Design Thinking and Consumer Insights

Children play hard with things.

This may not seem like the most creative insight, but then, sometimes the obvious things are the easiest to forget.

The School of Human Ecology is working to include design thinking and consumer insights into a wide variety of programs—both inside and outside the school—because it wants to keep a human-centered point of view in front of the inventors and engineers who create spaces and products.

To be human-centered, designers must remember that humans are who we are ultimately trying to serve. It was this kind of design thinking that brought SoHE professor Dee Warmath into the mechanical engineering class taught by Tim Shedd. One class project involved creating an exhibit for the Madison Children’s Museum, and Warmath encouraged the students to spend time watching the children in SoHE’s preschool lab. The insight? Children play hard with things. Any exhibit in a children’s museum should be sturdy.

Other design-thinking projects included a redesign of the UW-Madison registrar’s office and a plan to foster home industries in the Kenyan village of Gatunga, to help women there improve their lives.

The fund in support of design thinking and consumer insights will provide operational support for teaching, research, and outreach initiatives both in SoHE and across the UW. After all, a human-centered approach isn’t just specific to SoHE—humans, design thinking reminds us, are everywhere. And they play hard with things.