design strategy

Agile, user-centred and cocreative

Every design always begins with the same question: The question about aesthetics and usefulness. However, what pleases and offers benefits today may already be out of date tomorrow. Our world is constantly becoming more complex. The spaces in which we interact are extending to the virtual while the densities of the spaces we live in, our cities, are becoming ever greater. This alters our social lives and our expectations of design. We are already noticing that thanks to these altered requirements our world is morphing into hybrid clusters: Where once people only worked, they now also live. Where previously the focus was on the shopping experience people now also want to be able to overnight or visit a restaurant or cafe. In order to cater to both the users’ current and future needs our architects and interior designers pool their resources by working in interdisciplinary teams with our product and communication designers.

The way a design evolves is similar to hiking without a map. It is not necessarily possible to predict exactly how you will reach your destination. We can merely make assumptions, which in our fast-moving world can be shattered at any time. But that does not mean that we lay down strategic guidelines without having first selected that route. Rather we have to ask ourselves after every step whether the route we have chosen is still the one that everybody in the project wishes to stay on.

In other words, we do not see the challenges that our fast-moving world brings with it only as changes but also as opportunities. As opportunities for forging links. For example, between people such as the developer and the future users. And between our disciplines of architecture, interior design, product design, and communication design. Naturally, the space that we design is a place of interaction. A place where design is tangible and emotions are generated. And always with the main focus on people.

Strategy produces future

We call the method that stands at the start of each of our projects the design strategy. So as to understand what wishes users hive and which ones they may possibly have later we involve them in the project’s evolution from the very start via the design strategy. After all, even though our world is continuously becoming more complex, and product and service life cycles are getter ever shorter, architectural challenges nonetheless still involve the same planning route. Undeniably every building project has to follow certain criteria. That said, focus should not be solely directed at aesthetics or the project’s implementation but also those on issues that its users will later have to contend with on an everyday basis.

A project’s complexity arises from the users’ various requirements. If these are to be met then it is vital to exploit that flexible, impartial mood which exists at the start of a project. In other words, design strategy takes place at a time before any planning has been defined and consequently can be applied to all areas including those not directly related to architecture. You might argue that we take our design strategy and have it precede the classic service phases of architecture, making it “Planning Service Phase 0”. It is this stage where we collaborate with developers and users to define the “Why” behind our design premises and conduct research into and analyse customer experience.

The aim is to adopt a user-centric and co-creative approach to harmonize expectations. Subsequently, questions are transformed into possible solutions. In brief: An individual strategy is developed for the course of the project. Specifically: A clear “What” and “How” emerge from the “something” and “somehow”. Across various channels design strategy makes a positive contribution to strengthening corporate identity and -culture.

There are several advantages to this. Firstly, it provides the chance to develop a strategy that is informed by the needs of clients and users alike. Moreover, as the process continues an identity-defining design language and holistic design principle can evolve. Over the long term this collaborative and co-creative approach means that a process of innovation can develop for the company and all those participating in the project. For the customer, but also for the designer. After all, collaborate approaches always also entail mirroring

The power of collective creativity

In an ideal situation not only the developer but also the users can shape the development process. Which is why we try to involve them in the development process of the project at as early a point as possible. In addition, we provide them with suitable tools that allow them to express their needs and ideas.

Lego serious play

It is a scientific fact that our hands are connected to up to 80 percent of our brain cells. Consequently, thinking processes that come about through playing with Lego bricks lead to a deeper and more enduring immersion in project issues. By building metaphoric models these issues become “tangible”, while insight, inspiration and imagination are fostered. Moreover, within a short space of time a wide variety of possible solutions are produced. Such workshop models can be applied to all sectors of the business and creative world.

Permanent Beta & Scrum for Architecture

Final goals, specific results, the end of a creative process – all of these are relics from a long bygone past. Rather, the start and end of a project development are broken down into short cycles through constant iteration and verifications while remaining in permanent dialog with customers and users. Every individual cycle offers the possibility of questioning what has already been achieved, adapting the long-term objective and altering course. Results become a sequence of never-ending interim states, which are constantly verified and modified and are in a permanent beta status.

The importance of this approach becomes all the clearer given that a new normal has developed against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the VUCA model (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) describes the shifting conditions of our modern society special importance is now attached to the U in the equation: Uncertainty as a constant.

It is crucial to grasp this constant change as an opportunity, to permanently test, question and redefine the customer experience. Everyone involved must be prepared to engage in self-reflection and critical appraisal, and where needed to familiarize themselves with tools alien to their profession but which help establish an agile project management. One of these is called scrum and is part and parcel of our process.

Design strategy is not only a method that allows a project to be started and finished in a target-oriented manner. It also has advantages for everyone and results in direct (user) feedback. Project participants are always able to respond agilely to the constantly altering influences. It is a strategy that provides orientation in questions that are to be anticipated and those that are not. Or, to reiterate the example used earlier on: Design strategy is not a map that provides a predefined route, a specific way to the destination. Rather it is a kind of inner compass, which has a rough idea of the general direction, but is able to constantly realign itself in response to the situation at hand.