I have been following the recent debate on strategy verses creativity with interest (DW 28 February).
Many designers and groups are struggling to come to terms with the real need for strategy and their desire to rely on intuitive leaps of creativity that so often deliver inspired and appropriate solutions.
There seem to be two distinct and opposing trends within our industry. The first is anti-strategy.
Anti-strategy is born out of designers’ allergic reaction to anything formulaic, combined with a deep mistrust of strategy. They see it as a threat, something that makes design less important, designers less empowered and they blame ‘strategy’ for the sameness pervading our high streets.
The opposing view, pro-strategy, has been initiated by clients. They want it, need it and they love it because unlike the design process, they can contribute to it.
As a result, consultancies use the term strategy to sell design, some even turn strategy into a corporate mantra, they create strategic departments with strategic consultants who direct designers stuck in dark back offices.
In the worst cases, strategy is used as a box inside which designers are expected to work. These two opposing trends polarise views unnecessarily.
Actually, both views are misguided. Design is not mere art. It is the application of skill, creativity and innovation to a set of specific problems. Design needs a context. Strategy only exists to define how one business, brand or product can beat its competition. Far from encouraging sameness, good strategy ensures differentiation and creates a context for designers to be creative.
Our challenge is not to decide whether we are proor anti-strategy, but to find ways of developing ‘creative strategy’.
One solution is to team ‘creative’ management consultants with ‘creative’ designers. Another is to train designers to develop strategies themselves. The idea that strategy cannot be creative is absurd, in my experience creative strategy always delivers.