Strategy is a strange word, often overused and misused. Its common use would suggest that the term strategy is unambiguous and its meaning strong and clear. But it is not.

Strategy is a strange word, often overused and misused. Its common use would suggest that the term strategy is unambiguous and its meaning strong and clear. But it is not. Much of what gets labeled as “strategy” has little resemblance to its true meaning.

The essence of strategy is making choices about which professional sectors to participate in, what services to offer and how to allocate resources accordingly to ensure success. The primary reason that we talk about strategic planning in DesignIntelligence is because it brings shareholder value as well as compelling new worth to clients. Long-term performance is affected by the strength of a firm’s strategies. A firm’s own internal processes can be viewed as either strategic or anti-strategic.

Clients recognize and act on value, as they perceive it. We see a trend now of a certain stream of migration from traditional professional firms. The market place is actually validating competitors outside the design professions.

To understand these phenomena, let’s say you are doing strategic thinking better than the firms you have been traditionally competing against. Does this ensure your success? No, because clients are now moving to business organizations in the facility and real estate business who are out-strategizing professional design firms. These organizations are consolidators who hire designers by the hour and repackage services.

I’m a strong advocate for integrated interior design, interior architecture, and full service architecture. But firms must realize that they are not just competing against other professional firms. The value migration is toward businesses such as CB Richard Ellis, Jones Lang LaSalle, Staubach, and others emerging as “more strategic to meet client needs.” And they’re backing up those claims.

Many architecture firms have a base culture and context that will permit interior design services to flourish together with architecture. Still, harmonic execution is key. Here we must expect highly collaborative environments that out-perform the average industry (not just professional) benchmarks. The unfortunate squabbling between the architecture and interior design associations would seem to pit these professions against one another at a time when clients are moving beyond the design professions and on to facility firms. Much of this behavior is anti-strategic to the future of the design professions—a flawed power struggle, often based on insecurities of turf rather than “value building” in the client’s and public’s best interests. The unintended result could create what we might call the new “sub professions.”

As a core strategy, interior design and architecture should go hand in hand as professional services. It is one of the new rules in professional practice, and it will endure . . . but only when leadership is truly committed to collaboration, strategic relevance and uniqueness to adapt to changing client needs and marketplace conditions.

Good strategy gets rewarded in the following ways: Client and user satisfaction, loyalty, profits, and market share. The design professions will be rewarded (or not) according to those same criteria.