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Design a new approach to marketing communications

Mar 07, 2023
Shot of a laptop monitor as woman creates a design

In December, 15 Medill IMC Professional students gathered in San Francisco for the Design Thinking immersive course, which teaches how to focus marketing work on customer needs.

Led by instructor Tran Ha, a media innovator and adjunct lecturer in the program, Design Thinking is one of the immersive courses offered in the Medill hybrid master’s program that combines online and in-person marketing classes for experienced professionals.

Career-long impact from a week-long course

Angel Martinez and Layth Yehyawi, members of the IMC ’23 cohort, were among the professional marketers who participated in the five-day course that teaches putting the customer at the center of marketing activities.

“The San Francisco trip was one of, if not the most, impactful educational experience of my life,” Yehyawi said. He is the global social media manager and a member of the internal creative agency for Gallagher, an insurance, risk management and consulting company with partners in 130 countries.

Breaking through to customers

Design thinking can be applied in any context and is relevant for marketers who must identify and connect with customers’ needs to break through the clutter of competing messages and offers.

Ha has been practicing and teaching design thinking for almost a decade. Based on the West Coast, she lectures at Medill and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford while serving start-ups, corporations and nonprofits through her consulting company, Tiny Collaborative.

Design Thinking students pose for a group photo with Danielle Robinson Bell
Design Thinking students pose for a group photo with Danielle Robinson Bell

In materials shared with students before the start of the course, she visualized design thinking as an infinity loop, cycling between context and form as practitioners empathize with clients and define the scope of the challenge, then ideate, prototype and test solutions before going back to the starting point.

It all starts with empathy

Martinez, a strategic communications specialist at the University of Chicago’s Network for College Success, found the focus on customer empathy immediately applicable. “In this work, you could just send out, send out, send out materials,” he said. “That’s versus taking the time to have a human dialogue about how receiving this helps you, or how it adds value to your professional life, personal life, what have you.”

Working from a place of empathy raises the value of marketing by cutting waste and boosting effectiveness. As Martinez said, without empathy, “You can fall into solutionitis: ‘I know what they need,’ or ‘I know what this problem is.’” Viewing customers’ needs from your own perspective can lead you astray.

It takes skill and training

The simple concept of empathizing with customers actually takes work and skill. With the opportunity to focus and practice, the five-day immersive course is ideal for building the required skills.

Yehyawi said, “Putting everything else on pause and just being dedicated to learning and having a professor who was as invested in our ability to grasp the concepts as Tran was, was a very, very impactful experience.”

Design Thinking is just one of the immersive courses in Medill’s hybrid program. The courses are open to students who have completed the program’s three core classes. Held in major cities in the United States and around the world, immersive courses allow students to network with marketers in the host cities, as well as with classmates and professors.

Broaden your perspective and your professional network

After hours and on breaks, the December 2022 Design Thinking class sampled San Francisco’s sights and activities. Martinez appreciated an evening field trip to the Museum of Craft and Design. “Aside from there being a lot of cool design things there, it just felt very connected to design thinking,” he said, calling it “a good evening activity to do catching up with some folks.” Each immersive course offers opportunities for networking and experiencing the host city.

A career inflection point

Asked how the Design Thinking course affected his work, Yehyawi said, “I think it changed the way I look at my career. I think it changed the way I look at my life in a lot of ways.” While the problem-solving approach has added relevance for agency professionals, it also applies in a broader business context.

“I think in a corporate job, a part of it is how good you are at what you do and how knowledgeable you are about your specialty in your vertical,” he said. “And I think the other is, can you get things done in a large organization? Can you get things done that need to be done? So can you determine what needs to be done?”

Yehyawi says the class taught him to let clients collaborate on marketing design. “I know what I have to say, and I don’t need to say all of it,” he said. “I have to let them talk more, listen to what they’re saying, and adjust and adapt my solution.”

The payoff for his attention and patience? “I do believe that I have been able to get buy-in and participation and collaboration from our clients significantly more since I came back from that trip.”

Take your career to the next level

Like Layth Yehyawi and Angel Martinez, you can find career-changing insights and build in-demand marketing and leadership skills in the IMC Professional program at Medill.

Crafted by marketers for marketers, each course in the curriculum offers you insights, information and strategic frameworks that you can use to grow your career. Talk with an Admissions Advisor to learn more.