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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

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 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.

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.


Annual Report 2019-20

"The human-centered design mindset that this pandemic has required is our ability to "embrace ambiguity," to get comfortable in the space of not knowing. We've been asked to practice the art of pivoting — letting go of preconceived notions, and iterating based on ever-evolving learnings. Our students and staff and demonstrated this resiliency."
—Emily Norton, Director of the Design Thinking Initiative