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The Design Thinking Initiative

Through the Design Thinking Initiative, a pilot program launched in 2015, Smith is incorporating design thinking into interdisciplinary work across new and existing classes, and supporting student- and faculty-led design projects, including campuswide design challenges to rethink our working and learning spaces. The program brings eminent design thinkers to campus to facilitate dialogue about how gender, power and ability shape design.

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The world around us is largely shaped by design.

Design determines our infrastructure, our services, our policies and how we think or talk about our systems in the public sphere, in historical archives and in social media. Design is the process of intentionally making something that does not yet exist; design transforms ideas into tangible creations. The Smith brand of design thinking envisions design in service of broader social issues of participation, intervention and leadership.

Design thinking can be used to question gender, power and ability as dynamics that shape who gets to participate in creating the world we live in. Framing design as a kind of thinking means to be deliberate in how you structure your thinking process: embracing your failures as opportunities for learning; taking intellectual risks; untaming your imagination and building your sense of agency—these are the cornerstones of design thinking. Committing to a design thinking mindset means owning your learning process—taking initiative.

Who gets to call themselves a designer?

The Design Thinking Initiative at Smith starts with a bold position of questioning who gets to design. This questioning is a call for activism, empowerment, participation, inclusion and critical engagement with the processes that shape our world.

You come to Smith to lead, think as a unique individual, act globally and challenge yourself—precisely what design thinking is all about. The Design Thinking Initiative promotes collaborations between Smith and local communities to foster the unconventional mixing of ideas. We support a culture where ideas—and the technologies that help us realize them—belong simultaneously to no one and to everyone.

An inspirational reimagining of the liberal arts

The initiative is an inspirational reimagining of the liberal arts in which the humanities, social sciences and STEM disciplines work in synergy to not only prepare you for creative engagement with the messy and challenging problems facing our world, but also for developing creative confidence, testing out ideas, and using models to communicate and improve your thinking.

Who We Are

Advisory Board

The advisory board comprises faculty members from the humanities, social sciences and history, and natural sciences who have extensive experience in design, creative production and human-centered methods. The board steers and advises the directors on the implementation of the initiative's goals.

  • Chris Aiken
  • Reid Bertone-Johnson
  • Suzanne Gottschang
  • Angie Hauser
  • Susannah Howe
  • Borjana Mikic
  • Emily Norton
  • Fraser Stables

Student Design Partners

Students lead design projects, learn design skills and represent the student body through work-study and the University Innovation Fellows program.

Contact us if you would like to get involved.

This academic year, we offer a combination of courses to apply design thinking mindsets to disciplinary perspectives and to promote interdisciplinary collaborations. Faculty are invited to submit proposals to integrate design thinking in new or existing courses. Find out more about the grant proposal and current enhanced courses.

Capen Annex

Capen Annex opened in January 2016, after undergoing a makeover to allow group work, prototyping and collaborative idea generation to take place simultaneously. It fulfills a vision of flexible new learning spaces that encourage you to move around dynamically and question the boundaries between “outside class” and “inside class” by engaging stakeholders and by building prototypes that will interact with the world outside of academic work. You learn by exploring the meeting point of doing and thinking.

Contact Us
Emily Norton


Co-Director of the Design Thinking Initiative

Capen Annex, 25A Henshaw Avenue, Room 201

Borjana Mikic

Borjana Mikic

Faculty Director of the Design Thinking Initiative

Ford Hall 150

Jennifer Kennedy

Jennifer Kennedy

Administrative Assistant

Capen Annex, 25A Henshaw Avenue, Room 102

Laura Lilienkamp

Laura lilienkamp

Prototyping Studio Coordinator

Capen Annex, 25A Henshaw Avenue, Room 102