PR and design thinking – human-centered processes

In the past, design has most often occurred fairly far down in the development process and has focused on making new products aesthetically attractive or enhancing brand perception through smart, evocative advertising. Today, as innovation’s terrain expands to encompass human-centered processes and services as well as products, companies are asking creatives to generate ideas rather than to simply dress them up.” Tim Brown, Harvard Business Review, June 2008.

‘Design thinking’  is a method of meeting people’s needs and desires in a technologically feasible and strategically viable way.

It attempts to inspire the essential element of creativity, the ability to take an abstract idea and create something with it. It’s based upon the fundamental belief that an unexecuted idea is a worthless proposition and that ‘doing’ is equally as valuable as ‘thinking’.

A big part of the Design Thinking concept involves empathy for those you are creating for. It’s often manifested through a series of activities, which attempt to create an experience of what or how your idea will ultimately be consumed.

In public relations, a good example is in the way we map a customer journey, either through service, route to buying or user experience. We also should audit and do research prior to creating any strategy. So the process is applicable to public relations, too.

It’s essential that we understand the journey before we can start to think of creative ideas. We use data and analytics, we ask and consult stakeholders and target audiences and we absolutely define our audiences, platforms and ways of communicating.

The interesting part of Design Thinking is like the creativity it attempts to foster, the very concept itself is continually evolving. One example of a design thinking process could have several stages: Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. Within these steps, problems can be framed, the right questions can be asked, more ideas can be created, and the best answers can be chosen.

pr design thinking

The critical sixth step is to LEARN!

The steps aren’t linear; they can occur simultaneously and can be repeated.

The distinguishing characteristics of Design Thinking?

– Finding simplicity in complexity
– Beauty as well as functionality
– Improving quality of experience
– Creating elegant solutions
– Serving the needs of people
– Design thinking as a strategy for innovation

When design principles are applied to strategy and innovation the success rate for innovation dramatically improves. Design thinking is at the core of effective strategy development and organisational change.

Writing this post just reinforces the importance of an informed strategy – not something that we often see, which is media coverage for the sake of it. If we’re going to innovate and we’re going to see change, we need to take all these steps to ensure the strategy is sound for the business/organisational objectives.

Top tips for developing design thinking

Elements are taken from the Harvard Business Review, “The Innovator’s DNA

While learning to be a good ‘designer’ takes years, non-designers can learn to think like a designer and apply these skills to leadership and innovation. Hands-on innovation challenges will guide you through a design thinking process from start to finish.

#1 Associating – Associating, or the ability to successfully connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas from different fields, is central to the innovator’s DNA.

#2 Questionning – Ask “Why?” and “Why not?” and “What if?”

#3 Observing – Innovators carefully, intentionally, and consistently look out for small behavioural details—in the activities of customers, suppliers, and other companies—in order to gain insights about new ways of doing things.

#4 Experimenting – Unlike observers, who intensely watch the world, experimenters construct interactive experiences and try to provoke unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge. Create a culture that foster experimentation.

#5 Networking – Devoting time and energy to finding and testing ideas through a network of diverse individuals gives innovators a radically different perspective. Innovative entrepreneurs go out of their way to meet people with different kinds of ideas and perspectives to extend their own knowledge domains. Think about how you networking on social platforms, within different communities. The #PRStack community is a great example. Think of ideas events, conferences and festivals such as The PRofessionals.

#6 Develop a wide variety of concepts for  products, services, experiences, messages, channels, business models, or strategies.

#7 Create and implement elegant solutions that create value for your customers, faster and more effectively. Practice, learn, tweak and practice some more.

Thanks for reading the blog post about PR and design thinking. Through researching different elements, particularly the HBR, The Innovator’s DNA, I’ve certainly learned a lot and it’s made me want to look into some of the areas a bit more. What’s your creative process? I’d love to hear from you. E: laura (at) aura-pr dot com

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Blog post by Laura Sutherland, Chief at Aura

Updated 6 May 2016