Teaching design thinking with infant warmers, Snapchat and journalism

By Fangzhou Liu
Stanford University

Infant warmers, Snapchat and journalism: Stanford d.school founder and director David Kelley brought together three wildly different situations that rely on design thinking in his opening keynote at the ASNE-APME conference on Friday. The address was a rousing start to the three-day conference, which gathers the nation’s top editors to discuss new ways to spark newsroom innovation.

On the connection between journalism and his design thinking approach, Kelley said, “Journalism is an industry that connects to other people. Journalists get viscerally involved in people, and the non-obvious things they care about.”

He compared the process of uncovering the vital issues behind any story to saving premature babies in developing countries. Just as the Embrace Warmer for infants grew out of inventors immersing themselves in local communities, journalists should shape their stories as they discover the people they concern, suggested Kelley.

“I don’t think people should go in with one problem, one story in mind. I think that problem-setting should be in the middle of the process rather than at the beginning,” he said.

During the question-and-answer session that followed, one member of the audience asked, “How can editors apply design thinking to the brainstorming process?”

Kelley’s advice came fresh from the hotbed of Silicon Valley invention.

“You always have to have a bunch of experiments going on,” he said. “That’s what Google does. You have to think of yourself as the inventor of Snapchat or Instagram, not as the editor of the newspaper.”

If innovation was the watchword of the keynote, the theme of survival also loomed large.

“It’s not the same model anymore. It’s not as though something happens and journalists can just get it out – everyone’s doing that now,” commented Kelley.

But to Kelley, it’s not just journalism that can benefit from innovation. From getting kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, to design in the newsroom, he quipped, “Creativity should be as basic as literacy.”

Luckily, the news industry has a knack for language.

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