About Tom Heffner

Design Strategist | Author | Speaker

I’m a Design Strategist working at the intersection of technology, business, and defense. I work at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, where I use human centered design to create innovative solutions for complex and challenging problems. 

As a young engineer developing new products for the military and Department of Defense, I learned quickly that my industry struggled to generate novel ideas. The contrast between the blossoming tech revolution that I observed in Silicon Valley and my own experience was startling.  Seemingly every day, companies pushed the boundaries of what could be created, building things we didn’t even know we needed.

How did they do it? Their secret weapon was, and still is … design.  The people and organizations in the Valley understand that the principles of design are just as important as the principles of engineering. The challenge, for me, was figuring out how to apply that paradigm to the traditionally conservative and risk-averse defense industry. 

I’ve spent the last four years solving this puzzle, in order to unleash innovation in individuals and organizations.  One of my passions is helping engineering organizations create a culture of innovation that leads to more original solutions and products.  One way I accomplish this is by designing physical spaces and innovation competitions that foster a creative and collaborative environment amongst engineers and scientists.  Another way is by teaching human centered design to engineers and scientists – seeding the capability through the organization to inspire a new generation of people who think differently.

Because of my job, I have the opportunity to work with and study the most successful people and organizations in the world – such as, the iconic design firm IDEO, and Wharton Business professor and management expert Adam Grant – and uncover the insights and ideas that propel them toward success.

I’m passionate about sharing these insights and ideas I’ve learned about design and innovation, and the challenges yet to come.  I hope that you will join with me on this journey, and allow me the opportunity to assist you with the design challenges that you are facing.