The Digital-gen of Design Thinking

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Marketing Practice

Have you ever wondered fifty percent of your marketing is always about creativity? Creative design spices up your communications, amplifies your product’s aesthetics, and develops an identity for your brand. Creative thinking is indeed essential for marketing.

Behind every creative idea, it is always a thought process. I call this process the design thinking. I believe we all have heard design thinking on different occasions. It applies to almost everywhere: business management, marketing communications, product development, and all sorts of creative works.

The IBM version of design thinking has a better explanation that I wholeheartedly agree with on the three core components: Team, Invention, and Outcome. Think about when we are presented with a product, it is actually an outcome, not the design. The design should be the process and the team dynamics when the product is developing. Design thinking is essentially a problem-solving process during the product development. It is something like a logic that guides us to complete the puzzle. In the design thinking process, designers are given a problem. Afterward, they research, structure their intuitions and concepts, work out a plan to synthesize different resources, and finally invent a solution.

Design Thinking Is To Build A Scientific Framework

For marketing, design thinking helps marketers to develop the substance of the communications. I am here to recommend three types of design thinking for marketers. (1) the classical brand pyramid, (2) the analytical research, (3) the insight discovery. None of these three types of design thinking starts from aesthetic. It is about building a scientific framework to work on a solution.


The brand pyramid aims at integrating the emotional elements into the functional elements when designing a product. The considering sets of a brand pyramid take end users into the central perspective. It dissects what people need and how they feel for a product. During a brand pyramid exercise, the product developers are tasked to create product’s features whereas the marketers are tasked to develop emotional attributes of the product.

In an analytical type of design-thinking, it derives imagination, or the digital marketers like to call it “insight” based on empirical data. The analytical type of design thinking is hugely influenced by information technology, which makes the process becomes more and more scientific. To give you an example, in my job, I always encourage the graphic designers to learn how to do search marketing keywords research. It is because I believe the semantics of the keywords represents how people think towards a particular subject matter. By analyzing the meaning or the intent of the keywords that people are using on search engines, the semantic result generates insight that points the designers to discover a new source of contents. For instance, through research on how people use words to perceive a topic, the word choices can outline a particular type of persona according to gender, age group, culture, geo-location, etc, etc. The designers can then develop aesthetic features that fit the persona type.

By Nathanael Crawford – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13268578

Utilize A.I. To Find The Unknown Unknows

I call the third type of design thinking as the insight discovery. It is very powerful for finding inspiration. Insight discovery is a wild idea exploration that fits right into the former U.S. Secretary of Defense and the congressman Donald Rumsfeld’s famous quote “The unknown unknowns.

Simply because you do not have evidence that something exists does not mean that you have evidence that it doesn’t exist – by Donald Rumsfeld

But how do the marketers and designers start this wild idea exploration to discover the unknown unknowns? To discover an unknown subject, I believe A.I. has a role to play in the process. There has been a lot of discussions about how A.I. or machine learning fits into the marketing practice. My idea of using A.I. in marketing is to do it through the most proven machine learning feature – the image recognition or the programmers call it “object detection.”

By Bharath Raj, https://medium.freecodecamp.org/how-to-play-quidditch-using-the-tensorflow-object-detection-api-b0742b99065d

Here is an exercise that I actually experienced it by myself. Using a web crawler to collect a large batch of images from the web and then to use Google Tensorflow to build a training model and a validation model. The experiment requires some coding knowledge to extract the annotation from the images. These annotation data not only can describe the contents of the images but also other descriptive labels. The result could be a combination of data classification, comparison, or trend prediction depending on the algorithm that the coders developed to do the computation. The Microsoft COCO – Common Objects in Context project – is a good illustration for you. Google’s Art & Culture experiment with MoMA is another good inspiration for how machine learning discovers insight for art. I am totally intrigued by these machine learning experiments. With the help of machine learning, marketers can quickly identify the right source of ideas. Most importantly, the marketers can also discover the latent trait of the ideas. These latent ideas embedded inside the content are somehow all relevant and treasurable unique.

Another example from an NYU researcher Cris Valenzuela who utilizes A.I. to power a text-to-image model has further proven the future of machine-learning assisted ideation process. We can see from his model, not only the A.I. can recognize an object, but also to interact, imagine, and present an image.

To Develop Unbias-based Ideation Process

The insight discovery model might not be straightforward to adopt because of the barrier of acquiring technical support for the execution. However, with the commodification of machine learning tool happening fast, I believe the applications will become very handy in the foreseeable future. I truly believe in the practice of using machine learning to assist the insight discovery process because it is an unbias-based ideation process.

Nowadays marketers can combine three types of design thinking to develop unbias, data-driven, and insightful marketing plan. That is to use the brand pyramid to structure the product features and the customer value, analyze keywords or historical web traffic to identify the market demands, discover ideas and new trends with the latent traits kept in the breadth of content for the creative communications.

It is sad to see the creative world become more and more mechanical. In the business world, we praise entrepreneurship for the power of creation. Marketers should be the adventurers who sail with the entrepreneurs in the blue ocean to venture out in the new paradigm shift.

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