Meet Jamie Munger: Strategy Director

Strategy Director

Smart Design is a strategic design company that helps people live better and work smarter.

Everything we do starts with understanding human behavior—not just what people want and need but also how entire systems work and interact with users. Our strategists help uncover insights, identify the best opportunities for your business, and plan what your organization should do next. At the highest level, it’s all about understanding how your product, service or experience should be positioned in the market—and then giving you a strategic roadmap to make that new position a reality.
 
We sat down with Jamie Munger, strategy director, to learn about new directions in design strategy, why leadership can sometimes feel like juggling balloons, and how a new generation of data journalists creates stories that inspire and influence her approach to design. 

Tell us about a time you solved an intimidating design challenge.

That would be a challenge in which there’s no right answer for everyone, such as our recent work with Meta, where we took a hard look at concerns about the safety and privacy of young social media users. What we did was triangulate a range of expertise on the subject from different angles—including teens, their guardians, and experts who advocate for young people—and generate solutions together. It was all about confronting dilemmas, in that a right answer for one might be wrong for another. What should we be able to control? How much privacy should teens have? How do we make sure everyone is safe? We tend to work in three- to five-month sprints, but this project is so big it took almost a year.

What are the new frontiers of your discipline?

Mixing ethnography with data science is not exactly a new frontier, but it does represent an important evolution of strategic design. It reflects new flexibility in terms of adapting and merging different methods into a hybrid approach and creating new tools as situations arise. This means we can move forward rather than stay behind previously drawn lines as we seek solutions. We’re able to use a broad range of both qualitative and quantitative tools to ask new questions—and find new answers.

So what is strategy anyway?

To uncover things that are not so obvious about what people want and need, and then translate that into what an organization or brand should do next. For example, a recent client in the tech sector wanted to know more about how all this technology at our fingertips impacts our creativity, and whether tech makes sense as part of the creative process. So strategy looks at how your brand and product is valued and therefore what you might keep or replace and new areas to invest in.

What types of problems do you find exciting?

Problems that are generally under-researched, such as women’s health. One example is a health-services brand that wanted to look at home health testing in the light of COVID-19 to assess whether it had led to broader behavioral changes. Surprisingly, we found you can test for dozens of different conditions at home. We also wanted to know how to make that information more integral to the entire healthcare experience and patient interactions with their doctors. That is, not just the test result but what you do with it next. This resonates with many women, as the medical profession doesn’t always have a good understanding of their health experiences

Describe the qualities of a designer at Smart.

One word that comes to mind is “thoughtful.” By that I mean “observant and curious.” Our role as strategists is to listen and look for patterns in order to help companies to think big and proactively come up with innovative solutions. Our strategy team is inherently thoughtful, and this comes through not just in our work but also how we interact with one another, and this shapes the culture at Smart.

Talk about the leadership at Smart.

I like to think of it as juggling balloons. You work together to keep the balloons in the air, all the while bringing positive energy and building momentum and eventually creating something powerful.  As a manager, you’re in there with everyone else, pitching in and giving team members what they need to succeed, showcasing their work, and treating them as individuals. Creativity can be a very finicky thing, and being a leader means ensuring that both the business and creative sides can flourish. 

What influences your design work?

These days, I’m really inspired by the new generation of data journalists. They pull together data in different forms and from different sources to create one of the highest forms of human storytelling. The story blossoms before your eyes and leaves you feeling enriched. You can also dig deeper into a topic and learn something new. During COVID, for example, I found amazing stories that helped me understand what was going on—like this one about virus transmission in the New York Times. Or this analysis of patterns in popular music around the world. Such stories were able to bridge science and daily life in surprising and multifaceted ways.

On a personal note, tell us about what you’re reading, learning, and creating.

Playing the ukulele is a big thing for me right now. It’s the world’s happiest instrument! I always wanted to play guitar, but that’s difficult, as I have a disability in one arm. But the ukulele fits quite nicely. Another project is illustrating a children’s book for my daughter based on my dad’s travel journals. He passed these stories—about a character named Gus the Turtle, who likes to travel—on to his children, and now to his grandchildren.

About Jamie Munger

Jamie Munger leads the strategy practice at Smart Design, including global projects for Meta, Google, CVS, and Mercedes Benz. Her book on human-centered public policy design was published in November 2020. She holds a BA in Sociology from Emory University, an MDES in Design Research, and a MBA from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Let’s design a smarter world together.