. Contract
  9. Team collaboration

Initiation is about ensuring a good start to the project. For the company, this means writing a project brief and choosing a designer with the right qualifications. For the designer, it's about making a good pitch and showing oneself qualified. For both, it is about gaining a common understanding of the task to be solved. The designer and the company agree on a price and progress plan, as well as a contract that secures the rights of both parties. Level of ambition is always an important question. A high level of ambition means, for example, more rounds, more sketches, more time, and a higher price.

Phase 2 – Insight

Here, you gather necessary insight to clarify which problem or need the task will help solve. It is about clarifying the today's situation by conducting a situational analysis.

  1. Understanding the company
  2. Situational study
  3. Problem statement
  4. Method selection
  5. Research process
  6. Research
  7. Analyses
  8. Mapping
  9. Testing and measuring

Insight is about getting to know the current situation to be able to set your goals and choose a strategy. The designer is always looking for what problem is to be solved. If, for example, the designer is commissioned by the company to develop a new website, a natural question will be: Why do you need a new website? What is the problem? Are sales declining, has the competition increased, is the website outdated, what about the logo? And what about the strategy, is it outdated too? So, you start by examining the company's situation, doing research, such as surveys, interviews, observations and analysis, or by examining existing data. This way you learn what factors affecting the company, for example internal factors, such as financial ability, competitive advantage, and organizational culture, and external factors in the market and surroundings, such as the competitive situation, trends, environmental challenges, politics and ongoing conflicts etc which might affect the company. You can also gain insight through design, by exploration, experimentation, and iteration in the design process.

Phase 3 Strategy

Here you ensure strategic anchoring of the project in the company’s goals and strategy, as well as setting goals and creating a plan for your project.

  1. Strategy development
  2. Overall strategy
  3. Goals and subgoals
  4. Business strategy
  5. Business model
  6. Market strategy,
  7. Brand strategy
  8. Communication strategy
  9. Design strategy

Strategy is about clarifying what the company's goals and strategy are, to ensure that your project helps the company achieve its goals. It involves using strategy as a management tool for the design process. It may be necessary to develop strategy in a project. The designer can, for example, contribute to develop brand strategy, communication strategy and design strategy. Strategy is, in the same way as design, a creative work. There is no one answer in the field of strategy, nor in design. While goals are about what we want or where we want to be, strategy is about how we will get there. 'Strategy' is the plan.

In the transfer of strategy to design or vis versa is where brilliant ideas and innovation happens. This is also the core of my research area, surching for methods and tools to bridge the gap. A good start to help transfer strategy to the design development is to make a design strategy. Here you decide what consequences the insight and strategy will have for the design development.

Phase 4 Design

Here you develop design solutions based on insight, goals and strategy from the preceding phases.

  1. Design brief
  2. Strategy><Design
  3. Design methodology
  4. Concept development
  5. Design development
  6. Design elements,
  7. Composition
  8. Surface and format
  9. Identity development

Design is about conducting idea processes and develop solutions to your problem statement, like visual designs and identity, customer journeys, webdesign, packaging, magazines, campaigns, and so on. Here you work with design methodology, sketching, colours, shapes, typography, composition. You iterate, which means that you go through many rounds of design development, test along the way, evaluate and learn, and keep going until you have the desired result. You ensure that strategy is linked to your design solution.

Phase 5 Production

Here you implement and realize the design solution.

  1. Implementation
  2. Model
  3. Material selection
  4. Paper and cartonboard
  5. Colour management
  6. Production for digital media
  7. Production for printed media
  8. Installations and constructions
  9. Quality assurance

Production may involve producing products mechanically, manually or digitally. It could be producing packaging for a product. building a trade fair stand, printing a brochure, or programming an app or a website. Production is something the designer often leaves to subcontractors, but production planning, and quality assurance are the designer's responsibility.

Phase 6 Management

Her you administer, control and operate the assets created through a design project.

  1. Intangible assets
  2. Legal protection
  3. Design management
  4. Design effect
  5. Design manual
  6. Design templates
  7. Operations manual
  8. Further development
  9. Sustainable management

Management includes ensuring correct and consistent use of the design by developing design manuals, in order for example to build a brand. Here we also talk about managing or protecting values. Design assets must be legally protected to avoid plagiarism. In addition, a brand is something that must be managed and developed in the long term, so that it retains its relevance and value. This phase is also write about sustainability management, which is a responsibility for both the company and the designer. This means, among other things, focusing on long-term rather than short-term gains.

A rich toolbox

The process I have presented is universal and timeless. It is a process that is more robust against trends. All trends that come and go can fit into the model. I have made a rich toolbox of methods and models to support the phases. Here are some examples.

Project management tool “Your choice of methods, tools and scope depends on the type of project, schedule and level of ambition” (Grimsgaard, W., 2018). The figure shows a control loop. A project man­agement tool.

The figure shows a control loop, a project management tool based on Westhagen, 2008. Goal formulation: Decide and describe what the project will result in. Planning: Break down the goals into elements, which can ensure that we perform the task expediently. Execution: Management, communication, resource use, team, motivation. Follow-up: Record what is happening in the project and compare with plan and goals. Manage necessary corrections in goals, planning and execution. © Grimsgaard, W. (2018) 
The figure shows a control loop, a project management tool based on Westhagen, 2008. Goal formulation: Decide and describe what the project will result in. Planning: Break down the goals into elements, which can ensure that we perform the task expediently. Execution: Management, communication, resource use, team, motivation. Follow-up: Record what is happening in the project and compare with plan and goals. Manage necessary corrections in goals, planning and execution. © Grimsgaard, W. (2018) 

Situational study “You always start with insight. Many companies base their choices and goals on speculation and assumptions and not on facts. Many designers do that too. Investigations are necessary to find out whether the assumptions are correct. I use the social science method to explain how to conduct research” (Grimsgaard, W., 2018).

The figure shows the approach in empirical research, based on Jacobsen, 2005. We have a question and a few possible assumptions. We investigate what reality really looks like, and have our speculations confirmed or denied. © Grimsgaard, W. (2018) 
The figure shows the approach in empirical research, based on Jacobsen, 2005. We have a question and a few possible assumptions. We investigate what reality really looks like, and have our speculations confirmed or denied. © Grimsgaard, W. (2018) 

Wicked problems “To conduct at situational study of the company you look for internal and external factors that affect the company in order to uncover possible problems. Some problems are really huge and difficult or even impossible to solve. Such as Power and corruption, Inequality and Death of nature which is among the wicked problems that Sarkar and Kotler have included in their Wicked seven” (Grimsgaard, W., 2018).

The figure shows the ‘seven wicked problems’, based on Sarkar & Kotler, 2021. Sarkar & Kotler argue that one of the main reasons that wicked problems aren’t being addressed is because when we try to solve them individually, the boundaries we draw to frame the problem are reductive – they reduce and diminish the scope of the true underlying causes (Sarkar & Kotler, 2021). © Grimsgaard, W. (2022) 
The figure shows the ‘seven wicked problems’, based on Sarkar & Kotler, 2021. Sarkar & Kotler argue that one of the main reasons that wicked problems aren’t being addressed is because when we try to solve them individually, the boundaries we draw to frame the problem are reductive – they reduce and diminish the scope of the true underlying causes (Sarkar & Kotler, 2021). © Grimsgaard, W. (2022) 

Systemic design “Problems are becoming increasingly complex. Systems thinking is a holistic approach of understanding the complexity of the world, especially as we experience it in times of crisis. This is a way to investigate factors and interactions and analyse the way that a system’s constituent parts interrelate and how systems work overtime and within the context of larger systems” (Grimsgaard, W., 2018).

The figure shows a 7-step sequence of interactions/journey for use in a full cycle of analysis and proposal building for a complex social system. The top 3 steps are systems oriented, the bottom 3 steps are design and design research oriented. The systems steps promote systems thinking with design ideation, multi-level system maps and causal loop diagrams, and the design steps infuse systemic principles with design methods and human-centred design approaches. The final step 7, Fostering the transition, draws on Geels’ transition model and Three Horizons. Caption and figure are based on Peter Jones (2019). © Grimsgaard, W. (2022) 
The figure shows a 7-step sequence of interactions/journey for use in a full cycle of analysis and proposal building for a complex social system. The top 3 steps are systems oriented, the bottom 3 steps are design and design research oriented. The systems steps promote systems thinking with design ideation, multi-level system maps and causal loop diagrams, and the design steps infuse systemic principles with design methods and human-centred design approaches. The final step 7, Fostering the transition, draws on Geels’ transition model and Three Horizons. Caption and figure are based on Peter Jones (2019). © Grimsgaard, W. (2022) 

Strategy is the plan “The insight gathered in phase 2 should help you understand the current situation. You have to know where you are to be able to set goals and make a strategy. Where are we? Where are we heading? How are we going to get there? The goal is the destination, while the strategy is the plan for how to reach it ” (Grimsgaard, W., 2018).

The figure shows how strategy includes defined path choices and measures against a defined desired situation, based on a clarified current situation. Where are we? Where are we heading? How are we going to get there? The goal is the destination, while the strategy is the plan for how to reach it. See also chapter 2.2.3 Where are we – where will we? © Grimsgaard, W. (2018) 
The figure shows how strategy includes defined path choices and measures against a defined desired situation, based on a clarified current situation. Where are we? Where are we heading? How are we going to get there? The goal is the destination, while the strategy is the plan for how to reach it. See also chapter 2.2.3 Where are we – where will we? © Grimsgaard, W. (2018) 

Blue Ocean strategy A Blue Ocean strategy is based on creating new mar­kets instead of competing in established ones. The princi­ples include identifying which established competitive fac­tors can be eliminated, which price factors can be reduced, which buyer values can be increased and strengthened, and which new values can be created” (Grimsgaard, W., 2018).

The table shows red vs. blue ocean strategies based on Kim and Mauborgne (2005/2010) and Roos et al. (2014). © Grimsgaard, W. (2018) 
The table shows red vs. blue ocean strategies based on Kim and Mauborgne (2005/2010) and Roos et al. (2014). © Grimsgaard, W. (2018) 

Sustainable business model “What characterises a sustainable business model is that it includes in its calculations what effect the business has on the world, and conversely what impact the global effects have on the business itself. It involves looking beyond what is involved in creating value for the customer, the business owner, internal stakeholders and shareholders. Sustainable business models include external stakeholders, such as society and the environment” (Grimsgaard, W., 2018).

The figure shows example of a sustainable business model and with a sustainable value proposition: Environmental value: Renewable resource, low emissions, low waste, biodiversity, pollution prevention (air, water, land). Social value: Equality and diversity, well-being, community development, secure livelihood, labour standards, health and safety. Economic value: Profit, return on investments, financial resilience, long-term viability, business stability. (Based on Evans et al., 2017) © Grimsgaard, W. (2022) 
The figure shows example of a sustainable business model and with a sustainable value proposition: Environmental value: Renewable resource, low emissions, low waste, biodiversity, pollution prevention (air, water, land). Social value: Equality and diversity, well-being, community development, secure livelihood, labour standards, health and safety. Economic value: Profit, return on investments, financial resilience, long-term viability, business stability. (Based on Evans et al., 2017) © Grimsgaard, W. (2022) 

Design strategy A design strategy is developed on the basis of previous work on gathering insight, conducting analyses, and developing strategies, as well as of anchoring in the company’s overall strategy and goal. You ask: What consequences should strategy and goals have for the design devel­opment in phase 4? The answer lies at the heart of the design strategy, which will serve as a plan for further work on developing ideas, design sketches and a final solution, as well as on responding to the problem statement.

The figure shows insight, strategy and other foundations unfolded in a GIGA map. Insight and strategy stored digitally or in a drawer become inaccessible and difficult to use. Creating a visual overview makes it easier for those involved in the project to see new contexts and opportunities that may be important for the development of a design strategy. © Grimsgaard, W. (2018).
The figure shows insight, strategy and other foundations unfolded in a GIGA map. Insight and strategy stored digitally or in a drawer become inaccessible and difficult to use. Creating a visual overview makes it easier for those involved in the project to see new contexts and opportunities that may be important for the development of a design strategy. © Grimsgaard, W. (2018).

The iterative method is a way of developing design that includes testing and evaluation throughout the process. Iteration is a term for a circular way of working

The figure shows the ‘Iterative development model’ (according to Aflafla1, 2014), a classic example of an iterative process, which provides a good description of the different phases of the process. © Grimsgaard, W. (2022) 
The figure shows the ‘Iterative development model’ (according to Aflafla1, 2014), a classic example of an iterative process, which provides a good description of the different phases of the process. © Grimsgaard, W. (2022) 

Distinctive brand assets A visual asset can be built strategically over time and become the carrier of strategy. Distinctive brand assets are the new trend in branding. The figure shows examples of typical distinctive brand assets, which means that we recognise the brand by only seeing part of the visual element or symbol. Using this strategically and consistently in all contexts you can create a unique and well-known brand.

The figure shows examples of typical distinctive brand assets, which means that we recognise the brand by only seeing part of the visual element or symbol. Based on Jenni Romaniuk (2018). © Grimsgaard, W. (2022) 
The figure shows examples of typical distinctive brand assets, which means that we recognise the brand by only seeing part of the visual element or symbol. Based on Jenni Romaniuk (2018). © Grimsgaard, W. (2022) 

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a standardised, science-based tool for quantifying the environmental impacts of a product over its entire life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials to its end-of-life management (Origin, 2018). 

The figure shows the major stages in a material’s lifecycle, which are raw material acquisition, materials manufacture, production, use/ reuse/maintenance, and waste management (EPA, n.d.). The figure is based on lifecycleinitiative.org, What is life cycle thinking? © Grimsgaard, W. (2022) 
The figure shows the major stages in a material’s lifecycle, which are raw material acquisition, materials manufacture, production, use/ reuse/maintenance, and waste management (EPA, n.d.). The figure is based on lifecycleinitiative.org, What is life cycle thinking? © Grimsgaard, W. (2022) 

This blog article is based on the book Design and Strategy:

Grimsgaard, W. (2023). Design and Strategy. A Step-by-Step Guide. Routledge, Oxon/NY. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003223955

Grimsgaard, W. (2018). Design og strategi. Prosesser og metoder for strategisk utvikling av design. Cappelen Damm Akademisk, Oslo.

Design and Strategy on Amazon.com

Design and Strategy on Amazon.co.uk

Design and Strategy. A Step-by-Step Guide. 672 pages and more than 250 color Illustrations. Photo: Theo Sikkes
Design and Strategy. A Step-by-Step Guide. 672 pages and more than 250 color Illustrations. Photo: Theo Sikkes

References to this blog article:

EPA, (n.d.). Sustainable Materials Management Basics. EPA, United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Ecoinvent n.a. Ecoinvent org./Compassmag.3ds.com

Evans, S., Vladimirova, Holgado, M., van Fossen, K. Yang, M., Silva, E. A., Barlow, C. Y. (2017). Business Model Innovation for Sustainability: Towards a Unified Perspective for Creation of Sustainable Business Models. https://doi.org/DOI:10.1002/ BSE.1939 

Jacobsen, D. I. (2005). Hvordan gjennomføre undersøkelser? Innføring i samfunnsvitenskapelig metode. (2nd ed.). Høyskoleforlaget, Kristiansand. 

Jones, P. (2019). Systemic Design Toolkit. Design dialogues. https:// designdialogues.com/systemic-design-toolkit/ 

Kim, W. C., & Mauborgne, R. (2005). Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant. Harvard Business Review Press, 7/118. 

Kim, W. C., & Mauborgne, R. (2015). Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant (2nd ed.). Harvard Business Review Press. 

Romaniuk, J. (2018). Building Distinctive Brand Assets. OUP Australia and New Zealand. 

Sarkar, C., & Kotler, P. (2021). The Wicked 7. Can we solve the world’s most urgent problems? 

Westhagen et al. (2008). Prosjektarbeid. Gyldendal. 

Westhagen, H., Faafeng, O., Hoff, K. G., Kjeldsen, T. & Røine, E. (2008). Prosjektarbeid. Utviklings- og endringskompetanse (opplag 6, 2016). Gyldendal. 


Cumulus Association The aim of the Cumulus Association is to map research and education in design and highlight novel directions. The overall theme of Cumulus 2023 was Connectivity and Creativity in times of Conflict.


Wanda Grimsgaard: E-mail: wanda.grimsgaard@usn.no Linkedin, Researchgate


Also read: Launching Design and Strategy