How to define a clear design strategy

Quick summary Having a clear strategy at the beginning of a project is the way to success. In this article I explain why it is important to start a project by answering three crucial questions: WHY, WHO and WHAT?

Designer planning his project on paper

Start by defining a strategy and clear goals

Whether you are designing for the first time or redesign a website, app or system, you are undertaking a complex task which requires a lot of discipline and clarity throughout. If you do not approach it properly, a project can turn into chaos and require countless hours of design and development to accommodate unnecessary features. In any project in which you work as a UX designer, it is fundamental to start by drafting a solid strategy; this will help you design a solution that both meets business goals and user needs.

At the start of any project, keep in mind that user experience is about aligning business goals, user needs, and brand communication.

The essence of user experience: goal, business and brand.

Today, there are still designers who focus too much on creating pixel perfect designs without thinking hard about the purpose of the solution they wish to bring. Besides, they become too emotionally attached to their creation and forget that design should solve specific problems. As a result, they spend huge amounts of time designing inappropriately, then struggle to convince the stakeholder at approval stage. Visual attractiveness does have value, but it’s only a small component in great user experience. Generally, users care more about getting their task done and dusted than about interface design.

Prioritize function over beauty

I will now explain why it is important to always start a project with utmost clarity with a story: A few years ago, I was working as a UX designer on a complete website overhaul for a non-profit organisation. There I missed defining a clear strategy. This project was though, and I did the mistake of working long hours by myself focusing only on the visual design; I had completely forgotten the user!

I did not spend enough time aligning users needs, business goals and learn about the organisation’s brand attributes. Very soon the website project became a nightmare: every stakeholder was fighting to add tons of unnecessary features to the website. I know that many of you have been in this situation, struggling to get sign-offs and ending with cluttered and inaccessible pages. In the end, the project derailed from its main focus and lasted 1 year instead of 6 months.

Ask the right questions

Since then when starting a project, I have changed my mindset for good. I am now a believer of the following If you are struggling to get stakeholders validating with your ideas and to keep the project focused, always start by defining the WHY? WHO? and WHAT?.

For instance:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • Who is it for?
  • What value does it bring?
  • What are the business goals and user needs?
  • What can we realistically do?
  • What are we creating exactly?

Starting a project this way will help you understand how to tackle the right problem. When working on the design or redesign of a project, it is important to lead your design process from the beginning and get everyone aligned with your process. It is also important to consider all stakeholders when they collaborate with you, they will feel appreciated and valued. One of the benefits of this is that they are less likely to come with unexpected and complex changes at a later stage. They will recognize you as the expert capable of diagnosing a problem and delivering the best solution.

stakeholders agreeing on a strategy in meeting room

Focus and invest more time understanding how you will solve a problem before designing anything.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes about solutions.”

- Albert Einstein

Shaping the user experience of a project requires discipline. As we saw in the article, a proper way is to have a clear and solid strategy from the get-go. This way, you will give yourself a good chance of succeeding and delivering the best outcome for the project. Always plan for success. I will conclude this article with this memorable quote from Benjamin Franklin:


“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”


Thanks for reading.

Jerome Kalumbu

Further reading:

If you want to learn more about this topic, read my book “DON’T START WITH VISUALS”.

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