An Email Exchange on Design Thinking and Media

December 17, 2015

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Last week, Norbellians Phil Decoteau (Associate Director of Digital) and Lindsey Johnston (Content Manager) had the pleasure of attending the Design Thinking Summit put on by our friends at MITx and BIMA. Both were excited for the opportunity to hear about how Boston-area companies are employing DT practices, and to have meaningful conversations about what it means and why it’s important to most companies in today’s business environment.


For the uninitiated, Design Thinking is defined by the experts at IDEO as follows:


Design thinking is an approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit, taking a human-centered approach to enable the cultivation and development of ideas into tangible strategies and offerings. It accelerates innovation to help create better solutions for the challenges facing business and society.


Following the conference Lindsey and Phil recapped their reactions to the events and how they think design thinking might (or might not) be useful, especially for the Media Industry. Below is their email conversation:




It’s been a while since I revisited the design thinking principles but I was happy to see so many people from different industries and businesses being excited about the ideas. I think it helped that the location of the event was in the District Hall innovation space so there was a built in energy there.


One of the biggest challenges for design thinking in general, and it was touched on a few times throughout the day, is that “Design Thinking” in itself becomes too much of a buzzword that people tend to get hung up on. Instead we should be thinking about it as an approach to problem solving, a process. Saying you “practice Design Thinking” feels a bit like saying you are “going on the Paleo Diet” – the principles make sense but putting that tag on it makes it less effective in a way, too stringent. As someone who works at a media planning and buying agency like Norbella I’m most concerned with the kinds of problems we can solve using the general ideas, and how we can improve our own approach and services, and I’m less concerned with the specific tactics.


Being somewhat new to the “Cult of Design Thinking”, what were your takeaways? Do you see it as being something useful, particularly in our line of work or is it more applicable for product design or social entrepreneurship or something like that?




You hit the nail on the head when you said people get too hung up on the buzzword instead of the process behind it. I myself fell under that category at first, but after attending last week’s conference, realized it was a process I’ve seen used in past jobs where my department was tasked with improving user experience. I absolutely see it as something useful, especially in our line of work. I think practicing more empathy and really trying to understand how the customer not only interprets our message, but how it might make them feel, will greatly improve our work.




I agree, the biggest takeaway at the end of the day is the consumer-centric approach to solving problems. The good thing is that at Norbella we are constantly thinking about and measuring the experience that a user goes through while interacting with media. In a way we already use a lot of the key principles behind design thinking: mapping out customer experience, brainstorming solutions, innovating on what works. The biggest challenge for a media company might be starting with the customer’s problem instead of the client’s problem. What can we solve for the customer through product availability, awareness or content?


The other piece I think is innovation in the industry as a whole. Media has been notoriously slow with adapting to change (just look at newspapers 5 years ago, or even TV now). The DT approach is a good way to “shock” ourselves out of traditional lines of thinking by asking ourselves, what new tools or approaches are available that help us improve the customer experience and meet brand goals? Do solutions exist or should we think about building a solution ourselves? I think by having this mindset from the beginning media can overcome the traditional lag in innovation. I’m sure you’ve seen this firsthand as a Content and Social Media marketer…




Absolutely. I’m a big fan of keeping it simple. Take a step back, forget about the brand or organization itself for a minute, and focus on the customers’ wants and needs. As the leader of the content team, I swear I’m not biased when I say this, but I truly believe content will play a huge role in how we bring design thinking to life. There are emotional triggers connected to purchasing and we need to key into them. The healthcare industry comes to mind when you mentioned solving a customer’s problem – the right language and content can simplify and improve notoriously negative experiences. What other clients do you think would benefit from implementing a DT process?




Good point. I think it’s tough sometimes to reconcile how media or content can actually solve people’s problems (it’s not like we’re curing disease), but at the end of the day what we are trying to do is fill a need for consumers by giving them information about a brand, product or service that will appeal to them or help in some way. So, in that way I’m not sure it matters at all what the industry or category is, just that it’s something that consumers want or need. Then it becomes our job to find the right people and make sure they get the message when it’s most useful for them through whatever media channels possible. If a design thinking approach helps us to that end then it is definitely a worthwhile method.



100%. I look forward to incorporating design thinking into our existing process and building a few case studies around it.