Design thinking: A primer

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When Tran Ha—the former editor of the Tribune Co.’s RedEye in Chicago and founder of Tiny Collaborative—began her session on design thinking, she had each attendee draw a portrait of the person next to them.

The reason, in effect, was to disrupt reasoning.

“Innovation is trying to solve something you’re not an expert at,” she said. “Most of us come from roles where we are experts at what we do. We have analytic skills, and we overuse that muscle. In order to think creatively, you have to get in touch with the other part of your brain. Drawing wakes up that part.”

But design thinking is also a process, an almost formal way of approaching a problem that requires casting aside the conditioning that drives people to go right away from a problem to a solution.

“Think about problem finding or problem framing as much as you do about solving the problem,” Ha said. “If you frame (a problem) correctly, you’ll find a solution baked into it.”

Ha’s session served as an introduction to the design thinking workshop that closed the Annual Meeting, and showed how “d. thinking” can be employed in the newsroom to report stories that better engage audiences.

Ha’s four key qualities of design thinking:

It’s driven by empathy and centered on the experience and needs of customers/users.

It requires an experimental, collaborative and optimistic mindset across all parts of a media organization.

It reduces risk by building to learn and working in iterative cycles. Rather than focus on one solution, possible solutions are prototyped in low-investment ways.

Design thinking is non-linear, progressing from uncertainty to identifying patterns, to insights and finally to clarity.