Strategic Design vs. Design Strategy

The case for designers doing when everyone is design thinking

Lee Anderson
3 min readAug 6, 2020


Graphic illustration with tiered layers of red, orange and yellow lines in the form of an arrow pointing up and to the right
From an old IBM manual cover

In Travis J. Brown’s article “Strategic Design or Design Strategy? Effectively Positioning Designers as Strategists,” from April 2019, he questions the lack of perceived value of design in the context of business. As strategists, he says, “there appears to be increasing pressure on designers to distance themselves from design doing (i.e., being concerned with aesthetic considerations, visual articulation, and artifact creation.)” The myth is that, in order to assimilate as a business professional, the designer must be practical and not aesthetic.

The door is open to question whether, when we say design strategy, we are referring only to design thinking or embracing the full spectrum of design doing. To best represent the value that designers can bring as strategists to business challenges, our terminology matters. Brown discusses the difficulty of defining both strategic design and design strategy. His article describes a process he undertook in his Indiana University classroom to provide definitions for these terms.

An artwork of lines in different shades of blue, creating dimension on a flat surface
YVARAL(Jean Pierre Vasarely) (1934 ~ 2002 FRANCE)

Brown writes, “without design doing, the professional designer has become a design thinker, which would not be problematic if not for the fact that non-designers are being trained as design thinkers. In my opinion, this is why design doing is so important for a designer, particularly when aspiring to take on a more strategic role.” As part of his class, called “Design Strategy,” he challenges his students to define these terms, and consider the value of designers “as strategists relative to business professionals.”

I previously wrote about Strategic Design as an adventure into the future, discussing the imagination involved in design strategy. It involves crafting an image of the future that is based in critical thinking and analysis and is compelling for the user.

“Strategic design requires a high-level vision, insight into future trends, understanding the relationship of technology to social change…



Lee Anderson

Design strategist, researcher & educator. 🔎 sustainable future through design science collaboration & new business models. 📚 @SDSParsons . Also @faarfutures