On Design Strategy

Devi Subrahmanyeswari


Blurb: Prathima Inolu, Chief Designer & Executive Director at Divami, provides insights into how design encompasses far more than just aesthetics, requiring systematic thinking, calculated planning, and a creative vision.

In chess, every move matters. Even the tiniest move of the pawn is never random. Each decision sets forces in motion that reverberate across the board. The calculation may not be obvious at first but is critical for the final victory. Players think several moves ahead, weighing countless possibilities against desired outcomes. 

Design as a strategic component of business success is much the same—every choice shapes trajectories toward victory or defeat. Strategic planning that actively integrates design is a powerful force. It lays the groundwork for long-term success, shattering the misconception that design is merely about aesthetics. 

It all begins with understanding the game.

Deciding Your Opening with The 80/20 Rule

The approach to your initial decisions, from information architecture to core workflows, will affect all future moves. You need to integrate design into your strategic planning right from the opening.

Your strategy should follow design’s simple, 80/20 rule: 20% of decisions shape 80% of a product’s usability and user experience. 

But how do you effectively shape those 20% of decisions?

The Strategic Gambit of Design

A chess grandmaster breaks down complex challenges into manageable components. You need a strategic view of the entire chessboard, but each individual move is just as important. 

Strategic design is equally multifaceted. It assesses all options and predicts their downstream effects, anticipating challenges and opportunities. It then implements the solutions that best align with the overarching business objectives.

Having a foundational design philosophy provides a lens to examine each move on the chessboard, understand interconnections, and ensure all elements point toward the same goals.

At Divami, our team uses the V.E.D.A. framework, based on years of experience, to implement four key principles: 

  • Vibrant aesthetics that intuitively engage users through the strategic use of color, typography, iconography, and whitespace.
  • Effortless interactions that optimize navigation and workflows for simplicity.
  • Differentiated messaging and visuals that clearly communicate unique value propositions.
  • Alignment through consistency and coherence of the design system. 

Using this human-centric philosophy helps make better design choices—moves that will determine if your product will thrive.

But design doesn’t just stop there. Much like the best chess strategies, it brings in innovation.

Read Also: The Impact of Design Innovation in Shaping the Future

The Most Innovative Player Wins

Design is fundamentally an innovation engine. It’s a framework for conceptualizing creative solutions to complex business problems. 

Breakthrough designs emerge when we reimagine existing paradigms and push boundaries. Chess strategies have been innovated and refined over the years to upend entrenched conventions. Similarly, visionary design has immense power to redefine products and experiences. Disrupting the status quo puts you in the lead.  

However, teams often cling to existing systems when dramatic changes feel threatening. Your design strategy needs to accommodate both existing teams and users, easing the transition from old to new.

Embracing design thinking is as much a cultural shift as a functional one. It can elevate how companies relate to users, prototype ideas, and assess risk. But after cultivating a design-oriented mindset, what’s your next move?

Learn From The Best In The Game: Your Users

In chess, you want to learn from the best of the best. In our case, that’s the user! Similar to a player understanding their opponents’ styles, you need to use demographic and psychographic insights to create experiences that intimately resonate with your target users. 

Studying users is key to design thinking, which begins with understanding the base needs of users. Appealing directly to customer aspirations and preferences fosters deeper emotional connections. 

New technologies like AI and ML parallel the use of modern computing in chess, making research and data analysis sharper. Being able to gather and analyze large amounts of relevant user data helps innovate within the 20% of decisions that shape 80% of a product’s impact. 

But who makes these strategic decisions, ensuring they align with the overarching business vision?

Design Leadership’s Role in Victory

An increasing number of organizations are recognizing design as integral to crafting business strategy, not just products and marketing. Creating leadership roles like Chief Design Officer (CDO) signifies how design thinking permeates virtually every aspect of business.

This move was once seen as a trend but, like any good tactic developed on the chess board, is solidifying into the norm. For example, PepsiCo hired its first-ever CDO from 3M to instill design principles across its entire operation.

Design leaders play a key role in fostering curiosity, creativity, and collaboration. They act as catalysts to transform organizational culture and unlock the strategic potential of human-centered design.

A Design-Centric Approach to Checkmate The Competition

A design-centric approach encompasses systematic thinking, calculated planning, and visionary innovation.

Rather than being just the paint on the pieces, design is actually the strategy to winning the game–achieving long-term growth and market leadership. 

By adopting a design-centric approach at every step, harnessed by frameworks like V.E.D.A, you can navigate every move, from opening to endgame. Get all the pieces in place with strategic design and checkmate the competition!

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