At the upcoming Regional Innovation Mission in San Francisco, one of the leading experts on design thinking will be conducting a half-day boot camp.

Jeremy Gockel heads up innovation for the McClatchy Company and he regularly teaches media executives how to develop, market and test new media products using start-up ideas and principles used by growth-technology companies. In this hands-on workshop, attendees will learn how to incorporate design thinking into their culture to spark innovation.

We talked with Gockel about design thinking and why it’s so critical to his company’s culture. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: How would you define design thinking?

A: Design thinking is a solution-based approach to product and process design that revolves around developing a deep level of empathy with users. It leverages elements of early-stage entrepreneurship (such as low-cost, rapid prototyping generation) and draws upon the imagination and creativity of participants to bring experiences, products and services to life.

It teaches participants to be constantly asking why and questioning their assumptions. It celebrates learning through doing and the importance of placing prototypes directly in the hands of users. It encourages fast, efficient discovery, even when it comes from a product failure.

Q: What’s your background in design thinking?

A: My background in design thinking began roughly three years ago when I was still leading McClatchy’s product management team in Raleigh, N.C. A group of roughly 30 stakeholders from across the company were assembled in Sacramento to participate in a weeklong boot camp with coaches from Stanford. It was a transformative event. I immediately fell in love with the process — particularly its emphasis on starting with user needs and its applicability to everything from single copy design and web interfaces, to company culture and collaboration space design.

Since then I have progressively dedicated more and more of my time to running design thinking sessions within McClatchy and was promoted to the Head of Innovation role in 2016.  Along with my two talented colleagues Abby Reimer and Chelsea Brown, we strive to disperse and support design thinking and entrepreneurship across McClatchy. This takes the form of in-person bootcamps, a robust internal communication framework, distance-based instruction and direct partnership with strategic partners such as Matter and the University of North Carolina School of Journalism.

Q: What sort of projects should you use design thinking with?

A: Projects that require fast-paced discovery at a low-cost with a true desire to understand the needs of the user. Within McClatchy, we have employed design thinking across the traditional verticals of product design, space transformation and internal processes refinement, but the emphasis on rapid prototyping and user discovery remain constant.

Q: Is there a project you have used design thinking with that was a success? Can you tell us a little about that project?

A: For clarity, we adhere to the design-thinking approach that measures success based on increased understanding of our customers. This understanding sometimes comes in the form of product failure (ask me about our Mole newsletter sometime), but we believe that even in failure we advance our understanding of what consumers want and strive to celebrate it accordingly.

From a more traditional success measurement perspective, one product that came out of our spring 2017 Innovation Academy is “Hear What Matters.”

Designed to explore how McClatchy can present and distribute content in a way that improves both reader engagement and brand reputation with non-subscribers, the audible news playlist via Amazon Echo has just wrapped up its third diary study in Sacramento, Calif. A majority of users enjoyed the daily audio briefings and indicated they would be likely or very likely to use this product in the future, with roughly 50 percent of respondents saying the prototype improved their impression of the Sac Bee and they would be willing to pay for it. The positive consumer response, along with the multi-market, multi-discipline collaboration and low-test cost, have us very excited about the product’s potential and the design-thinking ripple effect within McClatchy.

Q: If a company has never done design thinking but is interested, where should they start?

A: Fortunately, there are tons of online resources for exploration in design thinking and a simple search of design thinking will yield a number of interesting reads. For beginners however, my personal favorite is the Stanford d.School. Not only do they provide a lightweight academic immersion in the subject, but they also provide short duration (90 minutes or less), free crash courses to get participants in the process of learning through doing. Their materials are written to be fun, easily accessible and open to the public with readers encouraged to share with friends and colleagues.


Read more about the design thinking boot camp and the SF Innovation Mission here.