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By: Nicole Clark

Most of us have heard of the term “design thinking,” but generally have no idea what it means. Fortunately, for members of
Grand Valley PRSSA, Andy Van Solkema of Visualhero came to our most recent general assembly meeting to help explain some of the history behind design thinking, and how we can apply it to our public relations careers.One of the most important things that Andy talked about was how people are at the core of good design. By focusing on what behaviors or feelings we want to encourage in our audience, we can develop an experience around those behaviors through different touchpoints and customer needs that will deliver a positive brand impression. This idea of focusing on the needs of our audiences is important for public relations professionals. We can be sucked up in advocating for our clients, leading us to forget that we also have to understand what our audiences needs are. In order to manage and improve our relationships with our publics, we have to accommodate the public’s’ needs as well.

But beyond being people-centric, what really is design thinking? One definition that Andy provided was that design thinking was a “mindset for managing complexity at many levels.” He said that design thinking meant going beyond surface-level problems that may seem to have simple solutions by understanding the structural and strategic decisions may have caused them. While this approach may seem more complex, it amplifies the benefits each decision because those choices all contribute to a larger picture.

Another way to think about design thinking is that it prevents arbitrary decision-making. For an architect, that might mean questioning if walls joining at a 90-degree angle is really ideal for a particular design built for a particular client. For public relations professionals, it might mean rethinking a decision to rebrand and finding that a less drastic change may have a better impact. For anyone interested in making better decisions, it means questioning everything in terms of a bigger picture.

Of course, it’s important to know that there are limits to design. As Andy described, “you can have a team a designers help with plans for a bridge, but you probably wouldn’t want them to build it.” As wonderful and useful as the ideas designer come up with can be, it can take a team of people with different types of expertise to bring some of those bigger ideas to life.

Overall, I was very thankful that Andy came in to speak with us, especially since he gave us such a great crash course in the history of design and what design thinking means today.

If you’re interested in learning more about design thinking, a good place to start is Stanford’s d.school (httpss://dschool.stanford.edu/) which includes a lot of great resources.

Nicole Clark is a senior at GVSU, where she is majoring in Writing and minoring in Public Relations. She is excited to be GrandPR’s Firm Editor and Social Media Manager. She is also an intern at Rogo Marketing and Communications and a volunteer for the American Red Cross. In her free time, she enjoys listening to podcasts, learning about social issues, and teaching herself new skills. She is excited to use her extensive understanding of storytelling and grammar, and to learn new skills that will help her after graduation.