Five Questions

Here’s the truth: design alone can’t solve your communications problems. It’s easy to think there is a magic bullet in business, but there isn’t, and treating design like it could solve all of your problems won’t address the need for strategic thinking that gives structure to a design concept.  

If the strategy isn’t there, even the most beautiful design will be hollow.

It may be pretty, but it won’t be effective.

Keep your projects on track by answering these 5 questions.

Why does this project matter?

Check out last weeks post for a succinct punch on this topic.

This question gets to the very heart of the problem that you are trying to solve — not just what the problem is, but why it’s worth solving. What changes for the better when this work is done? 

While business goals are important, it’s also worth asking why your work matters to you, to your colleagues, to your audience, to the people your organization helps. You need to understand who this project will touch, how it will impact them, and why that impact will matter! 

No matter how many times you have done this, you have to know your why. Why is rooted in your values, and when decision making is rooted in values it gives your entire project a powerful emotional foundation and trajectory toward real change. 

Thinking in this way sets your project up for success. 

How does this project fit with our broader business goals?

Once you know the values a project is meant to uphold, you need to compare those values with your more practical business goals and available resources.  Knowing that a project is important and has value is not the same as knowing a project is right for your organization.

Keep in mind the organization’s overall goal and note how this project will move you toward that goal. If it doesn’t align, reframe the project into something that will be more effective.

Who are we trying to reach?

Make your audience real and know who you are talking to. Often when I ask my clients about their audience, they draw a blank or feel that they have to speak to everyone. And if you’re talking to everyone, you’re talking to no one! If you lack clarity, start by identifying who you are not speaking to. Set aside nonessential audiences and then narrow in on your key people. 

Some questions to get you thinking: What do they care about? Who are they trying to become? What do they need from you? What journey are they on? How you can you help them arrive?

What do we want them to do?

Simply: what is your ask?

When someone comes across your annual report or direct mail or brochure, what do you want them to do? Write a check? Refer someone to your organization? A lot of the work we do gets filed under “raising awareness”. While that can be helpful, it’s not specific enough (and it can’t be measured). What do you really want? How can you give your audience what they really need? Your ask lands at the intersection of those two things. Be bold — know your ask.

How will we know if we have been successful?

Don’t forget this one. Define what success looks like. Decide how you will measure your progress.

People can hesitate to define what success looks like, because that makes failure easier to stomach. If you weren’t aiming for anything, it doesn’t matter what you didn’t hit. But you can do better than that!

Deciding how to measure your progress ties everything together — Why are we doing what we’re doing? How does this align with the resources we have to offer? Who will we help? What do we need them to do? What measurable change will we see?

Successful organizations iterate and grow year after year. Knowing what progress needs to be measured is key in being able to expand on what has already worked and strengthen where necessary.

Every new endeavor builds on what is already there, so the more work you do up front with your strategic planning, the stronger every new project will be as you build and grow.


Download this worksheet and try it out!

The key here is to write in your own voice, using simple, clear language. Discuss your answers with your team and get everyone to sign off.

With a clear vision, you can do amazing work.