At ThinkWyn, we’re a Strategic Design firm and we’re deeply interested in complexity. We search for difficult and large-scale problems. We are endlessly curious and hopeful. And we believe that a human-centered approach to designing for systemic change is the way forward.
In this article our aim is to share our perspective on Strategic Design and why our increasingly connected society needs more, thoughtful, and purpose-driven design.
The pace of change and growth that we live in today is creating new and emergent contexts that are dynamic and moving at an increasingly rapid pace. The result is we’re experiencing contexts that do not have established precedents for us to draw from. From healthcare, to education, to the legal landscape, and the environment there is no shortage of systemic complexity.
We have organizations. societies, and civilizations that connect and overlap in completely new ways, both within their own domains and across new contexts. As humans, we work in these organizations, are part of these interconnected societies, and live in these overlapping civilizations.
It’s clear we are all part of new and emergent contexts. Because of this, we need new ways to make meaning of how these different pieces can work together. We need new approaches to make better and more informed decisions.
Despite a lack of institutional support, as a discipline, Design has successfully brought together disparate silos for many years. Consider, for instance, the organizational context. Think of leading-edge organizations where Design is free to do it’s “best” work — even in these circumstances Design still is most often applied to only discrete contexts such as making a new product or service. In creating these products and services Design is asked to solve problems which are confined to the existing silo or box. Design, in these contexts, is realized through highly controlled projects with strict timelines and values which focus on optimization metrics sold as “continuous improvement.” Optimization can be a worthy goal.
Unfortunately optimization often becomes the go-to goal and metric which deprives space for design-led innovation. In these scenarios we are missing the value of exploring new and dynamic contexts–the experiences which are outside of the silos or, more pointedly, the experiences which cross silos.
Enter Strategic Design
Strategic Design takes a holistic view of defining problems and developing solutions. The intention is to apply design principles to affect how information, data, and insights are gathered and then how decisions are made. Strategic Design is specifically focused on systemic challenges like healthcare, education, the legal system, and the environment. It seems like a simple concept but truly informed decision-making is something which is difficult to achieve — particularly in complex systems and environments.
To respond to the emergent contexts that are dynamic and moving at a rapid pace we need new ways of engaging. The old ways of engaging suggest we should take an optimization mindset which values expediency and gained efficiencies. In the effort to achieve expediency and efficiency, we form assumptions and these assumptions begin to inhibit real feedback loops from being created, curated, and consumed. In contrast, Strategic Design depends on feedback loops with our citizens, our employees, and our customers that are specifically designed to elicit honest and real insights. We need feedback loops that seek to eliminate bias. Feedback loops which are ongoing, managed, and widely shared.
The field of Strategic Design has emerged to find the patterns that matter by taking a holistic, embedded, and iterative approaches to problem framing.
Given that we are all living and working in new contexts it makes sense that we must build new tools and invite diverse perspectives to inform the problems and ultimately the solutions. It’s important to recognize that a solution means very little when the problem context is not well understood.
Today’s Design challenges are developing sustainable and repeatable practices which accept dynamic complexity and seek to break it down into its component parts. Strategic Design redefines how problems are approached and aims to deliver more resilient solutions. Resilient solutions are considered resilient because they are long-lasting and adaptive. Resilient solutions are designed with the understanding they are impermanent and there is an expectation of iteration. They are designed this way so that they may thrive while operating in complex and dynamic contexts.