Empathy is at the core of good design

Empathy should also be at the core of good journalism

Design thinking is an oft discussed, oft misunderstood process. People mistake it for the creative design process itself or for a buzzword-laden, variably-effective way for businesses to seek solutions or for Post-Its — lots and lots of Post-Its, Sharpies and whiteboarding.

Journalism is an oft discussed, oft misunderstood industry. People mistake how news is reported, verified and delivered. Many also don’t understand, or care, how it’s sustained. They also don’t care how good a job journalists and media companies are trying to do, nor should they, after all they’re the user … and here is where the two — design thinking and journalism should collide: at the user.

Design thinking is a holistic way of thinking that includes the creative part of design. It’s a way of thinking that can help journalism by using one of its core methods: need finding.

What do consumers of journalism want, what will they pay for and how can we have them care about things they “should” care about?

But I’m not proposing we use design thinking as the tool to fix the whole industry. Instead, we must use design thinking to narrow our focus, intentionally.

Every community is different, what works in New York won’t work in New Orleans; won’t work in Wilcox, Arizona; won’t work in Casper, Wyoming; won’t work in San Francisco; won’t work in Durham, North Carolina. Why? Because all of these audiences are different. We must look within communities before we report on them. There are folks out there like LION Publishers putting in hard work. Places like ProPublica and The New York Times are trying to address this with collaborative partnerships but it’s important that corporations that hold properties in many markets not become obsessed with a top-down approach to news delivery. Templates aren’t going to fix journalism’s problems — not in newspapers, not online.

But empathy, another core value in design thinking, might. We, as journalists, have to be very intentional and clear about who our audience is (and the more pointed, the better) and we have to report, write, design for them. We must do journalism for them, from their shoes.

2017 JSK Fellow Adriana García is a designer, researcher and editor 
adrianagarcia@stanford.edu | agg.designs