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Our Mission

The Design Thinking Initiative’s mission is to empower the communities we belong to with design methodologies and opportunities for hands-on making that lead to responsible innovation.

We Believe in Being


Providing the lowest barrier of entry to making, democratizing design practices, and demystifying processes so that everyone might consider themselves a maker/designer.



Engaging those most impacted by a design in the process of design in order to break down systems of inequity and emphasizing the value in the messy process of figuring stuff out.

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Introducing people to materials and methods for hands-on making as an act of building, reimagining, and taking care of our tangible shared experiences.

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Recognizing all that we do is connected to larger systems and structures and intentionally engaging people with diverse perspectives and experiences to co-create with.

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Considering the full lifecycle and impact of the products and materials we use as an act of creating a more reciprocal and sustainable relationship with our environment.

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Design Methodologies and Opportunities for Hands-On Making

Smith College has a long history of educating women for social change. We believe this requires responsible innovation, a process that promotes creativity and ethical considerations of the social, economic, and environmental impacts of bringing new ideas to fruition. At the design thinking initiative we are guided by design justice principles, practice human-centered design, and engage in interdisciplinary making.  

A Design Justice approach to Human-Centered Design

This is a commitment to give those most affected by a challenge agency in the process of designing solutions. It is a centering 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. This is a reimagining of design as a liberatory means to sustain, heal, and empower communities. It is a collaborative, cognitive and compassionate capacity for sharing knowledge, acknowledging what's working, and allowing change to emerge through the process.

What do we mean by Interdisciplinary Making?

Making is a form of learning through experimentation – where students navigate constraints, bump up against limitations, are pushed to think beyond binaries, translate the cerebral into something tangible, work through inevitable failures, learn from what is revealed by mistakes, and discover a unique sense of self-efficacy that comes with having materialized a vision. Making allows students to contextualize learning through, and between, disciplinary practices and fields of knowledge within the liberal arts. At Smith we question what kinds of making are, and have been, valued by whom and why. 

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

Emily Norton

Director and Lecturer of Practice

Emily is fascinated by the ways we design our worlds and how those designs in turn design us. She is committed to designing towards justice and resilience. Emily's own design education led her to a career spanning international residencies, research in wetlands preservation, teaching social innovation and leading cultural change campaigns in communities, organizations and institutions. She believes in the power of thinking through making as a means of bridging divides and feeling into the future. Emily holds a B.F.A from the Rhode Island School of Design and an M.Des. from Design Academy Eindhoven. Meet with Emily during her office hours using Calendly.

Design Thinking - Photo of Emily Norton

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.

Picture of Kathy

Jennifer Kennedy

Administrative Assistant

Jennifer joined Smith College in August 2018. She is the administrative assistant at the Conway Center and the Design Thinking Initiative. Jennifer is the primary contact for external offices and students, and has been a member of the Administrative Assistant Leadership Team (AALT) since November 2019. Jennifer has a master’s in education in athletic administration from Springfield College and a bachelor’s degree in Communication and English from Cedar Crest College.

Photo of Jennifer Kennedy

Alix Gerber

Post-Graduate Fellow in Interdisciplinary Design

Alix Gerber is a design researcher who designs for alternative politics, collaboratively creating things to imagine worlds without capitalism and without policing. She also works as a human-centered designer and loves to plan interviews and co-creative activities to reflect on the needs of those who are impacted by designed programs, services, or products. Alix has a B.S. in Design and Environmental Analysis from Cornell University and an M.F.A. in Transdisciplinary Design from Parsons School of Design. She has also taught at Washington University in St. Louis and at Parsons.

‘A Part of the Integrative Learning Team’

Integrative Learning brings together multiple units at Smith College who share a mission to develop agency in Smith students and help them transform that agency into informed, purposeful action via the integration of their curricular and co-curricular experiences. This work is supported by a broader culture of curiosity, humility and reflection, which we seek to cultivate at the college. The current partners of the Integrative Learning team are the Conway Center, Design Thinking Initiative, Wurtele Center for Leadership, and Integrative and Reflective Practices.”

A diagram explaining the relationship between the Wurtele Center, the Design Thinking Initiative, and the Conway Center.