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chapter 1


Design Thinking, a user-first approach, may seem like a novel concept in the news and media industry, but we believe it’s crucial for opening new possibilities.



Asia’s news and media organizations are tasked with the critical role of delivering value to ever-evolving audience needs, while figuring out more efficient ways to do so. But business practices of these organizations differ dramatically based on the maturity of the markets and users, and there is no single recipe for success to drive the next generation of media companies.


So in 2019, the Google News Initiative (GNI) — in partnership with Echos and Splice Media — created the first Asia Pacific design accelerator for news and media companies to build a culture of innovation. 


We partnered with seven media and news companies across seven Asia Pacific markets to work on real business challenges and develop solutions with them. The goal was to bring design thinking practices to these organizations and help them develop business and organizational strategies based on an audience-first approach. 


We also wanted to understand different design and business maturities across different countries, and identify similar paths to innovation and collaboration across the industry.


While our findings are based solely on the participating seven organizations, we hope it can help introduce new product mindsets, radical collaborations, and healthy experimentation across the industry in order to build the newsrooms of the future. 




This playbook documents what we did and what came out of the program. It’s meant to be instructional so that you can take these concepts, try it out in your own organization, and improve on them. 

You’ll notice that we use audience, customer, user, reader, listener, or viewer interchangeably. This is deliberate. For example, audience assumes a passive end-point for content. User assumes an active participant in a product (such as a website, newsletter, or an app) that you’ve created. Customer assumes a person or an organization that is actively paying for something that you’ve created. Ultimately, we want to help you focus on the only thing that matters: creating something that is useful and ultimately valuable for someone by giving them what they want.

who this is for

This playbook is for media professionals, editors, newsroom managers, program managers, and product managers — anyone in a media function trying to find new ways to solve problems from audience engagement to monetization. We’re excited to see where you take it.


Media professionals




Newsroom managers


Program managers


Product managers

our partners

We’d like to thank these partner media organizations for their commitment in working with us on this program.

1. Australian Community Media (Australia)
2. Singapore Press Holdings (Singapore)
3. India Today (India)

4. Media Group News (Indonesia)
5. Malaysiakini (Malaysia)
6. Frontier (Myanmar)

7. READr (Taiwan)

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Mark Twain

our program

At a time when information and content competes with everything else on your phone, the future of media requires an audience-centric approach. If you don’t know what your user wants, how would you know what to give them?

Globally, design thinking is being used to reshape companies by helping them understand their customers better. We don’t mean design in the visual sense; to us, design thinking is an approach that puts your user/customer/audience first — and creates an experience that delivers information that is most relevant to them, in a format that is most accessible to them. 


Our focus is on working collaboratively and experimenting to develop new products, business models and revenue streams based on a design-centric approach. For this program, we wanted to address several specific challenges in media:



How might we define and capture desired audiences by creating something valuable for them?


How might we turn this value you’ve created into something monetizable?

Business model

What would a business model around this look like?

Organizational culture

How might we shift organizations towards a more collaborative and healthier design culture?


How might we validate topics of interest, frame them, and deliver them to your audience?



These challenging concepts required a robust understanding of an organization’s design and digital maturity. Typically, the more embedded design thinking practices are within an organization — and the earlier they’re implemented at the strategic and planning stages — the more likely they are to innovate. We were also interested to find out if the partner was rooted in a digital-first mindset.

To understand whether an organization was ready, we assessed an organization's capacity on these parameters:

  1. How often does the organization conduct user research and testing?

  2. How often do they apply user insights to product and solution development?

  3. How supportive is the leadership of experimentation and 'failing fast' culture?

  4. Does the organization support and promote cross-functional collaboration?

  5. Does the organization have dedicated resources and formalized processes to identify and develop both incremental and breakthrough innovations?

  6. Does the leadership support innovation as a key value to define future strategies and vision?





  1. Does the organization take a digital-first approach when developing new products and solutions?

  2. Does the leadership view the organizational strategy as ‘digital-first’?

  3. Does the organization employ data-driven decision-making in initiating and evaluating business impact?

This assessment, done online by the partners, allowed us to identify correlations between design and digital maturity. For example, we saw that design practices (or at least the notion of) were limited to UX/UI on websites and apps. We also noted a lack of user research in product and editorial teams which were often working in silos. We customised the program accordingly to address the specific maturity levels of partners.

In the first phase of the GNI Design Accelerator program, our goal was not only to train each media partner in design thinking and build new skills for innovation, but also to develop new solutions for their business. In the second phase, we worked with each partner to develop a digital solution that enhanced the organization’s product mindset and accelerated the launch of an audience-centric media product.



The program required our partners to commit to a time-intensive schedule that comprised:

_Design and innovation maturity assessment (pre-work online)

_Design thinking for the news industry (3-day training)

_Design sprint (5-day project)

_Design Facilitation or Business Design (2-day training)

_Post-program assessment and mentorship support

Welcome to the GNI DA

Why Design Thinking

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