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About Design Thinking

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Our Mission

The mission of the Design Thinking Initiative is to empower our community with the design tools, methods, and mindsets for making informed and responsible innovation.

Our Values


Democratizing design practices and demystifying fabrication technologies so that everyone might consider themselves a designer.

One circle with an arrow at the end

Engaging those most impacted by a design in the process of design in order to break down systems of inequity.

An arrow coming out of the center of a horizontal line

Actively shaping the world through the hands-on creation, reimagining, and repair of tangible things, built environments, and shared experiences.

Four arrows pointing at each other in the center

Working with people with a range of experiences and deeply engaging diverse perspectives to improve and iterate on ideas.

Two arrows forming a circle

Considering the full lifecycle and impact of the products and materials we use as an act of creating a more just, resilient, and reciprocal relationship with the world.

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.

Our Team

Photo of Emily Norton
Emily Norton

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 conceptual 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. Meet with Emily during her office hours using Calendly.

Kathy Guo  

Prototyping Studio Manager
Kathy Guo holds a B.F.A from the Maryland Institute College of Art, and has always been making. Her artistic practice combines fiber, sculpture, illustration, digital tools, play, and empathy to investigate the complexities of human relationships: In culture, family, community, self, and between one another. They are dedicated to always learning, connecting, feeling, critiquing, and empowering. At the Design Thinking Initiative, Kathy is passionate about creating an encouraging environment where hands on making and using technology are accessible to all. Meet with Kathy through Calendly.

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.


Annual Report 2020-21

“Leading a design and making space remotely through a global pandemic demanded that we live more fully into the values we were able to articulate for ourselves last year.”
—Emily Norton, Director of the Design Thinking Initiative & Lecturer of Practice