Design Thinking for Writing Professionals

Room 42 is where practitioners and academics meet to share knowledge about breaking research. In this episode, Jason Tham discusses what design thinking is and what it means in technical communication contexts, including how some attributes of design thinking like “empathy” and “radical collaboration” can make us better communicators.

Airdate: June 9, 2021

Season 1 Episode 24 | 44 min

Watch on our YouTube Channel   Listen on Apple podcasts   Listen on Google podcasts   Listen on Amazon music   Listen on Spotify   Listen on Stitcher   Listen on iHeartRadio   Listen on Buzzsprout

Transcript (Expand to View)

[00:00:13.590] – Liz Fraley

Good morning everyone and welcome to Room 42. I’m Liz Fraley from Single-Sourcing Solutions I’m your moderator. This is Janice Summers, our interviewer, and welcome to Jason Tham, today’s guest in room 42. He’s a native to Lumpur Malaysia and an Assistant Professor of Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University. Jason teaches User Experience, Information Design, and Digital Rhetoric while doing research in Technical Communication Practices, Pedagogy technology especially. And he’s very interested in design thinking, how it can help bring about meaningful discussion to the modern workplace and in higher education.

[00:00:53.310] – Liz Fraley

His most recent book, Design Thinking in Technical Communication, unpacks the relationship between Design centric methods for strategic problem solving, collaboration, teaching, and learning in socially responsive innovation. In addition, he co-authored a book with Joe Moses of the University of Minnesota called The Collaborative Writing Playbook. It provides a flexible framework for team-based projects using design thinking attributes. Today, Dr. Jason Tham is here to help us start answering the question, How does Design Thinking Impact Writing Professionals?

[00:01:33.760] – Liz Fraley

Good morning, welcome. We are so excited you’re here.

[00:01:35.260] – Janice Summers

Welcome Jason, I am delighted to reach out, I am so glad that you’re here with us.

[00:01:41.680] – Jason Tham

Yes, I’m excited too.

[00:01:43.450] – Janice Summers

Yeah, I’m delighted to be talking to you. Now, I will give you the truth. I have your book, I started reading your book, and I’ve been through parts of your book, and it’s really very good. I really enjoy it, but I haven’t finished it all yet so I was hoping that you could help explain to everybody what is Design Thinking?

[00:02:04.090] – Jason Tham

Yeah for sure. Well again thank you for inviting me to this session. So, there are many definitions really for Design Thinking. If you do a Google search, you will probably arrive at several —  there are consulting firms that are using the term and there are also academics who are using the term in the pedagogy. For me, the way I use it is to put it simply, I think design thinking is both a methodology as well as a mindset for problem-solving. So in terms of methodology, it provides a way of solving problems with different phases and different tools, and as a mindset, it tells the person who is using it what sort of mentality to be in, what values to keep in mind when we are solving problems. So that’s how I see design thinking.

[00:03:04.150] – Janice Summers

Because there’s a lot of misconceptions of what is Design Thinking. And you could just take the word and you’re unfamiliar with it. Design. To me, my mind would go to structure and art and things like that and architecture and things that are physical. Are there some misconceptions out there about what Design Thinking is?

[00:03:24.730] – Jason Tham

Yeah certainly, certainly in the opening of my book, I kind of talk about that in which like Design Thinking sometimes is taken up as graphic design or interface design.

[00:03:39.310] – Liz Fraley


[00:03:39.310] – Jason Tham

But I mean, it is not just that, I think it is important to keep in mind that Design Thinking is about using a set of values and attributes in solving problems. So it’s like I use the metaphor of a lens right, it’s like wearing glasses, so if you put on a different color shaded lens, you’re going to see things differently right?

[00:04:05.958] – Janice Summers


[00:04:06.210] – Jason Tham

So into the world so, the design — 

[00:04:10.340] – Janice Summers

It could be a rose-colored glasses, right?

[00:04:12.950] – Jason Tham

Yes, and you can see rose color world. So that’s how — I think design thinking is one of those frameworks where you put it on and it guides you into ways — a way of looking into the world and the problems that we are addressing.

[00:04:32.420] – Janice Summers

So in Design Thinking, it’s more focused on who you’re serving when you’re creating communications, who you’re serving, right?

[00:04:44.000] – Jason Tham

Yes, so that’s the primary goal of design thinking is to be user-centric and for technical communicators and writing professionals, I don’t think that is a new concept, right.

[00:04:55.280] – Janice Summers

Right, because it’s what they all — I mean, that’s written into the core of every technical and professional writer.

[00:05:03.710] – Jason Tham

Always thinking about our audience, we’re thinking about our user, customers, consumers right. But design thinking kind of amplifies that, in my opinion, I think — because it’s built into that process of design where you start with empathy right. You start with having compassion and having empathy for the user, looking at problems from their standpoint and not from the system design, what we need to come up with right. It’s about addressing what users want. So design thinking start out by defining, you empathize with the user and you define the problems that they are experiencing. A user-centered sort of design and problem-solving mentality to address those issues.

[00:05:57.740] – Janice Summers

Right, and I can’t remember where exactly in the book, but you were framing it and it kind of painted the picture. We really don’t take it from the technology perspective, you take it from how does the individual like if it were me, how I would use that technology.

[00:06:16.100] – Jason Tham


[00:06:16.790] – Janice Summers

Versus the features of the technology they’re trying to teach you how to use it, does that make sense?

[00:06:22.580] – Jason Tham


[00:06:23.120] – Janice Summers

I didn’t explain it nearly as good as you did in your book.

[00:06:27.620] – Jason Tham

Yeah, every time I try to come back to definitions, I look at it sort of differently too because of what I’m doing, but yeah so design thinking really prompts you to do research and understand the users first and not come from the designers or even a business kind of purpose, because a lot of times if we are driven by business needs and sales and profit right. That’s going to drive us away in most situations, it’s going to drive us away from what the market really needs right, so understanding the everyday experience of the user, if I’m working to design something for an office worker, I really do need to go sit down at the desk for eight hours a day and really experience it from that perspective right. Rather than from the sort of organization or the system approach right, telling people what they need to do rather than what they really want in using the different technologies.

[00:07:41.110] – Janice Summers

And it changes the whole perspective — it’s changing that perspective from, you know even from the creator from an engineering perspective. You’re not coming at it from I’m going to do this feature, you’re coming at it from how can I make their lives better?

[00:07:58.510] – Jason Tham


[00:08:00.670] – Janice Summers


[00:08:00.670] – Jason Tham

Yeah, so one extra space — I think that I typically have my students do is when I ask them to design say like an app, not like a real app but just an interface concept design right, to address some kind of issues that they have in life. A lot of times we see that they jump in straight into okay, we want to have this function, we want to have this feature right. Without really starting with why. Why do we want to have say like photographing or videotaping features for your app? Well because it’s cool or because that’s what people are doing, but it doesn’t mean that that’s going to be a solution to the problems that you’re trying to address through the app. So that’s one way I kind of teach students to think about look, it’s important to start with knowing the prompts from the user perspective and therefore doing research in the beginning. It’s going to be crucial for you to arrive at those insights and you use the insights to guide your design and your ideation process.

[00:09:19.840] – Janice Summers

Right, so if you’re using design thinking and TPC in Technical and Professional Communication, then you’re saying you’re doing help, right? You’re doing online help. Then you would take the perspective of how does an end-user, how does the person who needs help, how do they use help? What are they looking for? Why are they there? And what’s driving them? Is that like looking at things from a design thinking?

[00:09:54.700] – Jason Tham

Definitely, and thankfully we have data and we have analytics that can help us in that process too right. You want to know what keywords people are searching for and what kind of troubleshooting they’re looking in help guide for example. And that way you kind of know like, okay so what are some of the core issues and why are those issues there in the first place right?

[00:10:22.380] – Janice Summers


[00:10:23.410] – Jason Tham

So that you kind use a grounded bottom-up sort of solution rather than saying when you’re designing documentation, say we want to have these three categories and we want to have these main questions answered in the FAQ’s without really asking, are these the main questions that people are asking, right?

[00:10:46.500] – Liz Fraley

Yeah, yeah.

[00:10:46.500] – Jason Tham

And the most important questions or the most frequent questions right. Sometimes I just look at FAQ’s and I’m like — the first question is really not the question that I will ask, really. So you know the ones that are well designed, they are the one who really addresses like head on right, when you go to a help guide or whatever the first few ones are going to be the most important.

[00:11:12.200] – Janice Summers

Don’t get me started on FAQs though, why should someone go to an FAQ it’s like a Junkdrawer, right?

[00:11:23.290] – Jason Tham

Yeah, it’s like here’s where you put all the things that did not make it.

[00:11:26.980] – Janice Summers

Right, they are going to say, the things that you know, we didn’t write in the instructions better, so we’ll just put in this FAQ. That kind of suffice as the frequently asked questions and maybe if we said the information better they wouldn’t need that question.

[00:11:44.250] – Jason Tham

Yeah, I like that thinking. If it is a well-designed system, you probably don’t need —

[00:11:52.120] – Janice Summers

You don’t need FAQ there should be no question.

[00:11:55.050] – Jason Tham

It should be you know user friendly right, to present those terms.

[00:12:00.360] – Janice Summers

Yeah well right and to your point if we’re using design thinking, then we’re answering their questions before they even have it.

[00:12:08.770] – Jason Tham


[00:12:09.430] – Janice Summers

Like it’s there for them because we’re coming from that human centered — I like to say this with a little quote from that human centered problem solving orientation, I love that.

[00:12:22.090] – Jason Tham


[00:12:22.780] – Janice Summers

And that — yeah, go ahead sorry.

[00:12:26.080] – Jason Tham

I was saying those are not my words, but as in like people before me came up with those terms, I did not coin human centered —

[00:12:33.850] – Janice Summers

But there is in your book, and I highlighted it just so you know.

[00:12:38.950] – Jason Tham

That’s something that I rely on SSA design philosophy that we talk about humans and not just people as users, but thinking about their emotions right, their human needs. We need humane technologies and not just functions and features things that can perform and make our life efficient. We want things that really help us be more human and be more responsive to problems that are around us, not just in the workplace or professional lives, but our day to day personal and social lives are also important to be taken care of. So that human centeredness, I think puts us into that mentality and thinking not just for profit or enterprising, but really how can we address social problems? I think one of the most attractive aspects of design thinking is that it really pull us into social innovation.

[00:13:46.130] – Janice Summers

Yeah, you were talking about that

[00:13:47.800] – Jason Tham

Right. So innovation —

[00:13:49.720] – Janice Summers

You were talking about that in your book.

[00:13:53.780] – Jason Tham

Yeah, I was inspired by — so this is a growing movement, and I think one of the main proponent of it really is Stanford University’s Design Institute, and they really focus on designing for social good. So we’re looking at building and training designers that are responsive to the society and to social problems, and you know and I think engineers do that too right. In civil engineering, architecture, and urban planning and design. Those are all related to our personal lives.

[00:14:33.650] – Janice Summers

Yeah, and all of those people are interested in — we talked to somebody a few episodes ago, and I’m not good at namedropping. I can’t remember — really great conversation but he was talking about how you know a lot of people don’t know what TPC people do, like they don’t know. And it’s not their fault, they just don’t know. So he got involved in projects that were like in STEM and in psychology with these people who had no clue until somehow they connected and they connected in various ways, and when people who were technical and professional communicators are involved in science and technology, engineering and mathematics at the very beginning phases, everything comes out better. Engineers like to design things that are going to be used and appreciated. And if you’ve got the technical and professional communicators involved, it helps them to bridge that gap and see that humanistic side, right?

[00:15:34.030] – Jason Tham

Yeah, yeah definitely. So one of the things that we advocate for really is for especially for larger design teams, is in technical professional communication specialists, is they’re trained with these sort of humanistic thinking and background that they have had to the scientific and technical processes. So we’re not just thinking about all the technical problems, but we bringing the social aspect and the human aspect of things, and we focus on that when we do our research and our design, so we’re not sort of you know sited only on problems that are technical right, we look at problems from human perspectives.

[00:16:19.690] – Janice Summers

Right, right exactly.

[00:16:22.280] – Liz Fraley

And that happens through the entire project design and implementation and production process. Getting that stuff done early and at all the stages along the way improves the overall result.

[00:16:38.110] – Jason Tham

Oh, yeah definitely and thankfully that’s a trajectory that I’m seeing in businesses and in organizations, whether or not they’re doing design. I guess if you’re doing services too, those are design services right. How do you make customers feel better and wanting your service right? And that requires a similar kind of thinking, design thinking as in the empathy and human center of guided ideation and creation.

[00:17:17.440] – Janice Summers

Anything that touches humans service or product right?

[00:17:21.980] – Jason Tham


[00:17:22.570] – Janice Summers

And I think that’s usually when you look at the vast field of TPC it touches everything.

[00:17:29.650] – Jason Tham

Right right yeah definitely, you can be a technical communicator in health care, you can be a technical communicator in I.T., a technical communicator in the service industry, right.

[00:17:39.190] – Janice Summers


[00:17:40.450] – Jason Tham

Which is why we are so — we can embrace students from all different majors and different interests, because we don’t train them to be a technical writer right, we train them to think as communicators, to think in this sort of design perspectives and to solve problems with certain kind of framework in this case it will be design thinking. But also they do certainly pick up writing skills and communication skills as well.

[00:18:18.850] – Janice Summers

Yeah, there’s a lot of important mechanics that go into the field as well.

[00:18:23.760] – Jason Tham

Yeah, but it’s not just the writing. I think that sometimes the misconception is if you take a technical communication class, you’re going to be a better writer, period. That’s not fair because we’re more than that and we make you better people.

[00:18:42.370] – Liz Fraley

Absolutely. It’s not always easy for everyone to put themselves in the user shoes or in someone else’s shoes. Not all of us are skilled that way naturally or grow up learning how to do that well. But you’ve got a lot of exercises and things that you do in your teaching to help people get those skills right?

[00:19:07.210] – Jason Tham

Yes, so some examples are in the book, and I like the — so another aspect of design thinking is the whole notion of a bias toward action, so we encourage people to not just think about problems, but to address them through their actions so they have to do something, they have to build something tangible doesn’t always mean material, it could be digital to solve problems, right. So the exercises that I usually think about in the classroom are stemmed from that perspective that I want them to build something and then to address problems in a tangible form.

[00:19:52.400] – Jason Tham

Yeah, so I think that’s the pedagogical benefits of design thinking.

[00:19:58.520] – Janice Summers

It’s kind of like the Maker’s Mark right.

[00:20:01.820] – Jason Tham

That’s the maker movement, and they’re such a nice match between design thinking and making because the maker movement too draws from design thinking as the problem-solving framework. They could have you know drawn from other kind of methods for solving problems, but they decided that design thinking is a good framework to teach especially young makers. Like you say, we’re not always taught that way growing up how to address problems from a human or humane perspective. So teaching young makers, the early career makers how to address problems from that perspective is beneficial. So I’m thankful that the maker movement too are in agreement with design thinking.

[00:20:57.820] – Janice Summers

And it’s just that innovation right, keep us — right.

[00:21:03.800] – Jason Tham

Yeah, in terms of democratizing innovation right, so given access to tools and spaces and a community of support, that encourages innovation, it’s important. And the maker movement does that, and the maker sort of culture in the classroom too aims to accomplish that is to build that sort of collective problem-solving mindset, so it democratizes it. So you don’t have to be an expert to solve problems. You can be what they call a tinker right, you experiment with solutions with a low stake sort of approach so you don’t have to worry about high-cost production of your solution right. Because thankfully with the DIY technologies that we have, like 3D printing, schools that can afford those or community spaces, modeling software and applications and design right. So now you can basically work from your own machine on your computer and you can design something that can address some important problems. So I think that’s a good sort of pedagogical approach in any majors, any discipline, I think really not just in technical and professional communication.

[00:22:38.980] – Janice Summers

I wonder how we could adopt that in the professional sector, right?

[00:22:45.460] – Jason Tham


[00:22:46.000] – Janice Summers

I like how you’re talking about when you’re taking things from a design thinking perspective and from a maker’s thinker perspective, it’s not as you don’t have to be the expert, you don’t have to be the know it all right, and you don’t have to be right before you even do anything.

[00:23:00.850] – Jason Tham


[00:23:01.420] – Janice Summers

Right, the whole thing is to have an experiment and see what happens.

[00:23:06.140] – Jason Tham


[00:23:07.240] – Janice Summers

Right, and then document that experiment. So perhaps in the commercial sector, for those who are practitioners, they could take a piece of that and just say well, if I could take a part of the content that we create or you know a section in the help center or a particular product that’s you know lower visibility, not as high risk, if I just take that one product, it’s kind of quiet in the corner, and I do design thinking with the content that’s on that one little product out there, then we can do an experiment and see how it goes, right?

[00:23:44.000] – Jason Tham

Right, yeah so I’m glad you bring this up because I think Google, I think is the one that is attributed for this kind of program where they have this 20% time where the employee can dedicate their work hours, 20% of the work hours that they are paid for to innovate for either a personal project or something that benefits the community. And I think from a business and corporate standpoint, that is sort of like the paying forward right to the community by encouraging employees to spend their time using their skill sets and using facilities and resources from the company to solve problems that benefit people outside of the company. So it’s not just for profit or for the own business gain. So I guess that’s one model that we could go off of in the industry where people–

[00:24:41.280] – Janice Summers

And again that’s nice when you’ve got a corporate model that supports it.

[00:24:44.910] – Jason Tham


[00:24:46.800] – Janice Summers

We don’t all live in that, everybody doesn’t work for Google, so for other companies, if you’ve got that low, that lower visibility and you want to innovate a little, that might be a safe way to experiment and then prove it up, right. So that then you can take it once you have some success then you can say this is successful, then you can innovate more, because sometimes it’s hard when you’re trapped in a culture and corporate way of doing things, it’s hard to say okay I want to take a risk.

[00:25:23.780] – Jason Tham

Yeah, yeah definitely. So another suggestion I have is collaboration with the community right, might not cost a lot but maybe time. But it’s smaller or individual businesses would encourage that sort of partnership with their local communities, they can then see what kind of problems are impacting their own society and be able to encourage professionals to use the skills and resources to address those, and I think that is another aspect of the maker movement that I really like. It is that going back to the whole social innovation, innovation that benefits the society rather than organizations.

[00:26:16.500] – Janice Summers


[00:26:17.130] – Liz Fraley

It’s an interesting thing right, there’s a fair amount of public service open source. Public service projects and a lot of them struggle for contributions, but at the same time a lot of people participate. That seems like an ideal place for technical TPC communicator and professionals to demonstrate skills and serve a self-fulfilling war. 

[00:26:49.380] – Janice Summers

Yeah, and you bring up a really good point, because for those of you who are in companies who don’t have, you’re feeling like it’s a little too stodgy and you’re not going to be able to implement this radical new ideas. A lot of these companies have community outreach like they all — every company wants to outreach to the community. So under that, you may be able to get participation and some community project.

[00:27:15.470] – Jason Tham


[00:27:15.470] – Janice Summers

You can try that, and it’s a win win for everybody.

[00:27:19.550] – Jason Tham


[00:27:20.220] – Janice Summers

Because you’ll get to implement the design thinking in a very non-threatening — it doesn’t touch the status quo, but you’ll be able to demonstrate some of the ways that you might be able to change your company’s viewpoint on some radical ways that you can change how you communicate, what you communicate as a corporation through community outreach like Liz says, right.

[00:27:46.110] – Jason Tham

Yeah and those outreach more often than not benefits the company to right, with the exposure to like public relations.

[00:27:54.150] – Janice Summers

Oh yeah.

[00:27:55.110] – Liz Fraley


[00:27:55.770] – Jason Tham

I think those are image building work.

[00:27:57.990] – Janice Summers

Yes, and every corporation no matter who they are, likes to have community outreach because it does elevate them.

[00:28:08.070] – Jason Tham

Right, yeah.

[00:28:08.420] – Janice Summers


[00:28:08.580] – Jason Tham

I think it’s good to know your own community because every community is slightly different right, where we live and social conditions, economic conditions that we’re in, so it’s important for companies to not be too removed from those issues right. Knowing what the local people really struggle with and how their product and services could help serve some of those in a non-profit ways.

[00:28:38.690] – Janice Summers

Yeah, absolutely. So you bring up a phrase and I want you to kind of expand on it. You talked about radical collaboration. So can you share with us what is radical collaboration?

[00:28:54.460] – Jason Tham

Yes. So radical collaboration is an attribute of design thinking, so if you go back to the whole mindset as though when you want to design human-centered solutions, what design thinking advocates force and the best way to do that is in radical collaboration. So radical here means you decentralize power and hierarchy. So there’s not a traditional pyramid style structure that controls the design process. It’s more flattened so anyone could participate in the process. You don’t need to gain, you don’t need the experience, you don’t need the expertise, we want your voices in the design process, the more the better, the more diverse, the better it is. And we all actively contribute to this problem-solving process. So that’s what — in brief, that’s what the radical collaboration attribute means and how I have applied it, and the examples that I provided in the book near the end is through my own experience as a graduate student when I was in Minnesota, that I was invited to all these kind of big projects that I didn’t feel I have the expertise or background to contribute to, but the practitioners in those projects embrace radical collaboration. They were willing to bring me in and guide me and let me contribute with what I have right. And that takes all of our work into different directions and it benefited us and the projects. So I think that really motivated me to kind of dig even deeper and wanting to create a thorough stake and a framework around that. So other teachers or researchers could also consider radical collaboration in the classroom, in their own work, in their projects, or even for the professionals in the industry as well.

[00:31:12.690] – Liz Fraley

So what was that like? Because that’s not an uncommon thing to hear from TPC  professionals right. I’m not the expert how you know — like that’s typically — we like to have our ducks in a row and understand before we go in. What was that like? How did you bridge that?

[00:31:35.540] – Jason Tham

Well, I think just telling people that they do not have to start with solutions right, you do not have to start with what you already know. The goal is to explore and to invite participation. I think that in itself is a good motivator for folks to just get started and work with people that they don’t commonly work with. I think that’s an important part that our workplace is becoming more cross-functional and diverse and global especially this virtual sort of scenario that is taking us to a different level of co-working. And I think it is important to practice being with folks who are from a different background and have very different worldview than you and being able to solve problems together. I think that’s going to make us a better humanity in general right. But for the purpose of problem-solving for businesses and organizations, I think that by encouraging the radical collaboration, sometimes you will arrive at breakthroughs right. If you put a medical professional and engineer and artist in the same room, they’re going to come up with very different things to get at the same problem. But if they work together, that solution is going to be something that we have not seen before.

[00:33:03.620] – Janice Summers

Well, and it’s back to those lenses that you were talking about earlier in perspective. Because how we view the world is influenced by those disciplines and artists who view things very differently. And the questions that TPC people ask, the engineers aren’t typically asking those questions. They don’t even think to ask those questions.

[00:33:28.400] – Jason Tham


[00:33:28.400] – Janice Summers

You know they make some assumptions, right?

[00:33:31.640] – Jason Tham


[00:33:34.090] – Liz Fraley

They’re trying to ask different questions.

[00:33:36.190] – Janice Summers


[00:33:36.720] – Jason Tham

Yeah, I like how Liz puts it right there. They’re trained in different — there are differnt lens that they see the world through. And sometimes, I mean a lot of times we benefit from them too right, we benefit from this mathematical and coding sort of driven thinking. It’s something that we need too, that sort of logical thinking guided by you know that sort of expressions that we haven’t done a good job in training our students, so we benefit from engineers.

[00:34:17.650] – Janice Summers

Well yeah, and it’s — well we — back to the word collaboration, that’s why collaboration is always stronger right. And when you’re collaborating, even if you’re just collaborating inside a writing team.

[00:34:28.030] – Jason Tham


[00:34:28.600] – Janice Summers

It’s just collaborations are strong because writer to writer, you don’t see things the same way right. There’s certain things you’re trained on the same, but you have different lenses because your human experience influences.

[00:34:45.190] – Jason Tham


[00:34:46.340] – Liz Fraley


[00:34:48.370] – Jason Tham

Yes. So your professional experience as well right, so radical collaboration says that regardless of your expertise and number of years in doing something, we’re all put on the same level. So when you collaborate, we don’t discount someone’s background or what they know or do not know right. So I learn best really from collaborating with students. And some faculties do this and some don’t. I co-authored papers with my students and I learned so much from how they see the world, and it’s sort of different because sometimes how I address problems, well I have a very structured way of writing a paper, a research paper or a scientific paper for journals, and they come in sort of over-turn the whole thing. And I learn from them in that process and they learn from me. So I do not discount that maybe they have not published before or they have not written something in this journal, it doesn’t mean that they have nothing to say, right.

[00:35:57.050] – Janice Summers


[00:35:58.300] – Jason Tham

That’s what the radical collaboration mindset advocates for, is to put down our own pride and our own — what we think is our expertise at a level with others and work together. I think that’s the attribute itself.

[00:36:22.690] – Liz Fraley

I’m that way too actually I get — it’s part of why I like to bring people together in things like this, because you never know what is going to spark that idea or what is going to change everything and make something work.

[00:36:38.980] – Jason Tham


[00:36:39.580] – Liz Fraley

Or change your perspective and like to have that realization right. You got to talk to people in different disciplines from different places in their career, different industries, different perspectives, different cultures. The only way — because you only ever have your own experience.

[00:36:56.290] – Jason Tham

Yeah well we think in similar terms, if you only work with people that you already are comfortable with right, so communications scholars call it Groupthink right. It’s you have a group and you have a group mentality and you stay with that. So we have to always kind of move people in and out of the teams to switch out that sort of mentality, diversify.

[00:37:21.440] – Janice Summers

Yeah, it’s interesting too because you know in the professional world, where we ran to this more than one time. Why do you do this?

[00:37:29.680] – Jason Tham


[00:37:30.400] – Janice Summers

We’ve always done it that way, why do your warnings look like this? Do you have it — is this the style of your output, is this required or not? I don’t know, we’ve always done it that way. You know, you could do it — you know you don’t have to present information that way. They’re like oh we can kind of get stuck in more. We’ve always done it that way.

[00:37:56.830] – Jason Tham

Yes, we become very accepting of a way of being — very quickly, I think as human beings, that’s sort of our nature. We stick to what’s comfortable and we stick to what works right, I do not like the phrase that says if it is not broken, don’t fix it. Yeah, that means no innovation right.

[00:38:18.050] – Liz Fraley


[00:38:18.050] – Jason Tham

Nothing’s new.

[00:38:19.720] – Janice Summers

I think there’s a healthy balance between innovation and tried and true because sometimes you’ve got to pick your battles too

[00:38:30.400] – Jason Tham

And that’s why you collaborate right, they’re going to be movers and shakers who come into your team and disrupt processes right?

[00:38:37.720] – Janice Summers


[00:38:38.270] – Jason Tham

A lot of times, those are positive disruptions because they are bringing you to a different mentality, a different way of seeing things that you know that you may not have before.

[00:38:50.530] – Janice Summers

And it’s interesting you bring that up because that rule, I think applies to everything, it applies to hiring for your writing teams, it applies to scholarly endeavors, it applies to charitable organizations or professional organizations. Don’t look to just bring people in that are just like you look to bring disruptors.

[00:39:15.100] – Jason Tham


[00:39:15.760] – Janice Summers

People who think a little different, look a little different, act a little different right, have different circles because it’s going to make things richer right?

[00:39:25.450] – Liz Fraley

So much energy there.

[00:39:28.060] – Jason Tham

That’s so important.

[00:39:29.170] – Janice Summers

And it’s not always easy. It’s not easy.

[00:39:31.638] – Jason Tham

It’s not

[00:39:31.980] – Janice Summers

It’s not easy.

[00:39:35.050] – Janice Summers

Let’s be clear, it’s not easy because management becomes more challenging right, deliverables, you know they take on a different life right. So, you know, management becomes a little more challenging in that situation, but the end product becomes stronger and richer when you have that diversity right, and the end organization the event become richer when you have that diversity.

[00:40:07.390] – Jason Tham

Definitely because your users and consumers are diverse, too. So that definitely benefits the product if you have a diverse team building it. They represent the users in some ways.

[00:40:22.220] – Janice Summers

Right, right. I think that–

[00:40:26.030] – Liz Fraley

It’s really interesting that you are the one who has come this way because you had that experience where they invited you over and over.

[00:40:37.800] – Jason Tham


[00:40:38.360] – Liz Fraley

We can see how beneficial that is, it’s really it’s really neat.

[00:40:41.900] – Jason Tham

Right, and all it takes is that invitation right, it’s opening the door and letting people come in if they want to, extend that invitation no matter what. I think that’s something that we all can do better. We all need to be more welcoming and not just ‘this is my project and this is my thing’. And it takes a little bit of like being vulnerable in order to do that right, to open up and to not — the word that we use in the book to suspend judgment right, to not evaluate just let it be work through with this new person or this person with a different background expertise and see where it goes right.

[00:41:29.000] – Janice Summers

Well, here’s the thing. Because as human beings our human tendency is to judge. And that’s just survival instinct of psychology. I think the most important thing is to be cognizant of your judgment. And be aware of your biases.

[00:41:48.900] – Jason Tham


[00:41:49.380] – Janice Summers

So that you can police yourself and not inflict them on others right. Because you’re going to have them, you’re not going to escape them, nobody is going to be completely neutral all the time. But being aware of your biases and being aware of those judgments and how they influence your actions allows you, I think to police them so that you’re not — right.

[00:42:13.340] – Jason Tham

Right yeah, so the framework that I was building with the radical collaboration builds this in as a checkpoint right, that it’s not just my own awareness, but other have to remind me when I come across as you’re evaluating you’re judging too quickly now right, and it has to be a guiding principle for that team to work. So each other, we would tell each other right, to suspend our judgment and to extend invitation. So we’ll ask ourselves constantly,  are we opening our doors to others or are we becoming stagnant as a team or it’s just us.

[00:42:55.710] – Liz Fraley


[00:42:55.980] – Jason Tham

And are we judging?

[00:42:55.980] – Liz Fraley

Nice, and our time is up.

[00:43:01.850] – Janice Summers

Is it?

[00:43:02.390] – Liz Fraley

That hard to believe.

[00:43:04.460] – Jason Tham

That went by really —

[00:43:05.030] – Janice Summers

I had more to talk about.

[00:43:07.040] – Jason Tham

Oh please.

[00:43:12.110] – Janice Summers

Wow, that time flew by fast. I’m so glad that you were able to join us.

[00:43:16.340] – Liz Fraley

Me too.

[00:43:17.490] – Janice Summers

It’s been just a delight to talk with you.

[00:43:19.940] – Jason Tham

Yes, likewise.

[00:43:21.460] – Janice Summers

Yeah, and I hope to have you back again someday right, and everybody get the book. It’s really it’s a good book.

[00:43:31.160] – Liz Fraley

It is. There it is.

[00:43:33.360] – Janice Summers

Mine is on Kindle, so I can’t really like show you, I know I thought about oh, if I could print the cover out and have it on piece of paper.

[00:43:43.430] – Jason Tham

There are links in the — on the page right.

[00:43:46.580] – Janice Summers

Yes, there are links for people to go get the book, and like I said, I have it on Kindle.

[00:43:52.800] – Janice Summers

Thanks for your free copy. Well, thank you.

[00:43:58.910] – Liz Fraley

Thank you so much.

[00:44:00.090] – Janice Summers

Yeah, yeah It’s been a delight

[00:44:03.440] – Jason Tham

Yeah, and same for me too. Thank you for having me.

[00:44:06.170] – Janice Summers

And we’ll be talking to you soon Jason.

[00:44:08.120] – Jason Tham


[00:44:08.630] – Liz Fraley

Thank you. Bye everyone.

[00:44:12.080] – Janice Summers

Bye everybody.

[00:44:13.620] – Jason Tham


In this episode

Native to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Dr. Jason Tham is an Assistant Professor of Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University. Prior to working in Texas, Jason lived in Minnesota for 10 years while completing his degrees. Now, Jason teaches user experience research, information design, and digital rhetoric while doing research in technical communication practices, pedagogy, and technology. He is especially interested in how “design thinking” can help bring about meaningful disruptions to the modern workplace and higher education. In his most recent book, Design Thinking in Technical Communication, Jason unpacks the relationship between design-centric methods for strategic problem solving, collaboration, teaching and learning, and socially responsive innovation. With Joe Moses of the University of Minnesota, he co-authored the Collaborative Writing Playbook (link to come), which provides a flexible framework for instructors who assign team based projects using design thinking attributes.

Dr. Jason Tham will share some of his research and conclusions from his newly published book: Design Thinking in Technical Communication; Solving Problems through Making and Collaboration. This book is essential reading for instructors, students, and practitioners of technical communication, who want to apply principles of usability and user-centered design to their process.

Design thinking should be a core methodology and mindset for technical communicators. Thinking like a designer means taking a “radical collaborative” approach––an attribute of design thinking––in college education, research training, and professional development. We’ll start at the beginning with a definition of design thinking and its meaning for technical communication contexts, including some of the history and places where it is currently in use in the workplace and in training circles.

In this session, you will learn how applying some attributes of design thinking like “empathy” and “radical collaboration” can make us all better technical communicators.






His books:

  • Collaborative Writing Playbook available at Parlor Press and Amazon
  • Design Thinking in Technical Communication; Solving Problems through Making and Collaboration available at Routledge and Amazon

Support TC Camp

We at TC Camp work hard to produce educational public service projects. We hope you’ll consider supporting our efforts to continue to produce innovative programs for the TPC community.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking the links to Amazon on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top