Solving Business Issues with a Designer Toolbox

by Bri Kilroy

When thinking about a curriculum that benefits business directors, managers, team leaders, executive directors and working professionals, we don’t immediately think of an art school; however, the Continuing Studies program at Kendall College of Art & Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) has been offering business courses since 2013. This month’s professional program features a course for young and seasoned professionals to improve their business skills by teaching them to approach and solve problems through human-centered design.

Human-centered design (also referred to as “design thinking”) is a style of innovation in business that shifts focus from products or services to the users experiencing them. This form of problem solving involves a different kind of toolbox filled with practices in observation, interviews, role-playing and empathy, along with traditional tools used by designers and engineers. KCAD’s Director of Continuing Studies Brenda Sipe underlines that students discover the importance of how a customer interacts with the product or service and how companies can use that information to find success.

“It’s all about the customer’s experience,” Sipe said, explaining how practicing empathy helps students view the product or service through the customer’s eyes.

Sipe took the class Achieving Success Through Human-Centered Design in 2014 to explore and evaluate customer reactions to various product experiences.

“[Since taking the class] I realize I am much more aware on a daily basis of the users of the program,” Sipe said. “It’s made me more empathetic and taught me how to find creative solutions.”

The four-class series teaches participants a disciplined approach to solving difficult problems and creating opportunities by asking the right questions and putting themselves into the client’s position. As human beings, we are not always able to put into words what a product or service is missing to achieve ultimate satisfaction, but by putting the customer’s experience as a priority, participants are able to find creative and successful solutions.

To cover the diversity of business problems that can arise in different situations, students are asked to bring their own example to class. With that, participants are able to collaborate on a solution, tackling each angle with creative refinement and strategy.

Registration for Achieving Success Through Human-Centered Design also includes a 30-minute coaching session with instructor Kathy Glynn, principle consultant for Blue Sky Thinking. Her consultations are known to uncover solutions in both corporate and personal business, making her role as this series’ Continuing Studies instructor invaluable.

KCAD’s Continuing Studies: Achieving Success Through Human-Centered Design runs March 3-24, with classes occurring on Fridays. To register for this innovative approach to your business thinking, contact Brenda Sipe at and visit for more information along with a syllabus.

What: KCAD Continuing Studies: Achieving Success Through Human-Centered Design
Where: Kendall College of Art & Design, 17 Fountain St. NW
When: March 3-24. Full schedule at
Cost: $1,499-$2,499. Contact for details.

Bri Kilroy is a Grand Valley and AmeriCorps alumna who learned to type through vigorous Mavis Beacon trainings. She also passes as an artist, illustrator and author of this bio.



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