Why Strategic Design?

Ignorance, as the cliché goes, is bliss. Modern society is now beginning to see—sometimes painfully—that the most critical challenges we face are also the ones which are most interconnected or systemic in nature. A blissful ignorance of Earth’s ecology allowed humanity to enjoy decades of unprecedented development without much thought about its long- term consequences. Only recently have the negative impacts of this development been measured and broadly understood by science, yet lagging and conflicted decision-making has inhibited a serious and concerted response. By expanding our understanding of systemic problems, we can better appreciate the principles that govern them and the risks they pose to society.

Today we find ourselves in an awkward adolescence, disabused of a happy obliviousness to the difficulty of dealing with systemic issues, but still without tried and true expertise to definitively lead us away from oblivion. Will the 21st century be one of growth—of human health, happiness, and resilience—or will we face further hardships as the consequences of blissfully ignorant decisions continue to compound? By developing strategic design, we hope to advance society’s ability to cope with complex issues, such as climate change and demographic shifts, by developing tools to assist institutions to better conceptualize and respond to ‘wicked’ challenges.

Increasingly society operates ‘pre-factually.’ In such cases, analysing existing options may not provide the necessary insights needed to respond successfully because the challenge is one that has not been dealt with before and the facts do not exist yet. Although there has been intense focus on innovation in products and businesses, our understanding of innovation at the systems scale is still emerging. Society finds itself lacking sophisticated ways to articulate new ideas about systems and the ways they relate and interlock.

Through its ability to cope with uncertain and unstable contexts, to link up the small details and the big picture, and to understand the connection between quality of concept and quality of execution, the practice of strategic design is a promising capability in the face of the contemporary world.

For more on this line of thinking, please see the Introduction chapters in Legible Practises and In Studio.