5 Ways to Improve Strategic Thinking for Designers

Sakky B
6 min readFeb 9


I’m not going to mark the death of hard skill designers just yet, but AI-driven tools like Dall-E, ChatGPT and various Figma plugins are only going to get better and start to make some headway into the output side of Design.

Naturally, it will become imperative, not just differentiating, to bring in the soft skills and hone the input side of Design. Management, The “What” to Build, and Strategy will become more impactful skills as we start to use tools that augment our process.

This article is going to help you not only stop being obsolete in the workplace of the future but to grow into a more valued member of Product right now. The more valuable you are, the more difficult it is to replace you, the more leverage you have, and the more in control you can be of the path you want to take.

Let’s get into it!

1. Build a partnership with your Product Manager

This is the core foundation for becoming strategic as a Designer. Not just in building the skill yourself, but also in being perceived as being strategic inside your company or by clients.

Product Managers are more in ‘charge’ of the Product (shaping the vision), and if you’re not careful as a Designer, you might be seen as ‘delivering’ what is asked, which is ripe for replacement. So building a partnership with your PM will get you more involved in shaping the Product, and increase the quality of your overall team, which is typically difficult to attain.

  • Bounce ideas off each other
  • Educate them on empathy & complexity
  • Immerse yourself into their goals

All this will help create a dynamic duo that spearheads the Product to great heights.

Product Thinking as it's now popularly known helps you to start thinking about ways to integrate better with your PM. It’s similar to Design Thinking, but I believe the language around it can come across as more inclusive and less authoritative.

There is an abundance of great articles on Product Thinking on the web and on Medium, but this one by Nikkel Blaase (FROM 2015!!!) is the cream of the crop 👇🏼

2. Understand the balance that exists between UX & Revenue

Being a more strategic Designer involves educating yourself more on the business, not just the experience for the users. It’s best to get straight to the core of the business, which is usually revenue. For startups, it can also be MAU (Monthly Active Users), but there will also be a focus on if the business is actually viable, which will come from paying customers.

Once you start to uncover how the business makes money, you’ll begin to understand why certain stakeholders care about specific parts of the product or new features.

Understand key metrics such as:

  • Operating expenditure — how much money a company is burning while functioning
  • Cost per user — how much money is needed to onboard a new user onto the platform
  • Churn rate — what percentage of users are dropping off and after what time period

In every business, there will be a balance between experience and revenue. You will get more involvement in strategy if you understand both sides of this, and you can be better informed when creating ideas or formulating solutions, which in turn can harbour more involvement.

The illustration above shows the wonderful cycle you can create for yourself.

3. Design and deliver, with a long-term view

It’s great to get involved in strategy, but we have to remember our MO and Priority #1 is creating something visual, whether it be wireframes for UX’ers or high-fidelity mockups for UI designers.

Through this process, it can sometimes feel like you’re not contributing to the big picture, as you’re stuck in the weeds. The reality is that the weeds are very useful because they give you the picture under the ground, of what’s really going on and how things work at a deep level. This is something that many people in a business will not get the luxury of, and it gives you some benefits:

  • Deep knowledge means more ideas — you can create more relevant ideas & options because you understand the problem and its users better
  • Deep knowledge means more complexity — so you can share what potential pitfalls might be underestimated
  • Deep knowledge means more confidence — the better you understand something, the more you can push back against others that challenge you, there’s more knowledge to rationalise against

All of this means that you can then do the very powerful storyteller thing of mapping out the future.

It’s important to deliver what’s needed, but with your knowledge, you can:

  1. Start to map out what the feature/screen/product can become in the future
  2. What challenges we may face
  3. What we might want to improve
  4. What users may yearn for
  5. How we can extend the experience

All of these will improve your strategic thinking by a huge amount.

4. Map extensive user flows

This one is an underrated hard skill, and using it in specific situations can be very powerful. You’ll be useful for creating user flows for designs, so you can then create mockups for them, but mapping extensive ones can help you get into the full user experience, not just the Product experience.

If you showcase this skill in front of stakeholders, then you’ve hit the jackpot. There are 3 key benefits of this:

  1. You’ll articulate experiences in ways that people can understand easily
  2. You’ll present complexity directly to their face
  3. You’ll educate & empathise with them on the user’s full experience, not just the granular feature experience

This will help you be seen as a facilitator for the strategy of the Product, and thus increase your perception in that realm, while also improving your user-driven thinking.

5. Read Design/Psychology books

It’s very easy to consume Product & Design content with articles like this or videos on YouTube and carousels on Instagram, but we have to remember that core design principles were set many years ago with Digital Web standards, and those haven’t changed a great deal over the years.

It’s why you see navigation menus at the top of the screen, why websites use layout grids and why UI components are fundamentally the same (with added modern touches). These things are standards set years back and therefore it’s important to read books that either helped to set those standards or delve into the fundamentals more than shorter-form content online.

Here are a few great books to check out:

  1. Articulating Design Decisions — actionable techniques to showcase your work
  2. Layout Essentials — understand possibility within geometric boundaries
  3. Design of Everyday Things — useful to get into the thinking of design being everywhere
  4. About Face — a very popular bible for designing digital interfaces
  5. UX for Dummies
  6. Thinking Fast & Slow — not specifically design but a lot on psychology & biases



Sakky B

Design Agency Founder 🚀 ex. Digital Nomad⚡️ thesketch.substack.com