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About Design Thinking

Two students sitting at a table in the Campus Center with a project

Our Mission

The mission of the Design Thinking Initiative is to develop agency in individuals and communities and to facilitate ongoing dialogue about the role design plays in shaping the human experience.

Human-Centered Design

What Does Human-Centered Design Mean at The Design Thinking Initiative?

Human-centered design is a way of engaging with the rapidly changing world, of taking care of a damaged planet and enriching the human experience. It is a commitment to give those most affected by a challenge agency in the process of designing solutions. It is a recognition of the voices too often excluded, silenced or forgotten. It is a practice of examining underlying assumptions and highlighting inequitable conditions. It is a means of making alternate futures tangible and testing new ways of operating in this world. Human-centered design as a process is a hands-on, cognitive and compassionate capacity for generating change.

Why Is Human-Centered Design Important to Smith College?

Smith College has a long history of educating women for social change. We believe this requires collaborative practices, new methods, and unconventional mixing of ideas, thereby creating a culture where those practice, methods, and ideas belong simultaneously to no one and everyone.

Human-centered design requires:
  • attitudes and attributes of creative courage
  • the capacity for empathetic, compassionate and embodied engagement 
  • agility and resilience in the face of conceptual blocks and setbacks
  • comfort with the discomfort of not knowing
  • an appetite for changing one’s frame of reference in order to gain new insights
  • a willingness to take collective responsibility for idea improvement
  • intellectual humility
  • an iterative mindset

Moreover, a well-recognized byproduct of the act of making is a sense of self-efficacy—a belief system about one’s own ability to effect change and have a positive impact on the world.


Origin Story

The Design Thinking Initiative began as a pilot program launched in 2015 by a group of faculty from across disciplines to incorporate design methods, mindsets and practices into interdisciplinary work across new and existing classes, and to support student- and faculty-led design projects.


Meet the Team

Photo of Emily Norton
Emily Norton

Staff Director and Lecturer of Practice
Emily Norton holds a B.F.A. in furniture design from the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI, and an MDES in cdonceptual design from the Design Academy Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Norton’s career has spanned international design residencies, design research in wetlands preservation, teaching social innovation and leading cultural change campaigns in communities, organizations and institutions. As a maker, she believes in the power of thinking with her hands.

Photo of Laura Lilienkamp
Laura Lilienkamp 

Prototyping Studio Coordinator
Laura Lilienkamp ’18 holds a B.S. in engineering science from Smith. She has been involved in making for years and loves to explore unconventional materials and introduce others to new technology. In the summer of 2018, Lilienkamp was a Design Thinking Immersions Fellow with ReMaterials in Ahmedabad, India. As the prototyping studio coordinator at the Design Thinking Initiative, she is in charge of supporting making as a form of thinking and creative play. Meet with Laura through Calendly.

Borjana Mikic
Borjana Mikic

Faculty Director of the Design Thinking Initiative
Borjana Mikic is a mechanical engineer by training, with an expertise in orthopaedic biomechanics. Her research focuses on identifying the key factors that influence the establishment, maintenance and restoration of biomechanical function in the skeletal connective tissues. In addition to her technical research, Mikic has strong interests in ndergraduate engineering education and applying design-thinking methodologies to creative problem solving in many domains.

Photo of Jennifer Kennedy
Jennifer Woytach Kennedy

Administrative Assistant
Jennifer Woytach Kennedy spent nearly a decade working in intercollegiate athletics on three Division III campuses and in a conference office. She has an M.Ed. from Springfield College and a B.A. from Cedar Crest College, where she is a lifetime member of the alumnae association and is the class agent to the class of 2007. She began at Smith in August 2018 and shares her time supporting the Design Thinking Initiative and The Conway Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center.


Advisory Board