A talk with Matteo Trisolini Longobardi, a multi-award-winning British-Italian design strategist.
Welcome to the [Design Strategy Talks] series. Here, you’ll find various perspectives and insights from my colleagues around the world. The goal? To learn and improve your design process!
Let’s jump right into it with our guest this time: Matteo Trisolini Longobardi.
Who is Matteo Trisolini Longobardi?
Matteo Trisolini Longobardi started off as an industrial and product hardware designer. He didn’t plan on becoming a design strategist, but his role organically expanded into research, branding, UI, and business marketing.
As a result, he’s now a design strategist, leading highly diverse physical and digital project-based consulting initiatives at the intersection of design, business, and brand. His passion is to inject strategic thoughts into every step of a project to successfully guide product development and navigate the “fuzzy front end” of engagement.
Mr. Longobardi is Italian, but his career has taken him to London, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Munich. He’s an ISPO BrandNew Winner 2015, Red Dot Award: Product Design Award Winner 2015and an INDEX Award, 2010 Nominee
We had a chat with the designer to explore the importance of design strategy, the role and skills of design strategists, and how to be an awesome team leader.
Let’s see what nuggets of wisdom he shared with us!
Identify the WHY and make design a force multiplier
In Matteo Trisolini Longobardi’s opinion, the design strategy is something that makes sense of all the insights and data generated by a company’s functions and activities.
It’s about finding one or two golden threads that will create an advantage and add value or meaning to the company’s product. A successful strategy is one that doesn’t take months to form in some basement but is crafted in the heat of the forge and tested and improved continuously with real data, people and tests.
Design strategy needs to identify the why and then translate it into something actionable – a northern star that guides the what and the how.
The most important part of a vision is the why. Why are you doing it? Why is it important to your product or brand or company? Why is this something we should spend time and energy on? Only after we know the why can we properly define the what and the how.
One of the key roles of design is to visualise the hard-to-grasp, intangible concepts, such as a human-machine interface in autonomous cars, or the future of smart cities. It’s impossible to develop such products and concepts without understanding why they are being created.
Design brings the company closer to the customer’s true pain points and needs. It drives innovation through analytical and creative problem solving that is continually iterative and should always rely on real customer validation if it’s done correctly.
The design expert sees design as going beyond just visual communication.
Put simply, design is a force multiplier.
Add good design to any business function and you’ll get more customer-centric innovation and greater competitive advantage. This not only improves a company’s innovation, but also its execution (design sprints).
While big consulting agencies provide dry and predictable toolbox solutions, a highly engaged design team is capable of uncovering new opportunities. It can envision innovative solutions – a result of creative design that is based on new perspectives gained from research analysis. This is where design strategy truly shines.
Would Captain Kirk and Spock be good design strategists?
Matteo Trisolini Longobardi’s approach to design strategy involves finding a balance between creative thinking and an analytical mindset. He sketches value propositions or services using a pen and paper or cardboard prototypes.
Then I overlay it with, dare I say, a “Vulcan” like logic to form watertight lawyerly arguments, or at least sensible ones.
Do design strategists require other skills that emerge in Star Trek? Apparently, they do.
Design strategists need high levels of creativity and analytical skills. I like to think of it as the partnership between Captain Kirk and Spock. Kirk is creative, emotive and an entrepreneur or risk taker. Spock is logical, rational and more risk-averse.
That’s why I see designers with a mixed hardware and software background as very good stock for strong design strategists. But they must learn and experience other functional disciplines, such as marketing, branding and finance.
The designer goes on to list other, more specific skills that design strategists should possess:
- excellent storytelling
- selling ideas and visions without conning anyone
- negotiating, not compromising, when an idea or strategy differs from the status quo
- creative problem solving
- attentive listening skills
- being a strong team player
How does a strategist lead a team and connect it to the rest of the company?
Matteo Trisolini Longobardi always communicates his management style when starting a new project or introducing new team members. It goes a long way in setting the tone and managing expectations within the team from the outset.
I often outline and explain that we should be lean and operate with a high degree of autonomy, and so I am open to advice and improvement of our project approach should team members suggest it.
As the project leader or manager, Mr. Longobardi also shows that he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty and lead from the front.
In his eyes, good management allows people to test, learn and fail quickly in a safe environment He then gradually increases the difficulty depending on each individual’s characteristics.
What do you believe to be the most important aspect of leading a team?
Provide high levels of autonomy, mastery, and lastly, creative purpose – give people the opportunity to design a better world.
Matteo Trisolini Longobardi’s ideal team would be a cross-functional one that includes a mix of deep academic thinkers, entrepreneurs who go on gut feelings, pragmatic engineers, business analysts and creative marketers and designers. The team would be a diverse combination of both male and female staff.
Experiences should also be mixed – some novices and some who have walked barefoot in the design trenches and have the scars to prove it.
As a design team leader, you’re not only responsible for your team members, but also for connecting your team to the rest of the company. This can often prove problematic. Mr. Longobardi tackles the challenge by using artful persuasion behind the scenes, then combining this with carefully moderated design thinking workshops.
These workshops might be in the form of co-creation or design sprints, which really help teams to come together, connect and talk in a common language or currency. This unification often comes through in design tools, dialogues and the critical art of creating prototypes and experiences.
Matteo Trisolini Longobardi’s design process in a nutshell
Once he uncovers the why and has completed the necessary user research, his design process looks a little something like this:
- Start with low fidelity and low resolution prototypes.
- Incrementally improve and pivot everytime feedback is received.
- Document a lot less. Instead, measure the progress of the project, such as how well and fast you iterate, through MVP 1, then MVP 2, then MVP 3, etc
And remember, as the old saying goes: ideas can be common or cheap so execution is everything – Apple and Netflix are a good example of this.
A very practical approach from someone who practices what he preaches – constant improvement based on real data, people and tests.
The expert’s recommendations
When it comes to the tools of the trade, Mr. Longobardi recommends great sketching skills, empathy and curiosity. Other than that, he likes going old-school with post-it notes, sharpies, contextual user interviews, paper wireframe templates for digital topics and foam core and cardboard.
The design strategist also encourages people to read some of the books that he’s enjoyed recently:
- This is service design doing
- The value proposition canvas book
Matteo Trisolini Longobardi – thank you very much for your time and great tips. Continue coming up with great products and prospering in the world of design!
I hope you’ve learned something new from this interview. We’ll end this, and every other article in the series, with a 3-bullet recap just to remind you of the most important points 🙂
Here they are:
- Identify the why and let it guide you when defining the what and the how.
- Support your creative prototypes and ideas with logical and analytical arguments.
- Give your team members a creative purpose.