Military Officers and the Design Gaze

A study of how Danish military officers experience challenges and possibilities when seeking to apply design approaches in their everyday work


  • Therese Heltberg Royal Danish Defence College


This paper investigates how design thinking and its appurtenant practices can be integrated into leadership practices in various military contexts. It addresses the findings of a qualitative research study that followed six Danish Defence officers as they worked. The paper investigates how these officers translate and enact design thinking amid efforts to handle specific, complex problems faced in their actual work-life, including the opportunities and barriers that they meet. The paper suggests the concept of a “design gaze” to understand and illuminate how design transforms military officers’ approaches and understandings of specific complex problems as well as their interactions with stakeholders and participants. At the institutional level, the paper points to three organisational problems that were rendered visible through the application of a design approach: “invisible” problems, “homeless” problems, and “transversal” problems. Finally, the paper discusses implications for organisational learning.

Author Biography

Therese Heltberg, Royal Danish Defence College

Anna Therese Heltberg has a PhD from the Institute of Sociology at the University of Copenhagen and a subsidiary degree in Studies of the Modern Middle East. She works as a social scientist at the Institute for Leadership and Management Studies at the Danish Defence College. Her current research interests concern practical implications of and experiences with applying different perspectives and methods - such as design thinking - in military planning and leadership. Furthermore, she is concerned with the relationship between the construction and practicing of knowledge in relation to military operations, military intelligence, and military leadership and command.