Meet our new Design Thinking program lead María-José Juárez

We are happy to welcome María-José Juárez as a new program lead at the HPI D-School. Together with Dr. Claudia Nicolai, Stefanie Gerken, Renata Landa Lopez and Jen Tzen Tan she will co-lead and co-design our academic Design Thinking programs. Previously, María-José worked as a consultant and Design Thinking coach. To learn more about her background and experiences with Design Thinking, we asked her a couple of questions.


[Translate to Englisch:] María-José Juárez

Hi María-José, it’s great to have you on the program team! How did you first learn about Design Thinking?

¡Hola!, and thank you, it is an honor for me to be part of the program lead team! I first heard about Design Thinking back in 2015 when I was still living in Mexico City. I was running Mexiro, an NGO I founded, focused on social impact at the local level: sustainable development and women empowerment in my home country Mexico. I heard about an iterative methodology applied at the “D-School” from a former participant who advised me to apply because it would be “life-changing”. Interestingly enough, it DID change my life!

I remember looking at the HPI D-School website and being very curious to experience this special learning context, which we lacked back home. This motivated me to apply for a student visa in Germany and I moved to Berlin in order to attend the “D-Camps”. During the 2 D-Camp workshop days I got a first glimpse into the Design Thinking core elements. For example, I learned to think about the human needs I am designing for, to work with multidisciplinary teams in a flexible space, and with an iterative/non-linear methodology based on feedback loops.

For me, going to Germany meant taking a high risk because it was so uncertain if I would get selected but I was happy to take it. Since the first moment I experienced it I realized that Design Thinking should be taught already in elementary schools on a global scale. Four years later, I am an advocate to promote this cause.

You have been a coach at the HPI D-School for three years. Do you have a favorite Design Thinking project or prototype from that time?

It is hard to choose because there is such a wide variety of projects within the public, private and social sector that I have coached at the HPI-D-School. All of them have been challenging and interesting in its own way. However, because of my background in public policy, collaborating with the Bundesverband Deutscher Stiftungen to diversify its workforce was extremely interesting.

It is especially fascinating to see that a lot of times our project partners believe they have a clear understanding of the problem. However, through gathering insights, our participants find out that the challenge is quite different from the original problem framed. For me that is one of the added values of Design Thinking, to go out into the field and find out the real human needs! On the other hand, facilitating a project with both the city of Lübben in Spreewald and Potsdam has enabled me to connect my academic/theoretical studies with Design Thinking and apply them within current policies through citizen-centered design. At the end of the day policies are services that governments design and its user group, are us, the citizens.


[Translate to Englisch:] María-José Juárez coacht an der HPI D-School

You are a social entrepreneur and are promoting the empowerment of women, transgender and non-binary persons. What role can Design Thinking play to make organizations more diverse and intersectional perspectives more visible?

This is a great question! :) I believe that empathy and equity are two key values for diversity and inclusion, which are often lacking in organizational structures. The reason for this is the systems of oppression our society is built on. For example, often women (especially of color, and by this I refer to global south countries), transgender and non-binary persons are the most marginalized when it comes to access to the job market. Meaning, there are fewer people like us in decision-making and leadership positions. And this translates into the low representation of these communities.

In my opinion, it is key to realize that to diversify an organization, these marginalized groups need to be heard, understood and acknowledged. This is where Design Thinking can play a key role. We need to start by re-designing our hiring processes, get rid of our biases, for example names, and genders and hiring our closer acquaintances, and start hiring skills-based from an equitable lens.

However, because minority groups might have lacked access to opportunities, we need to reach out to them and speak their language. We need more support-systems and mentors. There is also a high need to create more safe(r) spaces for minorities where we can celebrate diversity and share knowledge. The more privileged we are, the more we need to share this privilege!

What is your vision for the design of our academic Design Thinking programs? Is there anything you specifically would like to focus on?

If I think about the future of HPI D-School one million ideas come to my mind. And I am aware that there‘s a feasibility aspect that needs to be considered for implementing these ideas. I guess the fact of being first a participant, then a coach and now a program lead allows me to have a better understanding of these roles and their needs.

Personally, I would like to find ways to connect HPI‘s academic research and Design Thinking. Students for example could use this mindset as an approach to research for a master’s thesis. That’s what I applied in mine, in which we used methods like synthesis to categorize qualitative interviews from a sample of five public innovation labs in Berlin. I envision to target diverse user groups as participants and project partners. Scaling the impact we have at HPI D-School to different contexts. There is a lot of work to be done and I am extremely excited to be onboard!

Thank you and welcome again to our team. We look forward to working with you!

About María-José Juárez

Hailing from Mexico City, based in Berlin — co-founder of aequa an intersectional community space that strives for an equitable society in Berlin, and a Design Thinking coach at HPI School of Design Thinking since the last 3 years. She has dedicated 9 years of her career to being a social entrepreneur, with clients spanning public, private and non-profit sectors, including organizations such as National Action Party, Melton Foundation, Politics for Tomorrow, City Administration of Lübben, Humboldt University, Universidad de la Habana, British Council, city_lab, BMW, Boiler Room, Roche, D.Collective e.V., Bundesverband Deutscher Stiftungen e.V., among others. She also founded Mexiro, a Mexican NGO focusing on sustainable development and women’s empowerment in indigenous communities. She holds a Master’s degree in public policy from the Hertie School of Governance and a BA in political science and public administration from the Universidad Iberoamericana.

For her, Design Thinking is more than an innovation-led methodology executed by an iterative process. It’s a mindset that challenges competitive social behaviors and fosters teams' diversification which leads to collaborative innovation.

Photos: Kay Herschelmann / Jana Legler / HPI School of Design Thinking