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The strategic power of design, with AIGA’s Richard Grefé

The strategic power of design, with AIGA’s Richard Grefé image
The strategic power of design, with AIGA’s Richard Grefé

Think design is just about creating logos? Not so! In fact, designers can help businesses to innovate, communicate and solve big challenges. “There are two aspects of design,” says AIGA executive director Richard Grefé: "One is making objects and the other is solving problems. If you need to create a sign, 90 percent of the project is solving the communication challenge and 10 percent is creating the sign itself.”

Designing an experience. AIGA explores strategic ways that businesses and government are leveraging design skills. As he pointed out in an interview at SXSWi, “the real value [of design] is coming up with ways to improve an experience, not just create an artifact. Starbucks is a great example. When they set out to rebrand, they weren’t just looking to design a logo. They were looking to design a customer experience.“ Everything from the store signage to the music you hear in the shop to what you see when you’re waiting in line is carefully designed,” says Grefé. “In doing so, Starbucks turned a commodity into a luxury.”

Solving problems. Simply said, designers approach challenges differently than business people. Both are valuable, but together they’re much more powerful. “The business mind is risk averse,” explains Grefé. “It understandably looks for reliability, seeking solutions that can be replicated. Yet you can’t innovate by looking at the past. Alternatively, the design mind is accustomed to trying a number of things to see what works best. That’s the magic of design. Designers like to explore how people behave. They’re trained to observe people and come up with a series of alternatives to communicate with those people, see how people react to these, and then pick the solution that the most successful. This brings about fascinating outcomes.”

Gaining early insights. Savvy business leaders today recognize that good design is about much more than proficiency in Adobe tools. “The most successful designers are those who working in a space that is more conceptual, strategic, and multi-dimensional,” says Grefé. “These are attributes that businesses need.” This recognition is spurring businesses to bring designers in at the beginning of discussions and tackle problems in new and unexpected ways.

Have you seen the value of design thinking? Share your story here!

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