These days it seems like everyone is trying to apply the kind of “design thinking” taught in graphic design programs and used in top creative agencies to everything from social media to business management. It might seem like a stretch, after all, how differently can designers really think than the rest of us? However, when you look at what design thinking really is, you’ll see that all it means is creating solutions based on the end user’s point of view. That means designing your marketing strategy to meet your customers’ needs first before meeting your own. It means seeking to understand each marketing effort from the customer’s perspective.

The reason designers are getting so much credit for this sensible approach is that good design isn’t just knowing how to use graphics software or decorating the real content. Good design in advertising anticipates how someone will experience an ad or a website, how the visuals can steer someone’s eye towards the most important messages, or set a tone that supports the intent of the piece. Good design in general works to make everything from websites to cars to book covers to coffee pots easy to use and intuitive to understand.

Designers of all sorts spend a lot of time trying to understand how your audience or user is going to navigate a webpage, or what they’ll see of a billboard as they speed by, or even the way they’ll want to sit in a chair or use a public park. Good Chattanooga graphic design is a little like being a good hostess—trying to intuit what someone else will need to make a good impression.

That kind of thinking should be applied just as much to all aspects of marketing. One of the reasons that “native advertising” is so hot right now is that this style of marketing integrates marketing content in a webpage, publishing site, or social media platform such that it’s seamless—that it seems “native” to its surroundings, rather than sticking out obviously as an ad.

Native advertising heavily emphasizes creating top-notch content that users will find useful and will want to return to over and over again as a reliable resource. That means avoiding the hard sell in favor of building up trust, of making the customer laugh instead of hitting them with another announcement. It means responding to customer comments and concerns as you would to a friend, without demanding something in return.

Saying you will apply design thinking to your business and marketing strategies is just another way of saying that you want to understand your customers and their needs. It means you’ll use logos and colors and fonts on your website, ads, and print collateral that will appeal to the audience you are trying to reach, instead of aligning with your own tastes. It means that you’ll listen first and talk later. It means that you’ll consider what it is that your potential clients want, and figure out how to give it to them, instead of starting with your product and how to make them want it.

When it comes to any kind of business, a problem-solving approach is proactive and keeps long-term growth in mind. You, as a business, want to solve your customer’s problems. As a business, you also want to identify your own pain points and how to resolve them to provide customers a better experience and improve your own work life and success. Design thinking simply means thinking about your business, your customers, and each aspect of your marketing efforts as a designer considers how a dishwasher will be used, how a cellphone will be handled, how someone will click through a game or a piece of software on their computer. It encourages a more empathic view that can only bring you and your customer base closer, which will ultimately drive sales more than keeping your distance.

Written by Jackie Errico