The arcane alchemy of strategic design
Insight Creative makes quite a play of calling itself a strategic design agency. But what is strategic design? And is it the game changer that we like to think it is? I’ve always been seduced by great...
insight creative makes quite a play of calling itself a strategic design agency. but what is strategic design? and is it the game changer that we like to think it is?
i’ve always been seduced by great design. if i had my time again, i’d strive to be a great architect. it’s the power of the aesthetic to uplift, to inspire, to affect your feelings. great design still has that effect on me, as does great music. all very ephemeral but powerful nevertheless.
ever since i founded insight 45 years ago, the aesthetics of what we do has been a vital component. but i quickly learnt that the look is only the vehicle. it’s the idea behind the aesthetic that’s the difference between whether a design works or not. it’s what it does, the affect that it has, that’s the point of all this. and as i got closer to business, the more the importance of that resonated. i set out to find the formula that rationalised the ephemeral. but of course there is none. you can’t bottle it.
i remember briefing designers back then, saying ‘it’s got to be right first, then we can make it beautiful’.
i didn’t recognise it back then, but what i was saying was ‘the design we produce has to be strategic design’.
so, with the benefit of a much older and wiser outlook, what does ‘strategic design’ look like to me now? it’s design practice that sits at the nexus between corporate strategy and design thinking. its goal is to merge the business objective with creative solutions that move beyond just aesthetics. solutions that capture the imagination, captivate an audience, inspire. but that also shift perceptions, make a train of thought clear, solve a problem, persuade, and drive action.
there’s an alchemy at play here. the strict discipline of rational business thinking in a lyrical dance with intuition and sensibilities. that’s where the magic lies. and that’s precisely where my entire career has been centred.
while that word ‘rational’ sits naturally with the business thinking side of the equation, there has to be a similar discipline when approaching the creative execution. it’s where the left brain and right brain play trade-off. where science meets the arts. where the actuary marries the artiste.
and that’s where the creative strategists in our organisation sit. constantly balancing the tension between logic and comprehension on one hand, and soul and sensibilities on the other. conducting the orchestra to bring diverse mindsets together in harmony.
and how do we go about that? ah, that’s the arcane enigma of strategic design. but it sure takes strong discipline and some inner turmoil. we can’t give all our secrets away but we can tell you where it starts: 1/ a critical analysis of a brief and what success means, 2/ an in-depth understanding of the audience and what drives their perceptions and behaviours, and 3/ looking beyond the obvious for optimal solutions that engage hearts and minds, and that drive interest, desire and action.
and when we get it right – that’s pure gold!strategic design, design in business, effective design
Wellbeing - the new lens on business performance?
On the very same day in 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell filed his patent for the telephone in Washington D.C., Elisha Gray filed his in Illinois. And a few years later, Briton Joseph Swan and American Thomas Edison...
on the very same day in 1876 that alexander graham bell filed his patent for the telephone in washington d.c., elisha gray filed his in illinois. and a few years later, briton joseph swan and american thomas edison independently patented the light bulb.
whether you put this down to synchronicity of consciousness or the fact that nothing lives in isolation long before parallel schools of thought arise, the result is fertile compost for similar ideas to manifest in slightly different ways.
our government has enshrined the notion of wellbeing through the living standards framework amongst other initiatives, and a new language that speaks to the ‘soft’ values of ‘purpose, balance and meaning.’ it’s the newest and broadest measure of roi. and government now expects these principles to be evident in all its agencies’ and ministries’ ways of going about their daily business. we’re now ‘woke’ to this ‘kinder’ way of living our lives.
interesting, too, that the dimension of time is part of the vernacular, with frequent references in government frameworks to ‘future wellbeing’ and ‘intergeneration outcomes’.
but it’s not just our government. wellbeing is now a thing in the workplace, the home, everywhere you look now in one form or other. consumers and investors are actively choosing companies looking after the wellbeing of their wider ecosystem. employees are looking for employers with social-conscience and a wider purpose beyond the numbers.
like edison’s lightbulb, random threads have become woven together from all sorts of sources and schools of thought to make wellbeing the thing it has become. a zeitgeist moment in our species’ evolution perhaps?
what we see in the governance of society is no different from the context in which it thrives.
parallels in corporate-land
the language may be different but the similarities are more than discernible. business is becoming more aware of its broader responsibilities too.
ever since the world flirted with ‘triple-bottom-line’ performance reporting, the gamut of what’s important for corporate behaviour has been ever-widening. sustainability reporting started with a prime environmental focus that became dominated by climate change as that threat became more prominent. then the dots started to join. some of us liked the wider definition of sustainability that included people, planet and profit. and then investors started joining the dots too - wanting to know about the longer term ramifications for companies they were putting money into. esg reporting (environmental, social, governance) became that audience’s self-interested wellbeing lens on much the same subject matter.
this was merely the reporting end of enlightened companies reframing their outlooks on corporate responsibility. it’s actually the thinking and caring that counts.
and then, the most holistic framework of them all – integrated reporting – appeared in 2013 and has grown and matured over the years to become recognised as the most encompassing, inclusive of all the other schools, and with the added elements of shared value creation over the long term, and asking for transparency around the impacts on the very capitals that a company employs in the first place (human, natural, social, manufactured, intellectual and financial).
meanwhile, over in the kitchen at the united nations, the cooks were brewing up the un sustainable development goals.
the threads were being interwoven.
bringing it all together
all of these developments are really a maturing and sophistication of the same principle – that long term wellbeing and prosperity come from looking after all aspects of life.
they all care about what’s best for people, minimising harm to the world that nurtures us, and the glue of social systems and relationships that hold it all together. and they recognise that finance is the oil that lubricates the wheels. all creating a future that’s sustainable and perpetual.
for canny business and savvy investors, it’s about more than just doing the right thing. they have come to learn that it’s also wise business in the long term. there’s more new language afoot: ‘non-financial’ factors are now being termed ‘pre-financial’. a lack of focus on wellbeing factors like exploited employees, unheeded communities or depleted natural resources will eventually impact financial viability.
whatever the motivation, surely the common destiny justifies? a win/win/win?
whatever your motivation, at least you’re swimming with the tide. all the threads are coming together, whether you use the language of government, business, society or simply being human.
the more i work with integrated reporting, the more the principle of taking a holistic view of the wellbeing of your entire ecosystem resonates. we’ve seen numerous entities get to grips with integrated thinking in their organisations and helped them connect how all these aspects of their corporate wellbeing drive current and future performance. once cracked, the clarity, simplicity and elegant seamlessness that results from integrated thinking is awesome to behold. it’s a powerful blueprint for any human endeavour – not just business or government agencies.
balance. harmony. forces of good.
personal, business and social wellbeing is a movement whose time has come. i wonder whether edison and bell would recognise this as recombinant conceptualisation, groupthink or just blame the ubiquity of the internet.wellbeing, living standards framework, integrated thinking, integrated reporting
10 things to consider when creating engaging office environments.
Moving into a new space or renovating an existing one is a fantastic opportunity to consider how to use the environment to engage key audiences like customers and important stakeholders. Their experience at your office...
moving into a new space or renovating an existing one is a fantastic opportunity to consider how to use the environment to engage key audiences like customers and important stakeholders. their experience at your office will help reinforce what they know about you and how they feel about your brand. just as importantly, office environments play an important role in shaping culture, strategic alignment and effective communication with your people. the environment becomes the canvas for working more effectively as an organisation.
the following are 10 starters we often talk about with clients when planning the brand and staff engagement layer of their office fit-out.
1. user journey
start by identifying the key journeys through your space. where will visitors enter? what will they see first? do they go to reception and then a waiting area before being taken to a meeting room? what are the opportunities along this journey to tell your story?
the same questions apply to staff. when they come out of the lift, where will they go? lockers? kitchen? their desk? what will they walk past? what are the places they will visit during the day? most people will visit the photocopier, the kitchen, the watercooler and the toilets. these spaces are all opportunities to tell and reinforce your story.stand children's services, wellington
2. your brand story
for external audiences the public facing side of your office environment is a great place to tell your story. this could be information about your history and evolution, your business, your purpose, your brand promise, your products, your customers and your service proposition. use the journey identified above to layer your story so that each one builds and reinforces the earlier one.
transpower head office, wellington
3. strategy & culture
the office space is also a great way to engage your staff in the business. visually express key culture messages that reflect what matters around here. demonstrate and reinforce your values in bold and proud ways. reinforce diversity, inclusiveness and other elements that are core to who you are. use the environment to reinforce who the customer is, key products and customer touchpoints. demonstrate the important things everyone needs to do to deliver to customers. show your people in action, especially when your team is located in many places and/or where the core business is conducted elsewhere.
mercury head office, auckland
4. navigation & safety
don’t forget the importance of helping everyone in the business know where to find things – bathrooms, kitchens, elevators and exits. create a system around naming meeting rooms and congregation spaces that make it easy for people to find and remember them. use the environment to communicate core health and safety messages in ways that relate to how people use the space. for example, wellbeing messages about looking out for each other in spaces where people meet.
mercury head office, auckland
some messages are about reminding people about the things that matter and we use the space for regular repetition. other messages require more engagement. these may require digital experiences – like video and animation - where sound and movement help increase engagement and memorability. others involve audiences doing and experiencing things to become more involved. this is where interactive displays, ar and vr could come into play. and while you’re at it, think about places for staff to engage back – things to comment on; places to write, draw and express themselves; even places for them to take photos to post on instagram. an engaging office environment will have a mix of these.
mercury head office, auckland
most office fit-outs use neutral colours generally for hard (and expensive) surfaces like walls and floors. use colour, texture, movement, typography, photography, art, plants, soft furnishings and interesting objects to bring the space to life. the office environment should reflect your personality, your energy and the people who work there. while there is an overall personality, also think about zones where the tone may need to change; for example, quiet reading and working areas vs active socialising spaces.
lion, olympic park, sydney
7. use what’s available
most modern office spaces are open plan and are surrounded by a bank of glass. the available walls for communicating are limited. you have to use what you have and this includes ceilings, floors, stairwells, pillars, lockers, partitions, meeting rooms and even the bathrooms. there’s always a clever way to hang or project something where other options don’t exist. lighting and sound also become important storytelling dimensions in these spaces.
meredith connell, auckland
8. design consistency
you can usually see far into the distance with most open plan offices meaning they can become visually cluttered. have a clear – and single-minded – design idea, supported by a cohesive tone and feel. be clear on your colour palette, fonts, graphic and photographic styles and stick to them. otherwise you could be adding to the noise.
nz post, wellington
build-in ways to keep people updated about the everyday things that are happening in the business. electronic noticeboards in and/or by lifts, in kitchens, bathrooms and by photocopiers are great (and cost effective) ways to tell people about an upcoming event and to celebrate international women’s day, maori language week and other similar milestones. they reduce the cost, clutter and ugliness of lots of posters stuck up all over the office.
nz drug foundation, wellington
offices spaces are living environments. make sure that all materials are hard-wearing and can be changed out or updated in an easy and cost-efficient way, when necessary. think about portability as well - moving things around provides opportunities to freshen things up and to keep staff engaged with your space.
lion, sydney cbd
see a portfolio of full case studies of these and other workplace engagement examples here.office fit out, company culture, corporate culture, staff engagement, office environment, internal branding