Design Thinking at Smith College

Unleashing Creativity: An Interterm Introduction to Design Thinking

The establishment of a “Design Thinking” initiative at Smith College is one of the most exciting pieces of news I’ve heard since graduating in 2010.

While I was at Smith, there weren’t a lot of opportunities to get into design as I know it outside of connecting with particular staff and faculty members. I ended up forging my own path into design.

By my junior year at Smith, I knew that I wanted to go into design. I got into web design as a kid, making HTML sites from scratch on Angelfire and Tripod. My first year at Smith, I worked as an assistant for a professor, and one of my tasks was designing and building her website. That led me to working with Aisha Gabriel in the Educational Technology Services department, who at the time was the “web” expert. She helped me surpass my rudimentary knowledge of web design by introducing me to writing my own CSS (versus using something like Dreamweaver and tweaking).

I also was lucky enough to work closely with John Slepian, a digital design professor in the Art Department for both Smith and Hampshire. I took all of his digital media classes, and when I finished those, I worked with him to create a special studies focused around digital design with the goal of developing my design skills. It was a blast, and introduced me to new techniques and design methods that helped as stepping stones into my career.

Before my senior year, I did a web design internship with a local agency which turned into a job, which turned into another job, which turned into my career after graduating. During my senior year, Smith created an Arts and Technology minor. The work I’d been doing with John, and the classes I’d been taking on web design, development, and digital art fit snuggly into it. I swapped over my art minor for arts & technology without reservations.

I think the creation of an Arts & Technology minor was finally Smith conceding that the two departments, Art and Computer Science, can fit together wonderfully. The introduction of a Design Thinking J-Term workshop, and a subsequent semester course, is a bold step towards creating a future where design thinking is embraced by all fields. By creating the initiative, Smith College is making a strong statement about its commitment to creating strong women leaders who have the tools to not only pursue their dreams, but also improve the world through empathy and human-first design.

I wish Design Thinking had been offered while I was at Smith, because it would have helped my professional development tremendously. Learning about user research, prototyping, and creative problem solving is an asset to any field. I would encourage any Smith student interested in building solutions that improve the lives of other people to check out the class, and all future Design Thinking initiatives.

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