Design thinking

wood light creative space
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on

A different way of thinking.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is, unsurprisingly, a system of thinking that’s been used in the design industry for ages. It’s been popularised for other industries because it’s a strategic and human-centred approach to creating pretty much anything.

It’s based on a problem solving approach, and focuses on really understanding what you’re trying to do and who for, generating lots of ideas, and experimenting with those ideas in order to make something that is, at it’s heart, for the humans that will use it.

Why is it useful?

As well as creating work that has a genuine human need, design thinking leads you to create innovative work, connect with your audience, and find alternative solutions to problems. It’s regularly called “thinking outside the box” because it gives you the tools and processes to see things in a new way, and to question the problem, the assumptions, and the implications.

How do I do it?

There are a few different models to follow. Here’s the one that I think is easiest and most applicable to the media industry:

  1. Understand
    This is your background research. Understand as much as you can about the media landscape, audience or issue that you’re talking about.
  2. Define
    Define what you’re trying to do or achieve, and any parameters that you have to work within. Do this as clearly and precisely as possible.
    When you’re in this phase, ask significant questions and challenge any assumptions. Look at every idea and word in your definition. Is it accurate? Is there another way this can be done?
  3. Generate ideas
    This is where techniques like brainstorming come into play. That said, there are many, many different techniques for generating ideas – like the Worst Possible Idea. Or Scamper.
    Here’s quite a long list of possible techniques. And another one. And another one.
    It doesn’t really matter which technique you settle on, so long as you’re generating lots of ideas.
  4. Trial it out (ie make stuff)
    Experiment with your ideas, and try stuff out. This might be a series of small thumbnail sketches, or rough outlines for an article or video, or a couple of test shots for photography, or testing out a new platform. You might mock up one part of your project.
    The important thing is that you make multiple drafts – and critically analyse them. Ask yourself: what works? and what doesn’t?
  5. Refine it
    This is where you put the polish on. Edit your story. Fine tune it. Pay attention to the detail.

When you’re done, it’s important to reflect. No piece of work is perfect – but most have merit, and most can be improved upon.

And after that? Start the process again. 🙂


Using the design thinking process above, create an animated gif that expresses “My day at TAFE”.
Reflect on the process.

Why does it seem difficult?

Thinking about thinking isn’t something we do every day. We all have developed our way/s of thinking, usually through trial and error, or some sort of evolution. When we try to put a framework on it, it can feel very rigid at first.

That said, through practice this can become a valuable career skill.

Want to learn more?

Interaction Design’s explanation.
Or IDEO’s.
Or Career Foundry’s.
Or the one at Creativity at Work.

To the McKinsey podcast.

A free Design Thinking for Innovation course in the Google Digital Garage.
Loads of work. (You get better by doing.)

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