The strategy of design



View all posts

Designers don’t just make things work and look good—they’re also problem solvers. Problem solvers tasked with the tricky challenge of integrating business objectives with creative solutions.

The truth is, it’s not easy. Designers must balance the needs of the client with the needs of the user, all while creating a highly functional design that creates an emotional connection with its audience.

Luckily, there are ways to make the process less difficult.

Over the years, our design team at Upwork has fine-tuned a few practices to help us consistently produce engaging designs that meet the company’s business goals and the goals of our users. Here’s how we do it.

Image: Upwork.

Image: Upwork.

1. Hire a team you trust

To make sure projects get done right, hire strong team members you can trust. Not only do strong team members give you peace of mind, they create the foundation to do great work. They can mentor more junior designers, share insights and experience, and set a high bar for quality and creativity. All of this helps build a highly capable and healthy design culture that requires less oversight.

How we vet talent:

  • It all starts with the portfolio. A designer’s portfolio is much more important than their résumé. It should show outstanding work that’s in sync with your design philosophy and aesthetic. When we seek full-time hires, it’s all about their portfolio. If we don’t see a design match, we usually move on to the next designer.
  • “A designer’s portfolio is much more important than their résumé.”
    Image: Upwork.

    Image: Upwork.

  • When we hire freelance designers for projects, we walk them through our internal processes, orient them to our brand, then start them on a small test project. This gives us a sense of their working style, ability to communicate with internal stakeholders, and work quality.
  • If the test project goes well, we ramp the freelancer up onto larger, more complex projects over time.

2. Know the problem

Before jumping into a design solution, you must clearly understand the project’s business and user needs. Many designers, especially junior designers, mistakenly skip this critical step.

At Upwork, every project starts by crafting a brief with the stakeholders. A good brief clearly outlines the project goals, user needs, and other important information needed to help us do our job successfully. The brief also provides a framework for the client as they put their thoughts on paper and helps clarify what they are asking us to do.

Tip: Remember to look at projects from the client’s perspective, especially when you think they’re being difficult. They’re usually not trying to be a pain—they’re stressed. Because they’re spending a lot of money and relying on your design to be part of their company’s success.

3. Coach your clients

Successful design must meet both strategic and functional needs. When reviewing design concepts, keep in mind that you’re not designing for you. And remind the client they’re not designing for them. The design should resonate with the target audience.

“Successful design must meet both strategic and functional needs.”

To help you and the client remain objective during reviews, ask:

  • Will this design resonate with the target audience?
  • Is this design meeting the business problems laid out earlier?
  • Does this balance design with user experience (UX)?
  • What business problem is the design concept not solving?

Tip: Sometimes, feedback or unexpected situations may affect deadlines. Always be honest about what’s doable, especially when you have an immovable date.

Image: Upwork.

Image: Upwork.

4. Seek original inspiration

It’s not easy to come up with one new solution after another. Most of us are looking at the same world and analyzing the same designs. After a while, things start looking… well, the same. That’s why it’s important to constantly seek new sources of creativity. I often look at traditional books and other print media for inspiration.

Remember that design is a process. When done well, it can move business in a meaningful way. By taking time to strategize, your designs can help companies achieve short-term goals. And continue helping their innovations benefit society long term.


Jonathan Cofer
Jonathan devotes his career to helping brands build meaningful experiences. As Creative Director of Upwork, the platform that quickly connects businesses to the world’s top independent talent, he leads a team of designers and copywriters on multiple print, interactive, and UX projects, including overseeing creative strategy, concept development, design, and implementation.

Join over 3 million designers

Who get our content first.

No sales pitches, no games, and one-click unsubscribe.

Over 3 million designers
get our newsletter
every week

Find out why

Get awesome design content in your inbox every week

Just like over 3 million of your fellow designers do.

Plus get 3 free downloads, just for signing up.

Give it a try—it only takes a click to unsubscribe.

Thanks for signing up!

You should have a thank you gift in your inbox now—and you'll hear from us again soon!

Prototype better experiences with InVision

Just like over 3 million of your fellow designers do.

I agree to InVision's Terms of Service.

Want a free t-shirt?

Join the 3 million+ designers who get our newsletter weekly for your chance to win!

We hate spam as much as you do, and you can unsubscribe anytime.

Double your chances to win!

Tweet and automatically get a second entry

Tweet Now

No Thanks

Stay in touch!

We share news, freebies, and more on Twitter.

Follow us