4 Ways to Get Your Feet Wet in Design Strategy

We often get asked by people who are interested in our firm and the work we do, “How did you get into design strategy and what can I do to break into this field?” I always have a hard time answering this question, because there really isn’t a linear path into the design and innovation industry. Before joining Peer Insight, I thought that everyone who worked in innovation firms had some superpower that I would have to go to design school to acquire. I also had the silly misconception that my dismal illustration skills would doom me for failure.

Looking back, I now realize that all of those anxieties were unfounded, because I had the core skills that I needed to grow as a design strategist all along - an appetite for learning, divergent thinking, ambiguity, and, most importantly, empathy. I also realized that design strategy is best learned in the field, with real consumers (and ideally with a seasoned practitioner), as opposed to in a classroom. 

So how can you show the world - and design/innovation firms you’re interested in working for - that you have what it takes to design new services, products and experiences? Well, you have to get your feet wet or jump right in by creating opportunities for yourself to learn. Here are some ways that you can begin to hone your skills and define yourself as a design strategist:

1) Dipping Your Toes: Infuse design thinking into your current workflow

I first learned how to apply design thinking tools when a previous manager suggested that I look into how to improve the customer experience around our product line. I applied design research tools to understanding our customers’ behavior and generating insights about opportunities for improvement. Whether you work in admin or corporate strategy, there are always opportunities to use design methods to improve your workflow or create new initiatives. Ask your manager if you can tackle a human-centered problem and use our Designing for Growth books to guide you if you need a process to structure your thinking. 

2) Get Your Feet Wet: Join/Create a local design thinking group

The grassroots design thinking community is thriving in cities like DC and San Francisco and awareness is growing globally. This creates spaces to meet other practitioners, learn and sometimes apply design thinking methods. Join a MeetUp group that focuses on design thinking or service design and begin to engage with the broader community on social media.

3) Stepping in: Work for a start-up  

At the end of the day, Peer Insight helps our client teams create start-ups within established organizations. Everything we do is towards validating customer desirability, economic viability and technical feasibility of the services we design. My first two jobs out of college were at highly resource-constrained start-ups and I find that to be invaluable experience as a design strategist. 

4)  Dive Right in: Do a (pro-bono) project with a local organization

We love to see when people apply our methods to solve problems in their community. One way to do this is to partner with a local organization to scope out a project that entails getting to know their customers, generating insights about them and ideating concepts to address their unmet needs. By going through a design thinking process, from user interviews all the way to prototyping concepts, you gain a foundation that every design and innovation firm loves to see. You also get the foundation and exposure you need to solve problems through a human-centered lens. 

Have any other suggestions for how to break into design strategy and innovation? Need help brainstorming opportunities? Drop me a line at mjohnson@peerinsight.com