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Demystifying the Design Thinking approach for Digital Publishers

Do you always make calculated moves, either before writing content for your readers or while strategizing the content online? For some, that may be a YES, while for some, it may be a big NO! Trust us though, for your ideas to succeed, you always need a flow to follow. The architecture of your flow can be constructed using an approach called ‘Design Thinking’.

A piece of jargon to some, undeniable logic to others and a completely foreign concept to many, design thinking is an agile process for solving complex problems. It’s a simple way of understanding the needs of the consumers you are building a solution for, and testing that solution before even creating it.

On the surface, this might seem to be the natural approach, but many content creators or newsrooms don't always test their ideas or solutions with their intended audience first, before the big efforts are applied. In fact, many believe they know their audience and users well, spend buckets of money and time building the content but ultimately it turns out to be a flop.

Is digital publishing really ‘digital’ and effective? How can design thinking help?

The print side of publishing looks ‘old’ and ‘static’ with full control of the environment. Whereas, digital content is considered to be more dynamic, fluid, open and collaborative. But now, with so much digital content on the internet, you feel like you are consuming just any static print-like page, which once finished is enriched with multimedia content on top. Instead of trying to create an exciting way of storytelling, we paste interactive extras. However, designing and creating for digital content doesn’t mean enriching print with some specials, rather, it means to find new and integrated ways to tell a story.

How can design thinking help publishers?

  1. Design thinking helps to create for ‘users’ first, not ourselves.
  2. Design thinking is centered towards listening and empathizing with users, thus building trust.
  3. Design thinking helps us to build and create for the future.
  4. Design thinking is a flexible process that is built for quickly changing conditions.
  5. Design thinking gives publishers, editors and newsrooms a common framework to work together.

Let's unveil the mysterious Design Thinking approach

Design thinking is a human-centered collaborative approach which offers creative, iterative and practical solutions to the complications faced while publishing. The tools and techniques used may differ and the effectiveness is also arguable, but the core of the process, irrespective of the domain it is used in, stays the same.

Design thinking is a process of six steps which can be used over and over again in iterative loops. These steps are,

The Design Thinking Process
The Design Thinking Process
Source : https://medium.com/we-are-hearken/design-thinking-and-journalism-go-together-here-s-how-e7d286c02b49

Empathize

This is the first and most important step of any solution created using the design thinking approach. The goal here is to identify and understand, how your readers are and what are they up to. You can know more here.

The Stages of empathizing
The Stages of empathizing
Source : https://uxmag.com/articles/what-is-empathy
The graph showing the empathizing stage
The graph showing the empathizing stage
Source : https://uxmag.com/articles/what-is-empathy

Define

This stage is about taking in all the information that you collect from your readers and create a common thread of those experiences, to then synthesize their perspective, to land on a coherent point of view.

Explaining the Design stage
Explaining the Design stage
Source : https://www.sensetosolve.com/design-thinking/

Ideate

This clearly is the ‘hogging wild with the answers’ phase. This stage requires you to brainstorm for generating volumes of ideas, big and small, depending on the multiple inputs you gather from your ‘Define’ stage.

Explaining the Ideation stage
Explaining the Ideation stage
Source : https://www.google.co.in/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwimzf_ohYXdAhUHdysKHc4fDCIQjxx6BAgBEAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.alpine-space.eu%2Fprojects%2Fdesalps%2Fen%2Fabout%2Fthe-project%2Fdesign-thinking%2Fdesign-thinking-process&psig=AOvVaw1AevU5X03dDyoJ1DB9deoa&ust=1535177890485542

Prototype

In this phase, build best solutions based on your brainstorming. Create and future aim the prototype which can help resolve the issue. You can read more about this here.

The Prototype stage
The Prototype stage
Source : https://www.google.co.in/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwimzf_ohYXdAhUHdysKHc4fDCIQjxx6BAgBEAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.alpine-space.eu%2Fprojects%2Fdesalps%2Fen%2Fabout%2Fthe-project%2Fdesign-thinking%2Fdesign-thinking-process&psig=AOvVaw1AevU5X03dDyoJ1DB9deoa&ust=1535177890485542

Test

This step is to get feedback on the prototype from the people you are designing for. Using that feedback, you can generate better versions of the idea. If the test is a total success, get it out into the world! If not, repeat more cycles of design thinking till your audience derives value from what you’ve made.

Testing your assumptions
Testing your assumptions
Source : https://www.tutorialspoint.com/design_thinking/design_thinking_test_stage.htm

How does a newsroom use this approach?

Journalism story cycle
Journalism story cycle
Source : https://medium.com/we-are-hearken/design-thinking-and-journalism-go-together-here-s-how-e7d286c02b49

The bulk of news gets written without the reader’s involvement and interest. At that point, the reader might only be able to provide feedback through comments or social media. Many newsrooms however, are either shutting down their comment sections, or their social media is handled by someone who is irrelevant to the content creation process.

This means there is a scarce opportunity for an editor or a newsroom to learn their reader’s feedback. And by the time they bother, a new article is already published online!

Why this lack matters

So most probably, newsrooms aren’t empathizing, prototyping or testing their work with the readers before they publish. And this means limited effectiveness. Newsrooms think they serve their readers, but are unsure till the content is live. After which it’s too late!

This means a lot of time and money is sunk on stories that don’t resonate with people. And this gives rise to an era of “I don’t know who or what to believe.”

The feedback system is very much a necessity

In today’s world, continuous feedback or engagement with the readers is very important. The more you stay connected, the better you get to know them, their desires and motives. Read more.

Public powered journalism story cycle
Public powered journalism story cycle
Source : https://medium.com/we-are-hearken/design-thinking-and-journalism-go-together-here-s-how-e7d286c02b49

How a newsroom excelled using the design thinking approach?

AIR Media launched a “news experiment” called Curious City at WBEZ Chicago. Every story they made began with a question. They started empathizing with the audience more to learn about the information gaps. After questioning the audience, they invited their readers to define what to cover, or answer. Then they brainstormed and ideated about how appropriate an answer can be to a question. The prototyping phase was the actual reporting for them. Often they used to get the reader to give them an answer, a piece of feedback, which was from the reader’s perspective.

And by the time the publication came along, they were able to make stories for their relevant audience and boom, the metrics spiked. Read more.

The WBEZ statistics
The WBEZ statistics
Source : https://medium.com/we-are-hearken/design-thinking-and-journalism-go-together-here-s-how-e7d286c02b49

In conclusion

Design thinking is an approach which helps solve not only today’s problem, but even anticipates those that lie ahead. Thus, the main aim of the Indian publisher should be to create value to the ecosystem by using the approach. Design thinking is a 2-way process, starting from bottom-up and top-bottom, giving you the result that you wish.

The quality and originality of the idea depends on how well you understand your target group. Thus, enabling collaboration, can help you bring in a new culture of learning for a better future strategy.