Why Do I Love Design Thinking?

thinkingDesign thinking acquires and synthesizes information and generates creative, human-centered solutions.  It is commonly used and that’s also what it’s known for- to design any object or offer a practical solution to a problem.  In my opinion, the principles are perfect for TV Development; as it emphasizes on the great value on the empathy for the users, which is our TV audience.

Design thinking offers better design solutions so let’s apply the principles to the creation and promotion of TV programming.

Our friends at ABC Nightline did an experiment.  They asked the most renowned design firm, IDEO, to come up with a solution for them and find out what makes IDEO so successful.

As you would expect, there are many variations to the design thinking model.  Generally, there are between three to six steps.  Here is one approach adapted from Stanford’s d.school that I believe would work well for Instructional Design.

A Design Thinking Process


Research helps you define the problem and get to know the target population.  Defining the problem is vital.  Be as concise as you can be.

A network I was working with was challenged with the time slot between 6:00 pm and 7:00 pm weekdays.  It simply kept losing its younger audience (and therefore, the advertising dollar) to its competitors.  Research creates a more open mindset than Analysis, in which the focus is on breaking things down and finding answers.  In design thinking, research is practiced through empathizing with the target population.  Therefore, that is exactly what we did.

The TV Programming developer should be thought of as an ethnographer studying and recording the viewpoint of a group of people, their subculture and their vision of the world.  It needs to discover and rediscover the needs of a target audience and explore their universe.

Industrial designer and design educator, Paul Backett, writes “Great designers are great empathasizers. It’s what separates a design that has soul from one that’s simply well-realized.”

As we all know, the very same principles apply for TV.



I strongly believe in thorough research.  I want to know how and what the target audience smells, feels, reads, thinks, worries about and dreams of.  Once this process is done to my satisfaction, I can identify a group of people with names, ages and characteristics, which represent my viewers.

Defining the problem through research and looking at it from many angles and perspectives can set you on the right track.  Without correctly defining a problem, it is nearly impossible to generate a corresponding solution.





Love working with cross disciplinary teams.  Get people from other departments, friends or people you know in your target audience.  The practice of “ ideation” is usually what the TV program development process consists of.  This is what generates potential solutions to the problem defined during research.  It is best to generate as many ideas as possible.  All ideas are considered and there are no constraints or restrictions.

Decide for a moderator, set a time frame and GO!



A prototype is a preliminary model of an approach.  Remember, you have been involved in the development process for some time now and if you have solely focused on the project, it would be best if you stepped back and did something entirely different, even if pressure is building up, and get this hands-on exploration.  It provides a way to rapidly try the plot without a large investment of time and money.

It may involve a series of graphic sketches or very rough story boarding.  It’s better to begin your prototypes as soon as possible, in the event of a failure, as each failure provides a better understanding and idea of the road to success.



Testing is all about seeing what works in the real world, getting feedback and refining (or ditching) prototypes.  I prefer to create an emotional re-traceable path for the prototype and also apply the principles of systemic constellations as they always offer great insights in projects.

Testing and modifications make design thinking an iterative process and helps you prevent excessive spending of development money.

How to really test a produced pilot varies from network to network.  Some do a lot of testing beforehand and go full steam into production, while others air a pilot in a slot without much marketing money involved to be able to observe the reaction.  Network executives use their own recopies here. Simply get the target audience in front of the screen and you have a winner.

Although an iterative approach to design may seem lengthy the way many programs are out there and not fulfilling their stated goal in ratings.  I believe in adapting the process according to the project and adhering to the principles.

Oh yes, the slot 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm remained, with a very slight change to the opening sequence, and we added off screen activities, created more of an emotional hub for the target audience and the initiative was successful.  How did we come up with this idea?  The idea was achieved by researching and researching the target audience again.

Design Thinking Resources:

Design Thinking Methods from Stanford’s d.school
Design Thinking Article in Harvard Business Review