Design Thinking: A Human-Centered Approach

Students' projects hang on a wall.

Honors students in the Design Fiction workshop created a variety of whimsical products made from twigs.

Imagine a situation. Think of a quirk or need that might exist. Design a product to address that need using the materials at hand – in this case, twigs gathered from Old Main lawn.

This is the basic framework for design thinking taught by Michael Hendrix, a partner at international design firm IDEO, during the two-day Design Thinking workshop for University of Arkansas honors students last fall.

Hendrix led students through a creative exercise similar to the ones his interdisciplinary team at the IDEO design studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts, engages in weekly.

Students fashioned the twigs they collected into an array of fanciful products, including ear bud clips, a navigational aid, a miniature modem and a dating service for squirrels.

“This might seem a little frivolous, weird and playful – but it’s really important, I assure you,” Hendrix told the 32 Honors College students who took part in Design Fiction, a half-day workshop open to all honors students. “This is about the mindset important for design thinking versus the methodology.”

Hendrix encouraged students to get out of their analytical minds and into the creative flow that comes from the subconscious. “Get active. Think with your hands. Think with your body. Iterate. Iterate. Iterate.”

Woman standing by board of post-it notes and maps.

Tamsan Mora works with a team to brainstorm ideas for human-powered forms of transportation on campus.

Hendrix also led Designing for People, an in-depth day-and-a-half session for honors students in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design. Students in this workshop tackled the challenge: How might the U of A campus be served exclusively by human-powered transportation?

Potential solutions included a network of above-ground tunnels dubbed Hamsterdam, a zip-line flight onto campus, an elevated bike trail and Woo Pup Sooie, a dog-walking service to encourage pedestrian traffic.

The University of Arkansas Honors College and the Fay Jones School Honors Program collaborated to host the Design Thinking workshops on Oct. 22-23. Hendrix also presented an Oct. 24 lecture, “Design and the Priesthood of Black Turtlenecks.”

Students share their responses:

Two men sitting on floor amid design materials and tools.

Brothers Dylan and Evan Hursley work on their prototype.

“Designing a process versus a building has been interesting. Most of the time we’re working with a building in mind. … Embracing the quick, messy model (for making a prototype) turns out to be a good idea.” — Evan Hursley, fifth year, architecture.

“We talk about human-centered design a lot in our program. Understanding the process – how to kick-start creativity – is really helpful. So much of our coursework is about critique. It’s hard to just launch out there and be comfortable in creativity.” — Brianna Jenkins, senior, graphic design

“It’s a very different way of thinking than in my engineering classes. It’s good to stretch myself. I’ll use this in my group projects – start with the problem and work from there.” — Madison Crowl, senior, biological engineering

“One thing that’s different is the wild ideas! Our teachers push us to be more innovative, but to make that an integral part of brainstorming is different. It becomes a creative adventure without any kind of goal in mind. I’ve enjoyed the chance to loosen up. Michael’s done a really good job of walking us through this, but leaving enough ambiguity that we have to figure it out on our own. It’s a good way of learning.” — Erin Cox, third year, landscape architecture

Two women write on whiteboard while two classmates look on.

Caleb Bertels and Erin Cox, seated, work with Anna Ibru and Tamsan Mora during a brainstorming session.

“This is really engaging. I’m actually having the chance to think. In most of my classes, I’m responding to a prompt. But this: Go find a twig, and imagine something. I didn’t know there were so many ideas I could come up with. I’ll use this process again to generate ideas.” — Anna Ibru, second year, architecture

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La Cocina Peruana: Arequipa

Our resident food critic and Honors Passport: Peru student Dennis Mitchell walks us through the tastes of Peru in a two-part series, ending in Arequipa.

Within our first two hours in Arequipa, I realized that it was everything Lima was not. Whereas Lima was big, hot, wet, and buzzing with car horns, Arequipa was cool, strangely quaint, despite being the second largest city in Peru, and rather dry. As much as I truly loved Arequipa as a city, the food didn’t measure up to Lima’s. Remember, of course, that this is an account of my personal experience, which only spanned two brief days. However, it was in Arequipa that I had perhaps my most adventurous meal, an experience worth sharing.

A meal of cuy chactado and choclo

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Hiking the Inca Bridge

Hiking along this narrow path, free of tourist bustle, Honors Passport explorer Rachel Lindsey experiences her transformative moment at Machu Picchu.

I had the remarkable opportunity to visit Machu Picchu along with the rest of the Honors Passport group. Most of what I knew about Machu Picchu before actually visiting concerned the effect it can have on the observer—I have always heard that seeing the site for yourself is a mystical, transformative, experience.

 Without realizing it, I had set expectations for how I should feel while at Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world. This schema I had developed was not initially fulfilled. We arrived at the site and spent most of the sunny, dry, morning maneuvering through droves of fellow tourists in an effort to keep up with our chatty tour guide. Strikingly aware of the experiences of those before me, I felt pressured to discern a change within myself, or meet with a significant moment of clarity. Frustrated, I left for lunch along with the rest of the students and faculty. Continue reading

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Final Rays of a Child of the Sun

Mount Ampato, where the mummy Juanita was sacrificed sometime between 1450 and 1480. (CC image courtesy of Tydence Davis on Flickr.)

Fortified by corn beer and a last meal of vegetables, a young Incan girl of noble family made the dizzying climb up Mount Ampato, where priests sacrificed her to Apu, the mountain god. Her body was recovered in 1995, preserved in remarkable condition after lying frozen for more than 500 years. Named for the anthropologist who discovered her, the mummy Juanita offers important clues to the Incan past. On the recent Honors Passport trip to Peru, students visited the Catholic University’s Museum of Andean Sanctuaries in Arequipa in hopes of seeing the child sacrifice. The mummy was removed for conservation when we visited, but the objects she took with her — a small bag with coca leaves, tiny shoes, a colorful alpaca shawl, and figurines made of gold, silver and shell – were on display, and prompted Kaitlyn Akel’s meditation on her last moments …

The priest prods me awake. The sun is rising and in my sleepy haze, I stand and try to orient myself on the steep incline. We still have a way to go, and yet we are so high up.

That’s how I know that today is the day; we are far enough away so that by the time we reach the summit, I will be exhausted enough to successfully do my part, but we are also close enough to not make the gods impatient. I’m not nervous about participating, but I am more worried for if it goes wrong. I was chosen to do this, raised for this purpose, and to have it fall through would be detrimental to all of us, I think for some time.

On our trek there is not much to see apart from the volcanic dust, sharp stones, and the sun. The blessed sun. I am doing this not only for my people, but I am meant for him, Inti. For temperate seasons, a tall, fruitful crop, and a blessed empire. Small stones and dust roll off the mountainside as we walk until I can no longer see them.

I can’t allow myself to think about the small reluctance that I feel to fulfill my destiny, because my desire to give myself to the gods is stronger. I only know that reluctance is out of fear. It doesn’t matter what I think about what’s going to happen, only that I do it. It’s not about me, but instead Inti and my people.  Continue reading

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Taking the Peruvian Polar Plunge

After their visit to Taquile Island, Honors Passport student Dani Carson was one of five ladies brave enough to jump into the frigid waters of Lake Titicaca, and she says she’d do it again. Read about Dani’s experience, and follow to the bottom to see the plunge yourself.

After following our tour guide Lute down the side of the island of Taquile, five of us girls prepared to jump from the roof of our boat into the cold depths of Lake Titicaca. Physically, we prepped by changing into mostly makeshift swimsuits. Mentally, the preparation included accepting how cold we were about to be, and that it may be hard to breathe in that water at 12, 500 feet above sea level, as well as facing the fact that a camera crew, eyes of our classmates, and of the crew of the boat were on us.  Despite these pressures, we all climbed up and over the metal rail to the edge of the roof. There wasn’t quite room for all of us to fit along it, so three of us went first, including me.  Continue reading

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My Peruvian Prosperity


After a short hike, Honors College student Anthony Azzun enjoys the wonderful view of Machu Picchu.

After an enlightening conversation with the girlfriend of their tour guide, honors pre-med student Anthony Azzun‘s eyes opened to the rich history of religious art in La Catedral del Cuzco. Anthony was one of 16 honors students to take part in Honors Passport: Peru, a new study-at-home-and-abroad experience offered by the Honors College.

Have you ever wondered what the apostles were eating at the Last Supper? Perhaps some bread, a little fish, a few grapes, or if you are cusqueño, maybe a chinchilla. I never imagined such a sight until I was in the Cuzco Cathedral staring up at a portrait of a feast portraying just this. But then again, there were a lot of things I never imagined I would see before I embarked on my twelve-day exploration of Peru.

Though I have an uncountable number of wonderful memories from this program, my favorite ones have been about building relationships with the incredible people I was fortunate enough to meet. As soon as we arrived in Lima, I met our tour guide, Andy, and his girlfriend, Diana. I was extremely nervous about being in such an unfamiliar place, but Diana talked me through my uneasiness. As I am aspiring to be a professional in the health field, Diana and I bonded immediately once I learned that she was a doctor. I had so many questions to ask her, but she had even more knowledge to give me. Continue reading

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Presenting Abroad: Coursework Behind the Vacation



After researching in Fayetteville, all of the students participating in Honors Passport: Peru gave a presentation at their site of interest. Honors College Fellow and English major Dylan DeLay reports on the awe of experiencing the meticulous stonework of Ollantaytambo in person.

After turning twenty and seeing a wonder of the world, it is definitely not a stretch to say that this Honors Passport has been an eventful trip for me. After speaking with Dr. Hare over breakfast one morning, I decided I wanted to write my blog post on the presentation aspect of this Honors Colloquium course.

This was far from a simple vacation. We did hard work before, during, and now after the trip. We visited every notable cathedral in every city we lodged in, observed paintings in major museums throughout the country, and wrote 300+ word journals every day on a variety of subjects pulled from extensive readings or experiences from a certain day. Largest of the assignments though were the presentations each of us had to give. We chose our topics weeks before leaving, and were instructed to focus on a certain element of the topic and give a ten minute presentation on that element.

I selected Ollantaytambo (oh-yan-tie-tahm-bo), the city travelers leave from by train to get to Machu Picchu if they don’t hike the Inca Trail. I knew absolutely nothing about the city prior to choosing it. We were required to find either a monograph on our topic or four articles/chapters about it. When I started researching it, I was enthralled by the stonework. The sources I found mostly dealt with the meticulous stonework, so I decided that would be the best thing for me to focus on in the presentation. Continue reading

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La Cocina Peruana: Lima

Our resident food critic and Honors Passport: Peru student Dennis Mitchell walks us through the tastes of Peru in a multi-part series beginning in Lima.

During my time in Peru, I have received a certain reputation. A reputation as someone who will try anything put in front of them on a plate. My role is to be a tour guide of flavor for so too will we navigate the metaphorical ‘cocina peruana’

Lima: In Lima, Peru’s capital, there are two foods and two beverages which stick out in my mind: ceviche, anticuchos, Inca Kola, and chicha morada.

Ceviche is an absolute classic in Peru. Even in the highlands, hundreds of miles from the coast, you can see signs for “cevicherias” It is mélange of raw sea food, varying in ingredients depending on where you are, but generally containing kalamari, octopus, and oyster heavily seasoned in local herbs and spices including aji and onion. Historically, ceviche traces its roots to the indigenous people of coastal Peru who often carried the seafood they caught altogether in a single pouch. Some of them would eat on the way back to the village, thus ceviche was born. Continue reading

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Don’t Let Our Smiles Fool You

group shot of students on a reed boat.

Honors Passport students board a reed boat for a tour of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake. Photo by Kendall Curlee.

With bright textiles and chicha morada in abundance, the Honors Passport: Peru intersession course was a whirlwind of cultural riches. Don’t think that means that it was lacking in rigor. Dr. Laurence Hare, who led the course along with Dr. Shawn Austin, reports on the hefty reading load, on-site presentations and journal entries that were taking place behind the scenes.

During two weeks traversing southern Peru for the Honors Passport course, we have enjoyed some truly memorable experiences. From seeing a spectacular water show in Lima to rowing across Lake Titicaca in reed boats to climbing the terraces of the famed Machu Picchu, our students have had lots of fun. You can see it in the smiles that grace snapshots posted to Facebook and Instagram and in the clever posts in the Honors blog. I confess that I, too, have taken more than one selfie of my sunburned, yet still beaming visage as a way to capture these special moments.

Professor visits with group of students.

Dr. Laurence Hare leads a discussion on the readings in Arequipa. Photo by Kendall Curlee.

In fact, we have had so much fun along the way that we tend to diminish the tremendous amount of work that students have put into this course. Cultural experiences matter a great deal, of course, but I see Honors Passport first and foremost as an academic experience meant to challenge some particularly high-ability students. It is an extension of three semesters worth of investigation into world art, architecture, history, and literature. Don’t let the casual smiles of our selfies fool you. This course is rigorous. 

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A New Take on Tourism

Honors psychology/pre-med major Katie Gerth researched and presented on tourism’s impact on Peru, and learned some unexpected lessons on that subject while visiting the islands of Taquile and  Amantaní. 

As our Honors Passport trip to Peru comes to a close, I am so thankful for the opportunity to come here and learn about the people and spaces that we have been seeing, and enhancing my knowledge of these things after a semester of preparation during the third semester of H2P. I got closer with my colleagues and professors and got to learn about a culture that I otherwise really would not have known much about. However, I was expecting these things. What I was not expecting was how much of an obstacle the language barrier would be and how difficult this would be for me to deal with personally.

I have been abroad several times before, to other places that do not speak English as a first language. However, they are quick to jump to English when communicating with you and because of these experiences I was expecting this for the majority of Peru. I was very wrong. Many people know a handful of English words, but unless they are involved in the tourist industry they cannot carry on a conversation in it. Many times, our professor Dr. Austin had to translate for people which was surprising to me. I was very excited to come to Peru and go beyond the typical tourist mold and really interact with the people and learn about them. However, my Spanish knowledge was very minimal. Although I took 3 years of it in middle school and high school, I found myself struggling to communicate with the locals, even ordering food and understanding what the waiter said was sometimes a struggle.

Amantaní Island

These small interactions were not the only thing affected by the language barrier. When we went to the islands of Amantaní and Taquile, I was really looking forward to talking to the inhabitants and learning about their customs and daily life, especially because I did my research on them.  However, it was very difficult to communicate with them, and because of tourism, they are used to limited interaction with tourists anyway,  leaving that to the guide. Many of our experiences there were created by our guide and all I wanted was just to communicate with the locals to truly understand their lives, to get a more authentic experience. Not knowing Spanish was frustrating to deal with at times – I am usually a very talkative person but being nervous and just not knowing how to translate my thoughts or understand what others were saying sometimes kept me from trying to start a conversation, resulting in a less meaningful experience.

Views from the top of Taquile Island

Despite all of this though, I think this obstacle had taught me a couple of things:

  1. The first was that it is impossible to learn a language in a day but that should not stop you from trying to use the little you do know, learn from others around you, and ask questions (I asked “come se dice” a lot since it was usually only one or two words keeping me from answering someone or asking a question).
  2. The second thing I learned was that as tourists, we often adopt a mindset that everything should be tailored to us. I have learned that not only does this alter authenticity, as locals will enhance or leave out things in order to make an experience more enjoyable, but also that I shouldn’t be expecting everything to be catered to me. In order to make the most out of an international experience I think that it requires more of a give and take; for example, you should come more prepared to speak their language, understand their traditions, and know the history a little more. After all, we are guests in these peoples’ nation and the least we can do is reach out to them a little and make things easier for them as they are often trying to make things easier and more enjoyable for us.

Katie (far right) and other Honors Passport students at Machu Picchu.

This trip has not only encouraged me to become more fluent in other languages but has also given me new perspectives on tourism and international travel. With this in mind I will strive to be more conscious of diversity and actively try to interact with the environment, instead of imposing my expectations on a group of people or experience and waiting for them to serve me.

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