Calm before the brainstorm – Design thinking for agencies

It’s a typical winter Tuesday at the creative agency in a downtown high-rise. Account Managers are back from the client meeting with a new project. Meeting notes are being compiled and the creative brief is almost ready to be shared with the team. A brainstorm is scheduled and everyone is invited — designers, writers and thinkers. The white board can’t wait to be erased and dry-erase markers are eager to visualize great ideas with words, arrows and boxes drawn by enthusiastic problem solvers.

But wait. How many times have you walked out of a brainstorm feeling great about the ideas (especially the ones you loved), without realizing that the core problem has been left unaddressed? Or, you could have conveniently picked a version of the problem that matched your favorite idea.

Let’s refer to the Design School at Stanford to learn about the concept of design thinking.


At first glance, this is just another spin on the popular test-and-learn approach (or iterative design), but I think it’s more than that. The most valuable aspects of design thinking are the first two steps — empathy and problem definition. The methods and techniques suggested in this approach to understanding the problem are invaluable. It’s even more critical to articulate the problem effectively so that everyone can comprehend it — before the creative process is pursued.

Easier said than done. Chances are, the problem given to the agency is very different than the kind Don Draper used to deal with in the ’60s. The typical agency creative brief is likely to fall short because it hasn’t kept up with the times.

Agency teams have to take a step back and let the problem sink in before their brains are stormed with ideas. They have to get immersed in the problem, observe it first-hand and engage with it from a user’s perspective. They have to interpret all the important aspects of the research and decode the client’s intent. They have to ask a lot of ‘why’ questions.

To stay on track, you have to lay down the track properly. Brainstorming is a no-judgment zone. Wild creativity has to be unleashed there. It will be too late to try to define the problem.

We encourage our team at Aisle Rocket Studios to apply design thinking and that’s why our chances of delivering thoughtful and effective solutions are very high.

*Drawing: Courtesy of 88tc88 Blog