Bridging the gap between organizations and design strategy

12 - Lina Kiriakou - iinterview

First episode of the Design Strategy Guide podcast with Lina Kiriakou, Strategic & Service Design Consultant | Founder of Dollphin | Co-creator of Strategy at the AD&PRLab of Panteion University.

Hello there. I’ve got some exciting news for you! I’m mixing things up a bit and turning the [Design Strategy Talks] series into a podcast! This means my guests will be able to dive deeper and share even more actionable advice and knowledge!

Does this mean there won’t be any more written interviews? Of course not, they’ll just change their shape a bit and become discussion articles focused on one specific topic covered in the podcast. Otherwise, they’d simply be too long. 🙂 Alright, now that you know what’s up, we can move on to the next [Design Strategy Talk].

This time with my very first podcast guest Lina Kiriakou! We are going to focus on the challenges of presenting a design strategy to a client or your organization.

If you want to hear us discuss many other design strategy related topics, check out the first episode of the Design Strategy Guide podcast here.

Strategy for me is not only about coming up with creative solutions, but about being open to the needs of both internal and the external audience, which in turn opens up opportunities to discover uncapped territory for a successful solutions and solutions that the competition may not have even thought of.

-Lina Kiriakou

Who is Lina Kiriakou

Lina Kiriakou is the founder of Dollphin, a strategic design consultancy, and a co-creator and business instructor of the Strategic Design Lab at Panteion University of Athens.

Lina describes herself as a:

  • Cross-platform professional with vast experience in providing strategic and service design solutions within various brand-building disciplines and business verticals.
  • Collaboration junkie and remote work advocate, constantly engaging with diverse teams on new strategic and creative ways that lead to targeted business results.
  • Lover of lifelong learning and the notion of empathy.

Lina has been involved with design and a human-centred approach long before she actually heard the term design strategy. First, she was a project manager, then she moved on to marketing and sales and later she became a business instructor which she still is.

Once a colleague introduced her to design thinking and all the wonderful things that come with it, she thought: “Whoa, you know, I’ve been doing this for such a long time, but I didn’t have a term for it!”

All these aspects that were interesting to Lina fell under the umbrella of design and that gave her the chance to combine what she loved doing – designing experiences, talking to people to understand their challenges, and combining them with business needs. That’s when she founded Dollphin and added design to her career bio.

Design strategy allows you to go beyond usual restrictions

Lina sees design strategy as a continuous process where business goals meet the design mindset and methodologies to produce solutions to tangible problems. Design strategy also allows us to innovate beyond the restrictions of doing things as we’ve always approached them.

Design strategy emphasizes what design can bring to the table and how the design mindset can help you achieve business goals. Lina’s focus is on strategy, not on the visual approach.

With Dollphin, Lina always aims to design for both the customer and for the employee who will offer the experience.

“The strategy for me is not only about coming up with creative solutions, but about being open to the needs of both internal and the external audience. This in turn opens up opportunities to discover uncapped territory for successful solutions and solutions that the competition may not have even thought of. So it creates a competitive advantage as well,” says Lina.

Pitching a process is different from pitching a product

As all design strategists and design leads are probably aware, pitching a design strategy to a client or the executives can be a struggle.

In Lina’s experience, most clients want to know what kind of a tangible solution they are going to get. Is it going to be an app? Is it going to be a website? Is it going to be a new service that they can offer?

Most clients have trouble understanding that when it comes to design strategy, the final outcome is not clear at the beginning of the process. Everybody has their own view of what they need to have accomplished by the end of the project. Everyone has a goal in mind and if it’s expressed and put forward, you’re set for trouble.

“So what we make sure in the beginning [of a project] is to set the goals and objectives and see how we are going to get there, how we’re going to test the solutions and how we will know that we have succeeded or not. And that’s how we try to set a strategy. This is very, very, very hard in a pitching process, but we try,” says Lina.

Most organizations won’t fully understand design strategy from the start and that’s okay

Lina always aims to understand why things connected to the challenge at hand are happening. She wants to understand the business needs in order to include design metrics that will speak to the management.

“That way we can fuel a continuous conversation and demonstrate valuable insights that work in the boardroom as well. And I know that this may sound like a sellout to the corporates for some, but I’m sure you’re very well aware that projects which work as fireworks may produce some fancy boards and presentations. But if we don’t convince the management there will not be the continuum that builds a design mindset for the company. And we need that,” Lina says.

The buy-in from management is crucial otherwise a lot of design work just stays in fancy boards and it’s not explored further. And no design strategist wants that.
Buy-in is also key because most clients are not accustomed to this kind of work – unless they’re large organizations that have been exposed to design methods before. It’s important to break down the process. And it has to be done carefully because it creates a kind of uncertainty that many members of management teams are not comfortable with. They want to know why they are employing a certain team, what the outcome will be, and when exactly will they see it. It is a challenge and proactive education is needed.

“It’s not always easy. You don’t just go in and explain and they say: Well, that’s great. Thank you. Thank you for breaking this down for me. And now I understand it’s not like that. And sometimes we fail. It’s not a path of roses, it’s a struggle,” Lina says.

Imagine – if we are talking about a traditional organization that has functioned a certain way for years and years, doing things differently involves a lot of uncertainty. They feel uneasy and perhaps even their budgets are at stake. It’s important to understand this and to empathize.

Bridge the gap with smaller wins

“When we started off, we just went for the big picture and we’d go after projects that were big and transformational, and very soon we found out that few organizations are ready for that kind of change,” Lina says.

And if they were ready, they were ready because someone else has started infusing the design mindset and design aspects.

That’s why small projects and smaller wins are extremely important. They help an organization understand the value of design strategy, which leads to trust and bigger projects.

That’s why Dollphin started to focus on smaller wins first. It’s similar to someone wanting to lose weight. You can’t do it in a week. You have to commit and be consistent. After a while, you can notice visible changes. Slowly but surely people start trusting the design mindset.

Active listening is a “tool” you should always use

In order to facilitate design strategy changes, Lina has learned one of her greatest lessons yet – active listening is priceless.

“I have always had a knack for empathizing with people, but sometimes you think you listen, yet in reality, you are just dressing up what you hear with what you already have in mind. So trying to be more open and really listen to what the other party is saying,” Lina says.

Often we’re already ready to give an answer and we didn’t even hear the whole story yet. Lina notices this with designers that have just graduated. They have all the methodologies, they know exactly what design thinking is, how they can implement it and all that. But they get fixated on methodologies and as a result, they sometimes fail to fully understand the challenge.

You have to actively listen to what the project is about. And then you have to also actively listen to potential users. That’s the key to innovation.
Because innovation is not only about coming up with something that’s never been done before. It’s also about combining existing solutions but in a different way.

“We are in this bubble of ours, but people would be surprised how many organizations do not work with the customer-centric approach. So there are loads of opportunities out there for strategies to come up with solutions that are not inventions but are innovations,” Lina says.

I’ll leave you with that thought as I think it perfectly sums up what we’ve been talking about.

If you want to hear the rest of our discussion, listen to the podcast here. If you want to know more about design strategy it’s absolutely worth it. 😉

Reach out to Lina

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More interviews

Read or listen to more [Design Strategy Talks]. You’ll find different perspectives and insights from my colleagues around the world. The goal? To learn and improve your design process!

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