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As communicators and marketers, we’re always on the lookout for strategies, trends and tools to help us add value to our organizations. One methodology that’s gaining traction in 2017 is design thinking. If this problem-solving protocol isn’t on your radar yet, this post is for you.

To help us explore this topic I reached out to Ezri Carlebach, a leading communication consultant, writer and lecturer in London, England. Over the past few years he’s been training communication professionals on how to leverage design thinking methodology. In fact, at the 2017 IABC World Conference in Washington, Ezri and fellow presenter, Martha Muzychka, ABC, MC, will be hosting a pre-conference workshop, From design thinking to communication doing: A practical guide to the hottest strategic advantage today.

While Ezri was in Toronto for another conference, I had the pleasure of catching-up with my friend and diving into a great discussion about design thinking and why communication professionals should care about the “materiality” of design.

So sit back and enjoy this enlightening conversation and learn from one of the bright lights in design thinking. If you’re interested in learning more about design thinking you can also read some of Ezri’s thoughts on the Design Thinkers Academy blog.

If this video interview sparked an idea or question, please share your thoughts in the comment section below so we can continue this conversation.

Design Thinking Video Transcription

Cyrus: Welcome to the CommCrusaders video series from Advantis Communications.  This series started in January 2012 and today we are continuing to interview communication professionals from around the globe who are real vanguards in the industry.  So today it’s my pleasure to speak with a friend and colleague, Ezri Carlebach, who I first met when I was presenting at the 2009 IABC World Conference and I’ve saw you on the main stage there too. And today, you just got off the stage at the World PR Forum.  So, thanks for joining me.

Ezri: It’s a pleasure.

Cyrus: We are talking about design thinking today and Roger Martin, I’m sure you know the author of The Design of Business.  He has a long definition, I am just going to read the first sentence of it because I think it’s a good synopsis.  “Design thinking is a process of continually redesigning a business on the basis of insights derived from customer intimacy.”  So that’s his definition.  Can you expand on that or would you share with us what design thinking means to you and your work?

Ezri: Ok, well, that definition is focused on business world and understandably because that’s his background.  But design thinking is applied much more widely and I would define it as a series of problem finding and problem solving methodologies that are based on the way that designers work.

Cyrus: Is this new? Is it just a new buzzword or is it real innovative thinking?

Ezri: Well it’s been around since the 1970s really, and became more prominent with the rise of design of  businesses like Apple in the 80’s and 90’s.  And design began to be seen as a competitive advantage and businesses began to explore it more.  The pioneers of design thinking were a firm called “Idea”, you probably heard of them, and Idea did a little work with one of their early clients, a guy named Steve Jobs, on the design of personal computers including the design of the very first Apple Mouse.  And so from there, it started to spread into other companies in other sectors as well.  And for communicators, it’s important that they know about it because it’s being used in business planning and strategy.

Cyrus:  So Ezri, why don’t we take it from the top. The C-suite is interested in it, but what is the value that the C-suite sees in design thinking and when we drop it down to the communicators within the organization, how can they derive value from it?

Ezri: I think to get into that, we need to understand the core parts of the design thinking methodology.  And they are essentially these: Firstly empathy, which means really understanding your end user or your customer.  Again, obviously, the C-suite will recognize the value of that.  Secondly, lateral thinking and creative approaches to problem identifying as well as problem solving.  Thirdly is story telling, and you really don’t need to explain the value of story telling in business anymore as everybody kind of gets that.  And the fourth step is prototyping, and that’s something that may seem a little unusual for PR and communications people, but all of those stages have been shown to add value in the business planning process.

Cyrus: So I brought an iPad to this conversation, you brought a paper bag…

Ezri: No, I didn’t.  Let me explain, this is a high-quality British made lightly coated baked goods delivery vehicle.

Cyrus:  Ah ok, well, you must have paid a lot for it then.

Ezri: It’s a very simple design, easily understood.  You know immediately what this is for and what it does.  But when you are working as a designer with 3D material objects, one of the things you have to think about is how these objects transform.  So here, you take control of the high-quality British made lightly coated baked goods delivery vehicle.

Cyrus: British made, it feels very high-quality for sure, yes.

Ezri: What I want you to do is screw it up in your hand, just scrunch it right up in your hands.

Cyrus: Just crush it up?

Ezri: Yeah.

Cyrus: Ok.

Ezri: Ok, so how did that feel like?

Cyrus: It was actually kind of soft all around.  It crunched up very easily.  I was expecting it to be a little sharp and kind of harsh but, no, not at all.

Ezri: And open up your hand now, what have you got?

Cyrus: A crushed up piece of paper.

Ezri: Ok, but what could it be?

Cyrus: It could be…a paper weight.

Ezri:  There you go.  So immediately you start to see different applications and different understanding of objects just from that one simple act. And the next stage is to put the paper back on the table and smooth it out again.

Cyrus: Alright.

Ezri: Ok, and then you have something now that has different texture, has a different look and feel, it’s no longer immediately identifiable as a high-quality British made lightly coated baked goods delivery vehicle, but you could make it into something else.  And I’m using that as an illustration in my work with PR accounts people in design thinking to get them to think about materiality of design.  Design is about making things, and if we go back to the dawn of history, design is about how we interact with them and affect the world around us. So what you’ve just done is a good example of that.  In fact, there is a saying that our ancestors didn’t discover fire, they designed it.

Cyrus: So Ezri, if there was just one thing that communication professionals from anywhere in the globe needed to know about design thinking, what would that be?

Ezri: I would say it’s the process of making things, using your hands, getting involved in the materiality of design which is after all what we’ve said, it’s about how you interact with your world.  So that doesn’t mean if you take something as simple as this and alter it in some way, and that that’s the solution to your problem.  But in the process, you’ll be thinking differently about how to approach whatever issues that you are facing, and that is I think is where the value comes.

Cyrus: So does it help to release those creative juices and…

Ezri: It helps to release those creative juices, I mean in some instances, you can directly model the issue that you’re talking about.  So I can give you an example from the UK government, they wanted to investigate how to improve the system by which citizens report crimes.

Cyrus: Right.

Ezri: They brought in some design thinking people, and they got victims of crimes and civil servants and police officers to make models of the scene where something had gone wrong.  And through that process, they all came to understand better the issues affecting the reporting of crimes.  As a result of which, the home office in the UK think they can save about 38 million pounds a year in police time in reporting crimes.

Cyrus: Can you tell the viewers how they can reach you if they want to learn more about you and design thinking?

Ezri: Ok, they can reach me on Twitter @ezriel or and there are loads of resources on design thinking and design out there.  You know, you only have to do a quick search on the internet to find websites and books and references that you can call up.

Cyrus: Great. Wonderful, well thank you for your time.  Much appreciated.

Ezri: Thank you.  Good to see you.

Cyrus: Yes, good to see you.  Thanks for watching another episode of CommCrusaders.  Check out the CommCrusaders blog for more interviews like this and insights that come from the intersection of business and communication.