Danielle Piccinini BlackDanielle Piccinini Black

Academic Lead for Innovation and Human-Centered Design

Johns Hopkins Carey Business School—Executive Education

Design Innovation Lead 

Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs

Tell us about your role on the CROWN Project.

I am the Human-Centered Design (HCD) lead for the CROWN Project. On the project, I will lead forums for projects to share their HCD experiences and learn from one another. I will also design and facilitate capacity building opportunities for projects by way of an ‘Intro to HCD session’ and individual consultations as requested.

What are Human-Centered Design and Design Thinking?

Human-Centered Design is a framework or mindset that emphasizes the human perspective, and design thinking is a process that leverages that mindset to achieve innovation. By using design thinking, the goal is to create novel solutions that directly meet the needs and desires of the target audience/user. While there is sometimes a misconception that design thinking can only be used for product development, it is actually a rather flexible process and can be used for much more than that – including solving a problem, improving a system or process, and coming up with a new intervention or program.

How do you think Human-Centered Design/Design Thinking can be used to support nutrition-related projects?

Leveraging Human-Centered Design/Design Thinking is a great way to ensure that nutrition research, programs, and interventions are empathy-centric. Design thinking is designed to facilitate intentional engagement of end users and key stakeholders throughout the problem-solving process. Doing so ensures that the solutions developed respond to the needs, desires, and constraints of those for whom they are designed.

What other projects do you lead or support?

As the Design Innovation Lead at the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, I have the privilege of working on projects across health areas to design and implement HCD research, workshops and co-creation. In addition to CROWN, I work on the related BMGF Ethiopia project, MOMENTUM Safe Surgery in Family Planning and Obstetrics, CAMMS (calcium, aspirin, and multiple micronutrient supplementation), Advancing Evidence for Global Implementation of Spatial Repellents (AEGIS), and Breakthrough ACTION Malaria. I also facilitate HCD workshops and trainings to build capacity across the center. Additionally, I am the Academic Lead for Innovation and Human-Centered Design at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, where I design and teach design thinking courses as part of the Executive Education program.

How did you first get involved in Design Thinking?

When pursuing my MBA at the Carey Business School, design thinking was offered as a new class during my last term.  A fellow student recommended it to me, so I registered on a whim and the rest is history! When I took the class, I remember thinking ‘wow, this empathy-centered problem-solving approach is very interesting, but I doubt I will ever use it beyond the classroom.’  I actually remember thinking just that, which makes me laugh, as design thinking is now an extremely critical and fulfilling part of my public health and business career.

What first piqued your interest in the CROWN Project?

I’ve always been interested in the global nutrition space, so when I learned about the CROWN project and the desire to incorporate HCD I was eager to be a part. I think there are so many great opportunities to leverage HCD on the collaborative—first in the design of it to ensure that what is created meets the needs of the participants, and secondly to facilitate discussions and build HCD capacity of its members.  A learning collaborative is such an innovative way to collaborate, coordinate, and share learnings across projects, and I am so grateful to be part of it.

Tell us about your hobbies or interests outside of public health.

I love to sing! I grew-up singing in choirs and was the director of my a cappella group in college. While singing in groups has gotten a little more challenging with the pandemic, my college a cappella group found creative ways to sing together over zoom and even record a few songs.

Where is your favorite place you have traveled to? Or tell us about your favorite travel story.

During my years singing in a children’s choir, we took annual international tours to perform in festivals and competitions. My first international tour was to Cuba, which fascinated me! I remember everything being so colorful—the buildings, the old cars, people’s clothing, the music—all of it was fantastic! That feeling I had exploring Cuba as a young girl is one I will never forget!

dog and cat

Do you have any pets?

I have a dog, Bruni, and a cat, Xena. My husband and I adopted Xena when we were living in Baltimore, and Bruni was gifted to me by my host family when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa. Bruni is a daily reminder of those special years. Bruni and Xena did not get along their first few years together, so we had to keep them in separate rooms. One day we found them hanging out, and they’ve been best friends ever since!




Read more about Danielle and her work with Human-Centered Design and Design Thinking below:

‘Human-centered design is not one size fits all’: Q&A with CCP’s Danielle Piccinini Black

Design thinking: problem-solving rooted in empathy