Beyoncé: design thinker?

beyonce-albumMuch to the surprise of music and popular culture enthusiasts (and non-enthusiasts), Beyoncé has released a new eponymous album consisting of 14 new songs and 17 videos. The popular music icon is calling this her first "visual album."

Beyoncé had no pre-announced release date or big rollout. It just landed. The album is available exclusively on iTunes.

In a video posted to the artist's Facebook fan page, Beyoncé described a bit of the project's backstory and the rationale behind the surprise release.

"It's all about the single and the hype," she says, "There’s so much that gets between the music, the artist and the fans. I felt like I didn’t want anybody to give the message when my record is coming out. I just want this to come out when it’s ready and from me to my fans.”

"Everybody thought I was crazy, but we're actually doing it," she continues, describing her team's initial reaction when she proposed shooting a video for every song and releasing them simultaneously.

"I wanted people to hear things differently and have a different first impression."

There are a number of triggers in this story, for me, from a design thinking perspective. There's the video storytelling (on Instagram, Facebook and within the album itself). There's the bypassing of a traditional and costly pre-release roll-out in an attempt to own the album-release narrative in a different way. There's the act of going beyond "crazy", to use Beyoncé's own word. That last one caught my ear, because it's often said at the d.school that "just beyond crazy is fabulous." It's also, and most importantly, human-centered in its approach (at least as Beyoncé presents it), placing the fans at the heart of the release strategy and messaging.

In the end, design thinking has become, for me at least, about finding a profoundly different way of doing things -- of changing the frame to see what others can't or won't. Dropping a surprise album with 17 new videos on Friday the 13th just before the holiday season is more than a pop-artist's surprise -- it's an example, intended or not, of at least some aspects of design thinking in action.

Now, this shock-and-awe release strategy benefits immediately and almost entirely from a number of traditional, well-orchestrated roll-outs of her past work. An international superstar has the privilege (or curse, depending on your vantage point) of making news regardless what they do. But that doesn't mean it can't be taken as inspiration to think differently and radically.

When it comes to design thinking, international stardom is not required.