When you’re in the design strategy game, or as I like to call it, the design of design game, there are loads of tools are your disposal. Most of these tools involve no software in concept, display or production. These tools look like subdivided squares and triangles, mainly because they are. Strategy, more and more, boils down to two shapes, one has three sides the other has four. You’ve known them most of your life as squares and triangles.
Squares for squares
You might be wondering why start with the shape with more sides? Shouldn’t you be working your way up? But squares are more comfortable. But they might be a little boring right? You know, all the regularity and stability. Squares are the basics of grids, and grids are how we’ve been organising our economies and our lives since roughly the fourteenth century. If you have a square you can line things up and down, left and right. With this you can conquer planets.
The idea of the square in strategy is that you’re using a grid. You’re placing and locating things. You’re creating the geography and the understanding of a problem by plotting it all out.
The most famous is maybe the Eisenhower Matrix which lets you put things in boxes and then not do most of them because they’re not really that important. There are infinite others, like the decision matrix or the hard choice model. Squares, squares, squares for everyone. It’s how we compare and how we plot things. Squares are the Cartesian snuggle bunny into in our spreadsheet ruled world.
Triangles. Maslow had one now so can you.
Triangles are a now ubiquitous way of showing that a person, a company, an idea, etc. can have many sides. They are opposites, as they sit on the opposing ends, never too close. If they were close you would have to advance to a spider diagram or something.
But, triangles are a good way to describe what you do. I guess our brains understand triangles better. Less sides, but just enough to seem like it’s just not two sided.
Many triangles are there to show something building up or increasing scarcity. For instance, the aforementioned Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. But there are also food pyramids and trinity’s and many others.
Why we do this to ourselves
We humans are silly little creatures, we really are. We can put people on the moon, but will take 24 minutes to decide on a breakfast cereal. Most of what we do makes no sense, despite the footnotes, the research papers and the lecture theatres. Drawing out our problems into familiar shapes gives us a codex for our lives.
We always need a map because the map is comfort. It’s the patchwork quilt grandma handmade when you were a child that you tuck up under your chin to make the big, bad, scary world of chaos and randomness feel okay – and this is fine.