“Strategic design is a human-centred design approach to value creation. We are uncovering customer frictions and latent needs, so we can make better choices about the types of products and services we build, and how we design them,” she says.
For example, if a client wanted to design a new Innovation District to revive a high potential, but rapidly declining neighbourhood, a strategist would start by understanding key stakeholders (such as the residents, creatives, corporates in the area) rather than with architecture.
Then a holistic masterplan of experiences and programme to connect these groups would be designed, before the architecture masterplan is tackled. This ensures that everything – from programming to architecture – is designed to enable a diverse community to thrive and collaborate.
Strategic design is a mindset, says Richa, and there is no exact formula to develop this mindset. “Learning by doing is very important in this field. There is no one archetypal person who does strategic design. You can come from many different backgrounds. If you’re coming from another profession, take a more junior role and learn as much as you can,” she says.
What strategists have in common is a passion for human-centred design and a holistic view on everything. Having a deep understanding of design is also an important trait but having a design degree is not a must.
Richa herself was trained in Electrical Engineering. While working for Nokia in a multidisciplinary team that included designers, she found that engineering and strategic design were very much about a systems approach.
She says: “If you look at things from a customer’s perspective, you don't see organisational silos. You see the company, the product, the marketing tools and the brand as a system.” Back then, strategic design was emerging as a useful tool in the business toolkit. Richa decided to get an MBA to pivot her career to strategic design.
The best part of being a strategist, she says, is bringing new perspectives to life while the biggest challenge is to remain optimistic in the process. “Ideas are delicate, and there are millions of reasons why something would not work. The business world is about logic, but the greatest value a design strategist can offer is moving beyond the obvious logical solutions to create something new, which takes a leap of faith to build. You have to be conscious of that every day,” she says.