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Ruth Schmidt

Professor of Behavioral Design

Ruth Schmidt

“Only designing for humans can actually lead us down a dangerous path, because we satisfy human needs at the expense of others—and we’re not thinking about systemic effects.”


Ruth Schmidt is a Professor at the Institute of Design focused on behavioral design. Her teaching and research integrate humanity-centered design, systems design, and behavioral science to address behavioral challenges more systematically and equitably.

Her research projects and publications focus on combining these disciplines to inform effective and equitable solutions to applied commercial, academic, and public policy challenges, and to develop new tools and conceptual models to help practitioners solve these challenges more systematically.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in art/semiotics from Brown University and a Master of Design (MDes), with a concentration in design strategy, from ID.

Activities at ID

Since 2009, Ruth has developed and taught courses in behavioral design, communication theory, and semiotics, including behavioral design, advanced behavioral design workshops, strategic communications, design rhetoric and metaphor, and bias and sense-making. These courses combine academic theory, practical application of existing methods, and the development of new methods and frameworks to tackle humanity-centered design challenges.

In 2021-22, she contributed her expertise in organizational behavioral design to the first set of courses delivered through ID Academy, aimed at introducing mid-career and executive-level audiences to new and emerging areas of design outside of traditional degree programs.

In May 2018, while serving as ID’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, Ruth was the Executive Conference Chair for the Design Intersections: Design + Data + Behavior conference. This event brought together professional and academic leaders from across design, data science, behavioral science, health care, and financial services to share future-driven perspectives on the intersections of these fields.

Industry Experience

Ruth advises a variety of organizations—across health care, financial services, education, and food sectors, ranging from startups to established companies both within and outside the US—on how to employ humanity-centered behavioral design. She also has an established partnership with DORA (Declaration on Research Assessment), an international advocacy and open research initiative focused on promoting and supporting new, equitable practices for defining and assessing academic research quality and scholarly impact.

Before joining ID, Ruth held several design consultancy and leadership positions. From 2009 to 2017, she served as a senior leader at Doblin|Deloitte, where she developed applied behavioral design methodologies and led teams to advance innovation efforts within client organizations.  Concurrently, for two years she was funded by a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant to apply strategic and behavioral design to interest-driven youth learning experiences, pathway “trajectories,” and badging systems. As part of this work, she served as a senior design advisor and member of the leadership team at the Chicago Learning Network (later HIVE), working with the MacArthur Foundation, Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago Public Library, and other Chicago-area education and cultural organizations to support youth learning outside of school contexts. She continues to consult on behavioral design for startup and established companies in the health care, financial services, education, and food sectors.

Speaking and Publishing

Ruth has presented at a range of international behavioral science, public policy, and system design conferences, including the inaugural International Behavioural Public Policy Conference (IBPPC), the International Research Society for Public Management (IRSPM), the International Conference on Public Policy (ICPP5), and Systemic Design Association’s RSD11 symposium.

Other invited speaking roles include guest lectures at the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCM), Amazon’s UX Lab, the National Academy Foundation, Google’s Foresight Group, the Annenberg School of Communication (USC), New Zealand Behavioural by Design, and Harvard’s Behavioral Insights Group (BIG), in addition to speaking or panel presentations including “How institutions can make a difference: Rethinking job applications, promotions/tenure, and careers” (Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at MIT, 2022); “Positive sum design” (Yale University, Center for Engineering, Innovation, and Design, 2022); “Future Framing: Considering the Future Today for Tomorrow” (Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference, 2020); “Driving Institutional Change for Research Assessment Reform” (American Society for Cell Biology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 2019); “Behavioral Science and Design toward Global Sustainability” (University of Virginia, Convergent Behavioral Science Initiative, and Nature Sustainability, 2019); “(Re)defining the Role of Design in Behavioral Design” (Nudgeapalooza, Deloitte Behavioral Science Group, 2019); and “Leveraging Positive Friction in User-Centered Design”(Action Design Chicago, 2018).

Her work has appeared in academic journals and other outlets such as Behavioural Public Policy (BPP), The Journal of Design Strategies, Strategic Design Research Journal, Policy Design and Practice, Nature Sustainability, Rotman Management Magazine, and

Recent Work

Scholarly Articles

Schmidt, Ruth, and Katelyn Stenger. 2023. “Frame plurality and ‘or/rationality’: A dialogic approach to the behavioral state.” Behavioural Public Policy. 1–20.

Schmidt, Ruth, Zeya Chen & Veronica Paz Soldan. 2022. “Choice posture, architecture, and infrastructure: Behavioral systems design in public health policy.” She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 8(4): 504–525.

Schmidt, Ruth. 2022. “A model for choice infrastructure: Beyond choice architecture in Behavioral Public Policy“. Behavioural Public Policy: 1–26.

Schmidt, Ruth, and Katelyn Stenger. 2021. “Behavioral Brittleness: The Case for Strategic Behavioral Public Policy.” Behavioural Public Policy: 1–26.

Schmidt, Ruth, and Sarah Reid. 2021. “Wicked Behavioral Design.” Journal of Design Strategies 10 (1): 42–55.

Schmidt, Ruth, and Katelyn Stenger. 2021. “Roughly Right: A Model for Behavioral Planning.” Strategic Design Research Journal. 14(1): 138–148.

Schmidt, Ruth, Anna Hatch, and Stephen Curry. 2021. “Creating SPACE to evolve academic assessment.” eLife.

Schmidt, Ruth and Katelyn Stenger. 2021. “Overcoming bounded scalability: Achieving interoperability through behavioral boundary objects,” in Advances in Creativity, Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Communication of Design, edited by Markopoulos E., Goonetilleke R.S., Ho A.G., Luximon Y. 3-10. Springer Cham, July 2021.

Nogueira, Andre, and Ruth Schmidt. 2021. “Participatory Prototyping for Food Public Policy: Applications of Systems and Behavioral Design.” Policy Design and Practice, 4(1).

Schmidt, Ruth. 2020. “Strange Bedfellows: Design Research and Behavioral Design,” in Boess, S., Cheung, M. and Cain, R. (eds.), Synergy–DRS International Conference 2020.


Schmidt, Ruth. 2023. “Three tensions behavioral design must navigate,” Behavioral Scientist.

Schmidt, Ruth and Katelyn Stenger. 2021. “(Dis)embodied rationality and ‘choice posture’: Addressing behavioral science’s mind-body problem,” (whitepaper). SSRN.

Schmidt, Ruth and Katelyn Stenger. 2021. “Embracing complexity through behavioral planning.” Behavioral Scientist. 

Schmidt, Ruth. 2021. “Prototyping systems design-informed behavioral public policy: Learning by doing for methodology development.SSRN.

Schmidt, Ruth, and Anna Hatch. 2021. “SPACE for evolving research assessment: A rubric for analyzing institutional progress indicators and conditions for success.” DORA.

Schmidt, Ruth. 2020. “The Benefits of Statistical Noise.” Behavioral Scientist.

Schmidt, Ruth, and Anna Hatch. 2020. “Rethinking Research Assessment: Addressing Institutional Biases in Review, Promotion, and Tenure Decision-Making.” PLOS.

Schmidt, Ruth. 2019. “Research Assessment as a Human-Centered Design Problem.” DORA.

Schmidt, Ruth. 2019. “Broadening the Nature of Behavioral Design.” Behavioral Scientist.