Eureka! Principles of Design Thinking

by Luis Miguel Echegaray @lmechegaray

Question:  When was the last time you came up with a great idea?  Before you answer, let me propose another: When was the last time you came up with a great idea that was not only unique but also necessary AND appealing to your audience?  Did you help them?  Did you meet their needs?

For the majority of us, innovation can often seem like a difficult challenge, and we wrestle with a lack of motivation or writer’s block.  Our efforts are frequently interrupted by doubt and insecurity because we think that our ideas are not good enough. Or perhaps, our idea gets chosen, gets finished, but in the end, when we look at the final product, it doesn’t cause the desired effect we thought it would.

Here are some more questions: What if we were to completely reinvent the philosophy of innovation?  What if we could believe, at least temporarily, that NOTHING IS A MISTAKE, THERE IS NO WIN AND THERE IS NO FAIL?


Design thinking, developed by Stanford d school, is a concept which helps us understand that “innovation is not an event, it is a process” and that this process is a series of steps we can  follow in order for us to help us solve problems, help our communities and match what people NEED with what they could also enjoy. Our class, led by Dr. Brown, did a one-hour exercise learning these steps.  In small groups, our task was to redesign the concept of gift-giving.

Design thinking involves empathy, defining a problem, ideating solutions, prototyping, and testing the prototype with users. These stages form a ladder of development, where first and foremost we think about the customer and LEARN TO UNDERSTAND HIM OR HER.  Once we understand the customer, we allow ourselves to really break down the ideas that we can use in order to create a product or service that meets their needs.  We keep digging, we keep redefining and in the end WE SHOW, WE DON’T TELL.  We demonstrate through visuals and communication.

To me, the most important stage in all of this was EMPATHY.  If we are to engage with our communities, then surely our most important tool is to understand them, to listen and therefore dig deeper in order to comprehend what their needs are and how we can build a network of social collaboration.  Aristotle once said, “To perceive is to suffer.”  How much does that resonate with today’s world and the need to better ourselves?

The deep trust and understanding that we can obtain from our customers (audience) is our biggest asset.

Prototypes from our design thinking exercise
Prototypes from our design thinking exercise


As we begin thinking about our next challenge (making the commute better for people who live in New Jersey but work in New York,) we can formulate ideas using this process.  The steps require for us to dig deeper, to empathize, to immerse ourselves, to observe and finally to engage.  The possibilities of what we can do with this project are endless.  The outcome?  Well, that could all depend on how well we know our audience.

Questions:   What do you think is the most important part of this process?  Does it make you think about your own needs and vision?

If understanding is really the key to helping our communities, what are the obstacles that get in our way?

ALSO: Here is a great article about some of the projects Stanford’s “” came up with.




8 thoughts on “Eureka! Principles of Design Thinking”

  1. In college, we were taught in all of our writing classes as well as advertising that there is no such thing as writer’s block. When you get stuck trying to think of an idea you should push yourself at that time, when you do you can produce something you didn’t even know you were capable of. This reminded me a lot of this new process into innovation. I actually thought about it in class and wondered why I had never heard more about the process. The way design thinking came about was really interesting to me. I wanted to learn more about how this whole process became to be. Apparently, the first idea of design engineering process came to be in the late 1970’s but was expanded at Stanford in the 80’s and 90’s. This American designer Rolf A. Faste who expanded on the ideas, wanted to know how the body and mind influenced creativity to bring out the empathy we spoke about in class.

    During our class, when we were first answering the basic questions, what kind of gift was it? Who was it for? We were then given the opportunity to dig a little deeper and break through barriers. It was a great experience to be able to watch the person being interviewed think back to the gift that they gave. It was such a simple question and in the end I can see why it was used as it could bring the interviewer and interviewee closer in order to produce a better story. If I had just left it at Betsy buying her close friend a book about cherished stuffed animals I wouldn’t have known that the reason for it was to bring her friend back to memories as a 12 year old. Betsy shared more than just a gift but a memory with her friend and that was worth noting.

    During interviews I definitely want to drive myself to ask, “Why?” or “Why not?” I can see how this lesson will work as reminder of being empathetic. This will positively affect the way I interview other people, if it hasn’t already. For example, when I spoke to someone about their commute I could tell they were frustrated with not just the commute but errands that they had to run before or after their commute. I wanted to know more about what those errands were and why they varied so much. The stories I got from that particular person were pretty interesting.

    To answer a few of Luis’ questions, getting out of my head and into those of others as was mentioned in the class feels to be the most important part of the process. When it comes to taking on my own community, I feel it will be a bit easier since I’m already in the community. Being a lesbian will definitely give me a slight advantage to having other queer women open up to me. It’s just a matter of truly listening and not impeding my own ideas onto them. Carrie mentioned to not suggest answers and I find that this is where I’m going to struggle the most in terms of improvement. I find myself doing it in everyday life too, to urge a request out of my assistant or even just trying to help a friend find the words to finish their story. I’ll have to really take a step back and let other people finish their thought process as I might come across a different answer than what I would’ve suggested.

    I really loved the link Rachel posted showing some of the products that came out of design thinking. Who knows, maybe some of our projects will end up in an app worth $90 million?!

  2. I think that one of the most important parts of the design thinking process is the listening part. It’s not just because we need to find out the problems and challenges, but we also need to read between the lines and understand what the interviewees may be not be telling us. I find this to be a part of any interviewing process, but I think it’s especially important in design thinking to get to the heart of the most important issues for the community. So it’s really a combination of interviewing, observation, and analysis that will help us get to the next step of brainstorming solutions. In my case, this will be extremely important, because I’m working with undocumented immigrants, a community that is by nature reticent about, or even resistant to revealing personal experiences.

    With that in mind, one of the big challenges I see about coming to understand my community is being able to dig deep and really get people to open up. Advocates and those who work with undocumented immigrants tend to be great assets, but it’s not enough. As I began reporting this week, I was lucky enough to speak to three undocumented immigrants, but I was able to gain their trust because mutual friends referred them to me. Some of the most vulnerable undocumented immigrants, particularly those in detention or in deportation proceedings, may be harder to reach.

    The other obstacle I foresee is getting people to care. There are already existing resources intended to help get immigrants the information they need, but one source already told me that being proactive about learning about one’s rights and options isn’t always common.

    The Alex Schmidt article we read touches on this idea:

    “As reporters, we must make our editors care first, and then our audience. If we don’t “grab” either group right out of the gate, we will fail. In UX, we must grab both our clients and the user. I’ve been impressed at what a huge job it is to make clients believe in and trust our recommendations — to convince them that inputs from users matter perhaps more than anything else. A ton of energy goes into the reports we create, into making them digestible, interesting and actionable for clients. These “templates” are a constant effort and we can always do better at it.”

    This is one of my major concerns as I begin my project. As I get to know the community, I already have some ideas of what could help them (particularly pragmatic web tools), but I’m uncertain of how to do the “grabbing.” Looking at some of the products that came out of Stanford’s design thinking program, it makes me think the first step is to think of something practical and no-frills, but I still need to consider ways to capture the community’s attention.

  3. Design thinking. Week2. Cristina

    I’m not ready for the design experience as a practice of journalism. I’m still feeling manipulated by the user experience as a reader. As a writer in the progressive field of social journalism I’m ready to weigh the pros and cons of the debate and Dr. Brown’s design experience workshop was a great leaping off point. I understand and respect process, and have seen the benefits of working a problem through brainstorming, but on Tuesday we took it a step further and the class was guided by the following five actions of design thinking; empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. By working through these concepts in an organized yet timed fashion, the results were more personal and refined to the particular user. In my case, it was entrepreneurial journalism student, Camilo.

    Camilo and I worked through the assigned problem, which was to redesign the gift giving experience, and the results proved far different than expected. In the end, we were satisfied with the solutions we created. It was the second stage of the process, to dig deeper, that I used as the main focus and from it came the flare of a useful and great plan for my partner. Here was a guy who enjoyed receiving gifts more than giving them. I created scenarios where he would truly feel excited about the joy of giving. When we were finished, Camilo was in charge of bringing treats to J-School on Friday afternoons!

    As the class time passed, each team was invited to discuss their individual process and to show their innovative end products.

    Others in these blog posts have talked about empathy being a key takeaway from the process. They have also related how the workshop will aid them in the NJ Transit exercise of creating a better experience for commuters. The workshop guided both sides to a better understanding of the needs and wants at play in design experience. It could be useful when interviewing and finding sources in journalism. However, one of our reading assignments hung heavy on my mind. “Storytelling +Design Thinking” by Adam Westbrook. In it the author asks, and answers the following:

    How do we design stories to be great user experiences?

    When you do this in non-fiction, you focus on designing a narrative that pulls an audience in and delivers them elegantly to a meaningful climax, instead of just creating a logical arrangement of the facts.

    Yet he continuously compared the craft of writing to a high budget Hollywood film and urged the reader to ‘create a moment of explosive meaning’, which I hope to understand better as I improve my approach and interaction with the community I’ve chose. With a naïve eye and modest sensibilities, the article made the craft of writing seem cheap to me. Westerbrook closed with the following;

    So I don’t expect to see Story Design widely adopted across organisations as I once did. Instead I see it as a replicable and valuable process for those artists and small organisations who are committed to quality over quantity and believe storytelling is a craft deserving of discipline..

    In contrast, the article “From Journalism to UX and back again” gave me far more insight into the ways that my project will benefit from a better understanding of design experience. Alex Schmidt cites the ways that UX and journalism can work together. They are useful, clear, thoughtful and in line with the majority of modern practice standards that I’ve seen. It is important to understand the difference between a principal and a practice, and if the principal is to be provide transparent information to a user, the practice of user experience is to find tools and devices to keep that user engaged and committed to an ‘endless story’ one that can be updated, commented and acted upon. That works in social journalism. The dangers ahead lie in whether we create an experience in lieu of reporting facts and information and bestow that on the idle screen watchers formerly known as the readers.. What if the field moves towards profiling for revenue instead sourcing for the most accurate representation of a community?
    User Actions
    Jeff JarvisVerified account‏@jeffjarvis
    “The evening news on any network is not about the news…It’s about satisfying a demographic…. We’re all performing.” – Carl Bernstein

    The goal of my advocacy writing is to find a bigger audience and engage that audience in actions that will benefit them as a community. The longer they interact with the material I provide, the more likely they are to becoming committed to ever changing yet relevant content. As a writer and advocate, I prefer the user experience over the design experience and can envision rich and specific content that keeps my community together. One of the major tragedies I’ve seen so far, is the what I would call ‘the greatest stories never read’. By that I mean, the many hyperlinked articles that may or may not get read within the body of the article a user has chosen to read. Someday, a study will come out on how to read a modern article, and adjustments to the user experience will be made again. It isn’t a domain that I feel comfortable working in as yet, but feel pretty confident that the adjustment will create better content.

  4. I’ve become familiar with UX design over the last few years as friends in my circle have left jobs in the fashion, finance and graphic design to enter this field. Their transitions made sense to me, as in some way, they all had art or research backgrounds. However, I never thought about journalism overlapping with UX design until last week’s class. Several of you have mentioned the Alex Schmidt article, and for good reason, because it’s a simple look at the crossover between both fields, and for me it was extremely thought provoking. I liked how Schmidt discusses something as basic as the interview and how it can be turned into a story (by the journalist) or a report (by the UX researcher). Schmidt also writes:

    “Skepticism and being critical are highly valued traits in both journalism and UX. We may assume that users want something built in a certain way, but until that’s supported by actual adoption, its simple conjecture. Likewise, we must question our own assumptions when reporting on a story and always dig deeper to find the truth.”

    This really stood out to me because I think many of us the first class made some assumptions about what our communities needed. That was an easy mistake because we all had an idea of what we wanted our projects to look like. We had our pitches in mind, but I did appreciate when Professor Jarvis called us out about our assumptions. But the challenge doesn’t end there, I like what Emily said about being careful not to impede our own ideas onto our communities because it is still an important reminder as we begin the interviewing process.

    As we do move further into investigating, the design process is also a large part of it. To answer Luis’ question about what the most important part of this process is, I have to agree with many of you that listening is key as it provides the basic foundation. However, I think the execution to actually meet the needs of my community is also huge. For my project I think this will really be a make or break as to whether the final product will be successful. In the research I’ve been conducting I can already see some potential needs for music fans and musicians, but what will be difficult (at least for me) is finding innovative ways to execute new technology and keep the community captivated. Although the Adam Westbrook article is not about music, I did find it valuable to think about designing stories that make great user experiences. Westbrook says “choose the most arresting, entertaining, confusing, enthralling journey to lead the audience somewhere that matters.” I can only hope to be the Vince Gilligan in the music world, and that’s an ambitious goal, but I’m going to aim high when creating new content for my community and of course, keep storytelling in mind as I move forward.

  5. I believe that empathy definitely plays a significant role in Design Thinking, however I’m not sure if I’d deem it “the most important” stage. Without the ability to also (in addition to empathy) be creative and rationalize and observe and listen, what would one be left with? I think all of the elements go hand-in-hand, and no single element should be overlooked throughout the process.

    As it applies to my own needs and vision, I think I’ve been doing a bit of Design Thinking for a while without even being aware. For the past several years I’ve worked with emerging artists and creative entrepreneurs to build their brand identities. My work with other creative individuals has been heavily based on my ability to listen to their needs and their goals.

    One thing that I have become more self aware of is my inability to freely let my thoughts and ideas flow during ideation. In the past I’d have ideas that I’d immediately deem “stupid” or “boring,” and would trash them without thinking twice. I sometimes have a bad habit of going with my very first idea, without pondering others. In his article Storytelling + Design Thinking, Adam Westbrook writes:

    “It’s very easy to settle on your first idea but challenging yourself past this point is a good discipline to have and a key part of design thinking.”

    Now, I try (and will continue to try – this is definitely not something that I’m able to improve overnight) to think, write, and sketch my ideas freely. I won’t just settle for the first idea, but I won’t erase and nix the second or third without thinking twice.

    As it applies to my community, African Americans suffering from depression, I’m confident in my Design Thinking abilities. I am certain that I will empathize well with the community and be able engage, observe, and rationalize with members of the community, as I, an African American and former victim of depression, am a part of the community. I’m sure that I’ll need to go through several “prototypes,” to solve the various issues that exist, but I’m confident in my ability to keep ideating, prototyping, and testing.

  6. I believe the most important part of the design-thinking process is after prototyping (or sketching, or even just defining the problem) taking it back to the user for additional feedback. How we (newsrooms, designers, etc.) handle this middle step is key. If we show our idea to someone and don’t really listen to their feedback and don’t make any substantial changes, then why bother with this process at all? It’s very possible and easy to misunderstand what users said and what they meant (often different things) during the early interviews. Showing the user your solution and talking about how it addresses what you think the problem is is the best time for a user to be like, “Uh, um, no. That’s not what I need.” And then it’s time to try another solution, and bring that option to the user, and just keep iterating until time runs out or you’re getting better feedback.

    I know this step is important but it’s also the hardest for me. I’m fine at listening and empathizing (having a pastor for a dad helps there) but I like solving problems quickly. So the notion that the goal is to not have the problem “solved” or even defined for a lengthy period of time is very anxiety-producing for me. I want to have the solution to your problem now. I want to help you now. And going through design thinking feels like a waste a time even though I know in the long run it’s not — it’s key to actually solving a real problem instead of an imagined one, and to solving it more accurately and completely. And to take an idea to someone with the goal (at least early on) that they reject it (at least somewhat) so that you can improve it is just as hard. I don’t like being told I’m wrong, even when I know I’m wrong. I’ve worked hard the past couple of years to get into a mindset where I’m always open to feedback and asking for criticism and just listening to it instead of defending myself (especially in my own head). That kind of openness is essential to design thinking, the letting-go of preconceived notions and personal experiences and biases so that you can better listen and empathize.

    So to get back to Luis’s second question, I think one of my biggest obstacles to understanding my community is myself. I need to constantly remind myself to stop problem-solving so early in the process and just listen. And listen some more. And talk to more people. And put my personal experience aside and try to walk in their shoes.

    One thing from the readings quick before I wrap up: I loved the Hitchcock anecdote from the Storytelling + Design Thinking article, and I love the idea that journalists should be thinking and mapping out the emotions readers will feel as they travel through a story. I imagine this is a field where Luis Miguel might be able to teach us all about how to frame and organize a story to give it the most impact. Especially for advocacy journalism pieces, I think leading readers to an emotion that makes them more likely to take action could be valuable. The trick is to do it without readers feeling manipulated. It’s like what Thomas McBee was talking about in writing for social media: People respond better to a factual headline than a strong emotional headline. And also from McBee’s class, he’s said there are some emotions to avoid making readers feel, especially shame or guilt. I think the design thinking process could be useful because in sketching out how readers will feel at different moments in the story, we can work to make sure they begin and end on better emotions than shame or guilt.

  7. To be honest with you all, I don’t think I ever thought about design thinking before this week. I know, I’m super behind in life, which is a shocker since I’m sure you all look up to me as innovative and social. That was a joke.

    I think part of the reason I haven’t thought about design thinking before the readings and this week’s class activities, is because the word design shared the crap out of me. I’ve never been design inclined.

    But I actually learned somethings valuable this week, not to mention the fun class assignments. But design thinking is after all about solving problems or creating solutions, which is why we’re here as social journalists. “Design Thinking is about taking a disciplined, objective and methodical approach to solving a design problem: clearly defining the challenge, creating multiple solutions, picking the best and executing,” according toStorytelling and Design Thinking by Adam Westbrook (2014).

    I’m thinking about design as a way to make storytelling experiences better for users. “Our goal as a storyteller is to bring our audience to this profound understanding in the most interesting way possible. In a designed story, they often reach this moment at the climax (Hollywood has exploding helicopters, we create explosive meaning), according toStorytelling and Design Thinking by Adam Westbrook (2014).

    Nevertheless, it’s a process, like Luis Miguel, pointed out. Referencing “Storytelling and Design Thinking,” once again, it’s not a easy process, which is why news organizations avoid it. Therefore, I think the most important parts of the process is to identify the issues with storytelling, “the design problem is identifying and delivering the meaning of your story in the mind of your audience in the most memorable way.” Also, starting to clearly plot possible solutions to these problems is important.

    To be honest again, there is much I need to learn about design thinking and how it works. Therefore, “Design & Development” is highly anticipated in the summer for more in-depth knowledge. Although, “Community Engagement” is a great introduction.

  8. The culmination of our design thinking boot camp were our presentations on website and app pitches to Lamar Graham, vice president of audience development of Ideas were influenced by interviews with commuters and brainstorming sessions based on our observations. There were mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness leading up to the presentations. Some of us live to perform, like Luis, an actor, and Sean the stand-up comedian. Others are more reserved, and prefer not to speak in front of a group. Usually comfortable with public speaking, there have been times where my nerves have gotten the best of me. This usually is related to my level of preparedness. I would argue here that as social journalists, public speaking is a vital communication skill that we should master.

    The art of observation is a powerful tool, and should be utilized when pitching ideas to our community. Think about how many times Don Draper sensed things were not going as planned in a meeting, and quickly switched directions. Following Draper’s lead, I was acutely aware of Lamar’s subconscious reactions to our presentations. Did he seem interested? Bored? Confused? Insulted? Awareness of body language cannot be overstated when interacting with our communities.

    Everyone’s pitches were innovative and clever. I observed Lamar knowingly shake his head at Professor Jarvis when anyone mentioned the lack of WiFi on the trains. Clearly this had been an issue they had faced barriers on solving. Lamar furiously jotted down notes on any ideas that emphasized connecting communities, from the forum providing commuters with virtual venting space, to personalizing with different settings for work and home. The podcast idea from the “entrepreneurial outsider,” to target those who drive to work, would feature stories from New Jerisans. This reminded all of us that the largest commuting by far, at 72%, are those who take their car to work.

    What was most fascinating to me will also be an important takeaway for my community. Lamar stated he didn’t remember the last time he conversed with a fellow train passenger. Our interviews demonstrated that many people commute alone, isolating themselves with headphones for music or movies and kindles for reading. Americans are known for their individualism. It would be interesting to compare this New Jersey community with international commuters, as from living abroad I have found that people from other cultures tend to engage more with strangers. When working with immigrants, it is important to consider how tools that I design for this community take into account their cultural customs.

    There is also a possibility for a tool to assist a community with “going against the grain.” Lamar’s eyes lit up at the suggestion of providing commuters with a source of entertainment. Ideas included train car poker games, speed-train dating, themed happy hours and restaurant coupons to those with a free account with Should any of these plans be realized, this would be bucking the national trend of a growing disinterest in neighborhood activities like bowling leagues and block parties, as explained in Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone.” Although my community might never have experienced a particular activity or social media tool, they could still be open to the possibility of experimentation.

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