Students -- Get Involved!

User-centered Design Opportunities for NPS students on campus:

-Participate on a Concept Generation Team:  These courses provide an introduction to design thinking and challenge participants to find some innovative solutions to our design challenges on campus.  All who are interested can attend; there are no admission requirements.

-Take Courses:  Regular courses are being offered by design thinking faculty across campus.  Check with your department for course offerings and availability.  In addition, short courses during Thesis & Research Week each year give an introduction to user-centered design, and challenge participants to generate solutions to current design challenges.  

-User-centered Approach for Class, Thesis or Capstone Projects: Many faculty are incorporating user-centered design into their assigned coursework, and faculty are available to supervise your thesis or capstone projects.

Students also can take community design thinking classes offered through the Stanford Design School:

Check the Stanford Design School’s calendar of events to sign up for their three-hour or day-long workshops.

Students also can take virtual courses in Design Thinking:

-Stanford Virtual Crash Course in Design Thinking

-Acumen Human-Centered Design for Social Innovation




Naval Special Warfare (NSW), in accordance with strategic level guidance issued over the last few years, is shifting its focus from the counter-terrorism missions of the last two decades to preparing to respond to threats posed by developed nation-states such as China and Russia. It will be important to identify and fill any critical gaps in operational capability that would prevent NSW from achieving anticipated objectives against said adversaries. One particularly valuable—yet underutilized—asset that should be leveraged to accomplish this goal is the personnel that NSW sends to Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) as students. They are in a unique position to conduct in-depth analysis to better understand, characterize, and identify solutions to current and anticipated real-world operational problems. Establishing official and sustainable mechanisms for coordination between NSW and its students at NPS is a task of principal importance for ensuring that both organizations are maximizing the school’s utility. This capstone project provides deliverables intended to enact and codify mechanisms for coordination between NSW, NPS, and the National Security Innovation Base.

Thesis Hernandez

Lucas F. Hernandez; Derek K. Johnson

Designing incentives for Marine Corps cyber workforce retention

Date: 2014-12

There is a pervasive national shortage of qualified cyber personnel, both in the Marine Corps and the nation at large. To retain quality cyber personnel, the Marine Corps must identify those factors that cause cyber personnel to separate from active service and explore specific incentives to retain them. This research used Grounded Theory and Design Thinking to explore these challenges. Key findings show the importance of tailoring retention policies across three areas: monetary rewards (money and benefits), non-monetary rewards (duty station preference, geographic stability, educational opportunities), personal needs (development of transferrable skills and external career opportunities, internal career progression, alignment with personal interests and goals, access to technology), and organizational elements (allowance for community uniqueness, engagement of stakeholders in process development, and a healthy command climate with limited bureaucracy). These findings were incorporated into a Design Thinking process that resulted in three prototype solutions to cyber retention. This study demonstrates how the unique characteristics of cyber personnel require tailored incentive packages and improved personnel policies in order to foster employees’ intrinsic motivations to achieve success. The results focus on the Marine Corps, but the underlying motivations should resonate with cyber personnel in any organization.

Mission Engineering for the Future


Authors: Brown, Jeremy J., Coker, Nicholas C., Groff, Alyson C., Low, Jin Meng Bryan, Neo, Jia Ming, Rodrigo, Lesleigh G., Schultz, Joshua R., Sunda, William R., III, and Walker, Nathan D

This report focuses on the mission engineering process for a hybrid force in 2025. Updated tasking from OPNAV N9I emphasized the necessity of focusing on the benefits of using cost-conservative unmanned systems. Specifically, the focus was placed on the near-peer competitor China and the problems that could be expected in an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) situation in the South China Sea. The Naval Surface Warfare Center mission engineering approach was used to identify specific vignettes for proposed alternative fleet architectures and then analyzed using combat simulation and optimization models. Research on performance characteristics and cost were compiled on current unmanned systems, specifically those in development at a high technology readiness level. Proposed unmanned systems architectures were developed as solutions to the A2/AD problem and proposed vignettes. The unmanned systems architectures were then run through an optimization model to maximize system performance while minimizing cost. The results of the architecture optimization were then input into modeling and simulation. The overall effectiveness of each architecture in each vignette were then compared to find the most effective solution. An analysis of the results was performed to show the expected mission effectiveness and proposed cost of utilizing the proposed solution unmanned architectures. The most effective architectures included search, counter swarm, delivery, and attack systems.



MAJ Joshua Pusillo, MAJ Steve Smith, LCDR Austin Jackson

How SOF Can Improve Collaboration in the US Embassy Country Team by Introducing Design Thinking to Cope with Complex Issues

June 2014, The Hans Jones Award for Excellence in Thesis Research in Special Operations and Irregular Warfare or Security, Stabilization, Transition, and Reconstruction.

Capstone Advisor: Nancy Roberts          
Second Reader(s): George Lober

At the forefront of executing US national security and diplomacy, US embassy country teams require effective joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational collaboration to defeat emerging networked threats.  This project moves beyond numerous policy debates calling for interagency collaboration to address how US Special Operations Command is capable of brokering a global, self-organizing, interdisciplinary, collaborative system capable of solving ambiguous problems.   We demonstrate Special Operations Forces (SOF) design thinkers can effectively broker a global, self-organizing, interdisciplinary, collaborative system capable of solving complex issues. 

Design thinking is an effective method to improve collaborative problem solving within existing manning, authorities, and appropriations.  The premise being that it is easier to find and connect existing groups than it is to invent a new organization. The organic qualities of SOF operators make them ideal interagency design brokers.  Cohesive, interdisciplinary SOF design teams can facilitate the development of an ad hoc, self-organizing system that improves collaboration.

Thesis JohnsonK

Kevin L. Johnston; Robert W. Featherstone

A case study of introducing innovation through design

Date: 2014-03

In September of 2013, senior submarine officers from across the United States Navy Submarine Force converged on Naval Station Pearl Harbor to participate in a collaborative, design thinking workshop. The overarching goal of this workshop, titled the Executive Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation Forum, was to leverage the knowledge and creativity of current and post-command submarine officers to address the unique needs of the commander through the incorporation of new technologies. The result of the forum was 11 innovative solutions to improve command effectiveness. As more of the problems of the world continue to become wicked, it is ever more important to have the ability to generate solutions using a collaborative approach to leverage the wisdom and creativity of the collective. While this technique is useful for determining unique solutions to complex problems, actually incorporating those solutions into an existing organization requires skillful execution of change management. The forum provided a unique opportunity to construct a case study demonstrating that design thinking can be used to spark innovation and change, offering Defense Department leadership an opportunity to explore alternative problem-solving methods and their application to the military environment.

Thesis Gaviin

Michael A Gavin

A Case Study of Managing Information Technology Through Design

Date: 2013-06

In the 1990s, degradation of the United States' submarine acoustic superiority led to what has been termed "The Acoustic Dilemma." The loss of the Cold War competitive forcing function saw the submarine force transition its approach to sonar system development. This transition encountered resistance from the embedded establishment and imposed several managerial challenges. The model that emerged was the Acoustic Rapid Commercial-Off-The-Shelf [COTS] Insertion (ARCI) program. ARCI is a business and technical strategy that capitalizes on the rapid improvements available through commercial technology and enables the submarine Navy to effectively pace the everevolving threat. ARCI enabled technology updates at an unprecedented rate. These rapid updates dramatically improved system capabilities, but the constant refresh of technology soon outpaced the operational and support structures' abilities to manage the rapid rate of change. In order to address these challenges, one of the nation's leading not-for-profit centers for sonar systems engineering, research and development coordinated with a design consultancy firm to create the Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation Forum. This forum used the principles of design thinking to create a collaborative endeavor that exploited the tacit knowledge of junior sailors in the design of sonar system technology.

Access to this thesis is restricted. To request, call 831.656.2061 or email

Thesis Hall

Thomas J. Hall

A case study of innovation and change in the U.S. Navy Submarine fleet

Date: 2012-12

In November of 2011, the United States Navy Submarine Force conducted a revolutionary forum to leverage the technological abilities of the millennial generation in order to further the situational awareness of the sailors in the submarines control room. To facilitate this effort, a design firm was contracted to help understand the needs of the community and to guide the design sessions of the junior officers and enlisted brought in to generate ideas. The result of the forum was an output of several encouraging new methods for displaying information to understand a submarines contact much more rapidly. These new displays also dramatically reduce the time required to train new sailors in their operation. This incident provided an excellent opportunity to investigate the interactions of the Navy, change management and design thinking in the field of information technology. Given the high rate of failure for information technology projects within the Department of Defense, design thinking and change management are examined in this thesis to find possible methods to reduce the losses created by those failures.