The Evolving landscape of Strategic Design

23 May 2017 09:48

(updated: 23 May 2017 09:59)

The Evolving landscape of Strategic Design

Strategic design could be viewed as the nexus of where Strategy and Design is today and possibly as the very edge of service innovation. Read new CSI blog by Daniel Grönquist and Alvaro Marquez from the EVRY Strategic Design Lab in collaboration with Method.

Design thinking has unequivocally become the new how topic in the board room, and among MBAs, to understand transforming business landscapes and to create alignment within different areas of an organization. Strategic design could be viewed as the nexus of where Strategy and Design is today and possibly as the very edge of service innovation.

Being Digital

A little over 20 years ago, the then Head of MIT, Nicholas Negroponte published the book “Being Digital” – a fantastic essay which posited that in the future, anything that could become digital would become so. That is, that all elements of life made of atoms would soon be augmented (and eventually replaced) by digital units: bits. The focus was particularly set on businesses, however its foresight extended beyond mere transactional relationships.

Today, you may say that Negroponte’s expectations have been exceeded, and that virtually every aspect of life has become digital or is in the process of becoming so. From music, to audio and video communications, to mobility and transportation, to retail and commerce, to banking and to shear social interaction. Larger companies and institutions as well as more forward-thinking governments have a digital transformation office in place and even cities are hiring their first wave of Chief Digital Officers. It is fair to say the books’ main premise has been proven true.

Strategic Design as accelerator for digital transformation

The one aspect that is left untouched in Negroponte’s book is: “How do you actually become digital?”. Digital transformation is not just about changing an enterprise’s cost structure or turning analog processes into digital ones. Rather, it’s about pursuing a strategy to reposition today’s business while finding new and relevant ways to evolve and thrive. Our research and practice suggest Strategic Design plays a fundamental role in driving such transformation.

Since “Being Digital” was published, Strategy has become more emergent and companies more agile as digitalization transform industries and create new opportunities (Morris, 2015). Key capabilities in Strategy are no longer limited to analysis, planning and execution but must include sensing and seizing of external opportunities, collaboration and agility (CSI, 2015).

In parallel, Design has also evolved and gone through its own motions as the market matured and business became more about relationships and partnerships than about isolated execution and product attractiveness. From a classical standpoint, design provides a tangible solution about the aesthetic value of products, very much like artisanship or craftsmanship, focused on the ergonomics and look and feel of things and the materiality of objects.

In a digital business landscape, built more on Service Dominant Logic and ecosystems than Goods Dominant Logic and products (Vargo&Lusch, 2011), Service design has emerged as the process of sustaining relevance for existing and potential new customers. Design thinking has unequivocally become the new how topic in the board room and among MBAs. To jointly define new opportunities from the outside in seems to be the bread and butter of business as usual.

Strategic design could be viewed as the nexus of where Strategy and Design is today (Oxford Futures Forum, 2014). We argue, and continue to challenge and explore, that it is at the edge of service innovation focusing less on how things look and work today, and instead on sensing, seizing and sizing emerging and future opportunities that naturally help organizations scale their relationships and become better and more relevant for the users they serve. By adding foresight to insight, Strategic Design move beyond solving problems of today to capturing value of future opportunities; developing a roadmap before disruption takes hold, pivoting to a different sector or generate a complete new business line.  

At CSI partners EVRY and Telenor, Design Thinking has generated new strategic trajectories such as creating a common language around customers, distributing decision making and faster learning cycles (Fjuk/Telenor, 2017) and focusing on customer centricity, collaboration and cultures for innovation (Grönquist/EVRY, 2017). The value of such trajectories will be studied in further CSI research, for example through the new Norwegian Innovation Index (CSI, 2017).

In addition, an interesting aspect that deserves to be further explored is the overlap and parallels between the practice of Strategic Design alongside the Service Dominant Logic meta-theoretical framework: taking design, strategy and user-centricity jointly forward, and understanding the different aspects of human value co-creation as key driver of innovation.

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