How to define your design strategy: Step by step guide.

May 29, 2020

Ed Orozco and Jinny Oh conducting a design strategy session in LA 2019. Photo by the author.

This is a continuation of my post

What is Design Strategy and why do you need it


Building a design strategy requires you to create your entire corporate strategy around design thinking and human-centered design (HCD) principles. Define a goal, create a product or service to achieve it, and measure the results. Repeat the process to keep improving.

Let’s review each step more in detail.

Steps to create a design strategy

These are the three main steps to get started with your business’ design strategy.

  1. Define your vision
  2. Design your competitive advantage
  3. Set measurable goals
Young man drawing a user flow on a whiteboard. Campaign Creators on Unsplash.

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

1. Define your vision

The core values of the brand become the lens through which you will define your company’s long-term vision. Those values reflect the wants and needs of your customers.

One of the best ways to articulate the vision for your business is by defining its Why. If you haven’t watched Simon Sinek’s Start With Why TED talk, this would be a perfect time:

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it — Simon Sinek

The Why of your business makes it unique in its appeal to the right audience. Different people have different sets of values that they stand for, relate to, and identify with. Once your vision aligns with the values of your audience, it fosters the type of resonance that generates a cult following.


A cult brand refers to a product or service that has a loyal customer base that approaches fanaticism. A cult brand, unlike regular brands, has customers who feel a sense of ownership or vested interest in the brand’s popularity and success. — Will Kenton.

A great way to write a Why statement should be clear about what you believe in as a company, and it should provide the basis for your vision.

Here are a few examples of brands with inspiring Why statements:

Why use Asana? Asana gives you everything you need to stay in sync, hit deadlines, and reach your goals. — Asana [from their website]

To inspire human creativity by enabling a million artists to live of their art and a billion people to enjoy it and to be inspired by it. — Spotify [expressed by founder Daniel Ek]

A world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.™ — Alzheimer’s Association [from their website]

With a well-defined Why for your company, the next step is to define its competitive advantage through design thinking.

2. Design your competitive advantage

To claim a share in your market, you have to set yourself apart from the rest of the pack. You have to create a product or service that aligns your vision with the values of your customers.

Here’s where design thinking becomes crucial.


Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success. — Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO


By deeply understanding what your user’s needs are, you can create products and services that help them uniquely solve a particular problem with a great set of products and services.

When your product is truly unique in the way it connects with people, competition becomes irrelevant.


Competition is for losers — Peter Thiel


A speedy and effective way to design your unique product or service is by running a design sprint. A design sprint is a human-centered design methodology distilled into its core components and compressed into a 5-day process.

Part of the reason design sprints are so popular is that they are time-constrained and collaborative. They allow an entire team with multiple backgrounds to work together on a democratic process to create powerful ideas quickly.

Pro tip: Check out Jake Knapp’s book, Sprint for learning how to run design sprints.


Once your idea gets initial validation from the design sprints (you may have to run more than one), the next step is to make sure everyone has clear, measurable goals to keep the entire organization on track.

3. Set measurable goals

Also known as indicators, these are quantifiable variables that measure progress, and there are multiple ways to set and keep track of them. The two most widely used types of indicators in strategy are KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and OKR (Objectives and Key Results).

Key Performance Indicators

These are expressed as a variable with different degrees of success e.g., Monthly traffic increase:

  • Bad result <5%
  • Fair result > 5% & < 15%
  • Good result > 16%

[KPIs] are the critical (key) indicators of progress toward an intended result. KPIs provides a focus for strategic and operational improvement, create an analytical basis for decision making and help focus attention on what matters most. — KPI basics on kpi.org


Objective and Key Results

Created by Intel’s CEO Andy Grove, OKRs allow you to track progress on an important goal and the tasks needed to achieve it.

An OKR is comprised of two parts 1) A clear Objective 2) A few tasks or critical results. Here’s an example:

Example of an OKR from okrexamples.co/design-okr-examples

Example of an OKR from okrexamples.co/design-okr-examples


If you want to learn more about KPIs, OKRs, and how to set them, here’s a great post from Felipe Castro.

It’s a good idea to review your indicators at least once every quarter together with your team members responsible for them. It will create a space for discussing what went great and what could have been done better.

Indicators are a great way to review the progress you’ve made on each area of your strategy, and they give you visibility into what needs to be tweaked to keep improving.

These three steps are an introduction to help you get started with your design strategy. Now you should have a general idea of what the process looks like, and hopefully, you’ll be ready to start creating your own.

If you want to know more about any of the topics discussed here, make sure you check out the further readings section below. Good luck!


Further readings

  1. Continuum Resonance Video: Getting to the right idea on Vimeo. https://vimeo.com/4167960
  2. https://www.inc.com/craig-bloem/this-1-unusual-habit-helped-make-mark-zuckerberg-steve-jobs-dr-dre-successful.html
  3. https://medium.com/@meetfelipe/okr-vs-kpis-what-is-the-difference-ffa54673fcf1
  4. https://kpi.org/KPI-Basics
  5. https://medium.com/startup-tools/okrs-5afdc298bc28
  6. https://designthinking.ideo.com
  7. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/cult-brand.asp
  8. https://www.toptal.com/designers/product-design/design-strategy-guide
  9. https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/inspiring-company-mission-statements
  10. https://www.alz.org/about/strategic-plan
  11. https://freakonomics.com/podcast/spotify/
  12. https://kpi.org/KPI-Basics
  13. https://www.whatmatters.com/stories/the-origin-story


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