THE SUSTAINABILITY GRADUATE PROGRAMS at Wake Forest University

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Most Valuable Outcome of Human Centered Design
is the Mindset

A Student Reflection

M

Y JOURNEY IN SUS 706 CAN BE SUMMARIZED BY THE TERM CONNECTIVITY. Prior to SUS 706, I had never heard of Human Centered Design (HCD). My knowledge of Design Thinking was limited, and while I considered myself a curious and creative person, I did not fully appreciate their application in the real world. Most significantly, the terms Curiosity, Creativity & the HCD/Design Thinking Process were remote and unrelated terms. I now see that these terms are intricately related. For me, the HCD/Design Thinking Process is a tool which can help transform the creativity generated from curious minds into the innovative ideas which can solve complicated problems and even transform the world.

While the HCD/Design Thinking Process can be used to derive transformational change, I believe that the most valuable outcome of the process is the mindset that the practice invokes within its practitioners. Learning this process imbued me with the confidence to embrace my own creativity and curiosity. This confidence is derived from the realization that I now have a guiding structure that I can use to persevere through the uncomfortable uncertainty often associated with tackling tough questions with undiscovered solutions. In a sense, the lens of the HCD/Design Thinking Process helps one view a problem with a fresh and optimistic perspective – asking questions of ‘why’ and ‘how might we’ rather than focusing on the barriers to a resolution.

I believe that I will be able to use the HCD/Design Thinking Process, and the lessons it evokes, within my new job in the private sector. I will soon enter an industry in which I have no prior experience with, working with people I have never met and tasked with addressing problems that I have never encountered before. To succeed in this job, I will first need to embrace the uncertainty associated with it – a lesson taught within the HCD/Design Thinking Process. I will also need to gain a better understanding of the existing operations/processes at the factories I am responsible for. To facilitate this understanding, I will need to empathize with the factory employees (and managers) by opening direct dialogues (with employees) and observing their processes first-hand. These dialogues will also help provide the insight necessary to ensure that I will be addressing the correct problem.

During these direct conversations, my new-found bias to not reject ideas and to offer suggestions in a ‘what if’ format will expedite the development of trust and rapport. This trust will be essential for developing and implementing sustainability programs at these facilities. In addition to building trust, I will need to determine the best approach to communicate the sustainability endeavors that I wish to enact. To increase the likelihood that the message will be positively received by my audience, I will ensure that my message is both engaging and that it aligns with the needs of the audience.

As illustrated by these examples, each individual component of the HCD/Design Thinking Process has a real-world application and is valuable. While I hope to have the opportunity to deploy the full HCD/Design Thinking Process within my new job, I acknowledge that I may not get the chance to do so (in an official capacity). However, I take solace in the fact that learning the HCD/Design Thinking Process has augmented how I view the world. Because I am now more inclined to see challenging problems as opportunities, I am more inclined to act. I believe that it is this new-found inclination for action which will ultimately enable me to make a more positive impact in the world.

We extend a special thank you to our program partners and project hosts: Yadkin Riverkeeper; VF Corporation; Wrangler Jeans; Hanesbrands Inc; Ray C. Anderson Foundation, Interface Carpets; Wise Man Brewing; Trinity Consulting, VisionaryLogic; Ducks Unlimited; Elizabeth River Project and all other organizations and individuals that offered their time and support.

Main cover photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

Background photo for Reindeer population graph by Rudolf Kirchner from Pexels

Article written by:
Ryan
Johnson
MAS '19

Business Recycling Program Manager

Executive Director, Keep Mecklenburg Beautiful

Mecklenburg County Government

Featured contributor:
TAILORED TO YOU. YOUR PURPOSE. YOUR CAUSE.