Getting the Jump on Design Innovation at SCD

  • Downstairs in The Shop at Siebel Center for Design (SCD), you'll find SCD Fellow, Ben Hardin. Ben's experience in academia and working with industry have illuminated the potential for positive change through the application of Design Thinking and human-centered design.

    Ben's journey started like many others—a computer science student disheartened with the status quo of traditional academia. He sought a deeper connection between theory and practice, and his yearning for real-world impact brought him to SCD. Here, he found the perfect platform to bridge that gap, and his story is a testament to the power of embracing the principles of Design Thinking. SCD's commitment to Design Thinking and human-centered design is its defining feature. It nurtures empathy and encourages students to think beyond conventional boundaries, addressing genuine user needs and desires. From those concrete floors, Ben jumped into action.


  • This process was enriched by Design Thinking courses such as "Introduction to Human-Centered Design," which equips students with the tools and mindsets needed to create designs with empathy at their core. Ben, in particular, was drawn to this approach, and found a path for himself that involved changing his major to psychology with a concentration in neuroscience.
  • During his master's program in Health Innovation, Ben was involved in the development of a hands-free crutch for individuals with full leg casts for the Illinois Design Consulting (IDC) Hackathon. This project exemplifies the fusion of Design Thinking principles and human-centered design, where innovation was driven by a genuine understanding of the users' needs and a heartfelt commitment to improving lives. 
  • The resulting solution was more than just an innovation; it was a testament to Ben's dedication to making a positive impact.
  • When asked about his process during the project, Ben remarked that he began by teaching his project group some human-centered design fundamentals. “We started by doing some background research on the history of crutches and how they have evolved and what potential new solutions we could bring to the table. Through our research, we found that crutch technology had not progressed very much since their invention, and that crutches had many possible health hazards like radial nerve dysfunction, we developed our problem statement: People break their legs in ways that require full leg cast. This normally leaves them in a wheelchair or on crutches. They also want independence. Both of these current solutions have issues with allowing user independence and can cause injuries,”
  • With a problem statement as their foundation, the group was ready to jump into the Design-Thinking process. “We used the practice of empathy mapping to understand the feelings, thoughts, words, and actions around using crutches. Then we created personas around our users to give us grounded people to work with. After that, we developed a design philosophy based off of our personas and did some 3D modeling to develop the initial prototype. We got second place in the IDC competition for our crutch prototype!”

The philosophy at SCD goes beyond the academic realm; it fosters a mindset that permeates every aspect of life. It encourages students to embrace empathy and apply Design Thinking not only in the classroom but in the wider world. Ben Hardin's journey illustrates that aligning one's actions with the principles of Design Thinking can bring about transformative outcomes, not just in competitions but in the real world.

Alongside his master's degree, Ben wrote a grant that would fund an IV trainer arm that he designed alongside healthcare professionals, and was featured on Storied at UIUC, which is the first mechanized arterial and venous trainer arm that allows the training of multiple types of needle sticks or gaskets in one simulator instead of multiple simulators. This project was not the only example of Ben utilizing human-centered design, Ben also started a company called CPoRtTM, a wearable CPR compression checker that monitors the depth of chest compressions to ensure that non-medical professionals with CPR training are accurately and confidently delivering proper care. 

Ben was so inspired by his education and experiences that he accepted a role as an SCD Fellow following the completion of his Master’s degree. Here, he’s prototyping a brand-new offering: a Fusion 360 workshop that introduces participants to 3D modeling and fabrication using a variety of equipment in the lab spaces at SCD. This workshop functions as hands-on experience with industry-level equipment that participants may not have access to elsewhere. Keep an eye on our Instagram page for more information about the launch of this program!