03/06/2013 11:02 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Strategic Design Statements and Their Unquestioned Paradigms


Strategic statements are the most powerful means for implementing organizational strategies. The stickier these mantras are --simple, unexpected, concrete, credible or emotional (as excerpted from the book, Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath) -- the better they are recalled, shared and subsequently disseminated throughout the organization. Think: "Lead, follow or get out of my way."

Strong mantras become second-nature, then ingrained rules, and then mold the organizational culture. The flip side of this being that when change is needed these same mantras are nearly impossible to recognize, question, modify or replace.

In grasping the consequences of unstated, maybe even unconscious statements, just think about such expressions such as: "If it isn't broke, don't fix it," "It is better to beg forgiveness, than to ask permission" and "The end justifies the means." These statements have become truisms, inhibiting improvements, in some cases, fostering backstabbing and allowing questionable actions to be committed in the name of growth.

In American politics, "Liberty, freedom and justice for all," "The pursuit of happiness" and "Freedom of expression" are fiercely defended ideas while in France "Liberty, equality and fraternity (brotherhood)" are worshipped. Both are powerful mantras, nurturing different cultures and inspiring very different actions.

Politics seem to mold economic thinking (and vice versa) and has made growth, effectiveness, efficiency and fairness into unquestioned and reasonable rules. For decades, the Gross National Production (GNP) has been the accepted measurement of accomplishment and success and only recently has happiness (Happiness Index) and wellness (Well-being Index) been first imaginable and then permitted as valid alternatives.

Macro-politics and economics influence the philosophies of creative professionals and the creative economy as well. Design philosophy and thinking is permeated with similar truisms. We all know: "Less is More," "Form Follows Function and "Simplify." Recently, triple-bottom-line thinking has been added, bringing "People, Planet and Profit" to the forefront of a designers' attention.

Since so many assets now seem intangible and imbedded in goodwill, brand values and intellectual property, what are some meaningful strategic statements that can guide "design thinking" in this new virtual world?

If past paradigm shifts in design can offer us some inspiration, what might it be? The Renaissance, Enlightenment and Romanticism all introduced new truisms, inspired by new discoveries in science and interpreted and propelled by creative professionals. With scientific discoveries growing exponentially there is no lack of inspiration for a new design paradigm expression of these imaginative strategic statements. The seven statements below are fairly well-known and have all been created by innovative organizations:

- Fail Forward
- Clarify not simplify
- Progress not growth
- Life is a participant sport
- Think Different
- Don't be Evil
- Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

How these mantras continue to influence designers' paradigms and create other statements is really up to the creative community. Will they continue to hold onto their earlier thinking or reinvent design by creating new sustainable meanings and sense making rules? The statement "Clarify, not simplify" is, in itself, at least an invitation to question the established thinking of the design world.