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BarnRaiseGreg Holderfield is director of the Segal Design Institute, clinical associate professor and co-director of the MMM program. In the first of two posts, Holderfield discusses what makes design thinking so valuable.


I view design thinking as the core process and mindset that enables creative solution-based innovation, which is developed and iterated with a focus on contextual human behavior.

It’s critical to understand that design thinking is process oriented with a structured framework that is built on a foundation of human-centered design and empathy.

The process itself is made up of six frames of learning:

  • Understanding
  • Observing
  • Synthesizing
  • Ideating
  • Prototyping
  • Iterating


Lack of empathy for the user or customer will limit outcome development. Design thinking, which is rooted in empathy, is a critical approach to need finding, problem reframing and opportunity development.

Empathy gained through the qualitative hands-on process of design thinking can provide innovators a more balanced perspective that I call “whole knowledge.” By whole knowledge, I mean knowledge that is acquired through quantitative historical data, as well as the knowledge acquired through qualitative user understanding. I would also define whole knowledge as knowledge that is balanced by varied perspectives and information.

A lack of “whole knowledge” can cloud the innovation decision-making process and often leads to unbalanced or less meaningful experience outcomes for the consumer.

Within design thinking, empathy creates new knowledge, which leads the design thinker to informed ideas and choices with greater potential to be meaningful and as a result, more innovative.


Design thinking is a critical component to the MMM program, as we strive to develop hybrid business leaders who can uniquely design, manage and integrate end-to-end solutions. Our MMM students earn both an MBA from Kellogg and a Master of Science in Design Innovation from the Segal Design Institute at the McCormick School of Engineering.

With that said, we have a robust fixed core of design-centric offerings as part of the MSDI degree. The hallmark of these is our Research-Design-Build course. The course is a dynamic, hands-on class structured as a studio practicum course that teaches design research and design thinking methods with a strong focus on innovation through in-context user needs.

  • The first four weeks of the course rapidly introduce key methods that are applied in a series of design sprints focused on user desirability.
  • In the remaining six weeks, student teams apply these methods to a more robust challenge for an actual “client,” focused on user desirability, feasibility and business viability.
  • Throughout the six-week challenge students hone their design innovation skills and connect them to not only the user, but also the business. This past year we tackled two areas of opportunity for the YMCA-USA: knowledge management and membership growth.

Other core design courses in the program include Innovation Frontiers, Communication Design, Programming Design, Design of Networks, Organizing for Innovation and our capstone Integration Project course. All of these courses incorporate elements of the design thinking mindset and process into their subject areas.

Greg Holderfield‘s design work has been recognized globally, having received more than 25 design awards, including two prestigious German “Red Dot” awards, Japan’s “Good Design” award and the IF International Design Forum award. Most recently he was the vice president of design and strategy at ARC Worldwide / Leo Burnett, where he led breakthrough initiatives for McDonald’s, P&G, Kellogg’s, and Symantec.