What is Design Thinking, It’s Stages and Principles In a Social Entrepreneur’s Perspective


Design Thinking

As soon as you hear the word design thinking, typically the next word you hear is empathy, which is really about focusing on the human experience and understanding how people are interacting and experiencing both their problems and the solutions that are presented to them. It’s about the human connection and putting the person first in the experience that they’re having and the experience that you want to have.

They call design thinking the human-centered approach to innovation because it’s anchored in understanding your customer’s needs doing rapid prototyping and focusing on tapping into your creativity to develop ideas that can really take your product services and processes to the next level.

What really is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is really about reframing the problem or the challenge that you have and looking at it from different perspectives and trying to get more ideas on the table that can generate inspirations that lead to a solution that’s something new. It’s also very much intertwined with bringing in people from different backgrounds.

With design thinking, you’re typically not just working with a couple of developers on an idea, but you’re bringing in different stakeholders and people from the community or your end customers who are going to be impacted to collaborate and get as many different styles of thinking and personalities to solve really complex problems. 

At its most basic, design thinking starts with the generation of ideas, with a diverse group of people getting as many ideas out in the open as possible. And then narrowing down some ideas that you can quickly test. 

So we’ve talked about validation and the minimally viable product on our blogs. And this is exactly what you’re doing in design thinking.

After you have your initial brainstorm of ideas, you’re taking the best ideas and seeing what quick tests you can run to get further information. 

You’re validating the ideas with your end customer or clients. In the case of a social enterprise, you’re not just validating with the consumer of your product or service, but also with those that you’re impacting. 

Once you get feedback from these prototypes, then you iterate back through the stages going through them again and again, it’s almost like you start a cloudy haze of a million ideas, test some ideas and get a little bit more clarity and keep repeating this process of gathering ideas, testing assumptions, and refining until a really good desirable, feasible and viable solution emerges. 

So let’s look at the stages of the design thinking process in closer detail. 

The 5 Stages of Design Thinking Process

1. Empathy

The first stage of the design thinking process is empathy. And this is really understanding the problem that you’re trying to solve from an empathetic standpoint.

It means going out and engaging with people to understand their experiences, their motivations and really getting as much in the environment of the problem to understand the experiences behind it. 

You want to walk away with a deep understanding of what the pain is that people are experiencing. Because when you get to this point, then you can empathize with it, which is the whole point of the empathy stage.

You may need a lot of information in order to get there, but developing this felt sense of the pain that you’re trying to solve will help you with the next stage.

2. Definition

Stage two is definition. In this stage, you’re defining the problem. You’re taking all the information that you’ve gathered during the empathy stage, and you’re synthesizing those observations and putting it into a problem statement. 

Now as you do this, you want to be focused on defining the problem in a human-centered manner. 

What does that mean? 

It means don’t define a problem in terms of your objectives but define them in terms of the problem somebody is experiencing. 

As a template, this specific group of people, whatever that definition is, needs to do X, Y, or Z in order to what is the outcome in order to thrive in order to grow in order to overcome this adversity really focus on the group of people and what needs to change in order for this situation to alleviate. 

3. Ideation

The next stage is ideation.

This is your brainstorming stage when you come up with as many ideas as possible. There are many ways to do this, but basically, two main roles: don’t judge and have fun. 

You don’t want to judge in the ideation phase because you don’t want to interrupt the flow of ideas. Sometimes the crazy ideas, which really aren’t good ideas spark something out and it leads to something further, which could be a good idea. 

It might inspire somebody else to share an idea which they’re timid about but actually has merit. You’ll have plenty of time later to judge ideas. 

Second, I mentioned have fun. This is somewhat obvious, but you come up with a lot more ideas when you’re having fun than you do have something that’s a drag. 

After you finished collecting all your ideas, stop and pause. 

Only then go back and review and pull out your best ideas and the ones that you want to take forward. 

4. Prototype

The fourth stage is prototype. In this stage, you’re building your minimally viable product or designing whatever actual tests that you’re going to take out to validate your idea.

The idea is to keep this as quick and short as possible so that you can get information back that is useful for helping you understand how to go forward. 

In the beginning, keep this as simple as possible. 

What can you do with a piece of paper and some pens? What can you do with cardboard and scissors?

Don’t overthink it. Build the most simple mock-up of whatever you can to test your idea. That is prototyping. Keep it simple and quick. 

5. Feedback and Testing

Here’s where you take your prototype out into the world and get feedback from people in the community and other stakeholders. You’re not looking for a guess “this is a great solution.”

Instead, you’re using this to deepen your understanding of how people behave and think, and interact with the proposed solution. It is all about refining the information that you got through the empathy stage and getting in more information so that you can get a clearer picture.

As you get this feedback, you’re going to do one of two things. You’re going to return to the first step of really developing your empathy and going through the entire process, or you are going to jump back to ideation and start coming up with more ideas based on the new information that you got back from these tests.

As we spoke about in the blog on validation, this is the same concept: you’re going out, running tests, and getting feedback. 

With design thinking, what you’re doing is really bringing in this concept of empathy, understanding how people are experiencing the world and how your solution is going to change their lives.

When you get into design thinking, there’s a huge focus on collaboration, both with your stakeholders and users and different people who are involved in the development and production of your solution. 

There’s also a natural component of storytelling that goes into this process. Because as you are learning to empathize and communicate what these ideas are, you’re telling a better story about the problem that people are facing and the solution that will help bring them out of that.

The 4 Main Principles of Design Thinking

There are four main principles that go into this design thinking. The first principle is the human rule, which is whatever you’re doing, you’re going to be collaborating and working from a human-centric point of view. 

The second principle is the ambiguity rule, which means you don’t know as much as you think you do, and things will be vague and unclear. And so you’re going to continually test your knowledge and get new information to refine it. 

The third principle is the redesign rule. You’re doing very rapid iterations of prototypes and taking in all the new information you get and feeding that back into new ideas, and constantly changing your approach to the best solution.

The fourth principle is the tangibility rule. And this means taking your ideas that are abstracting your head and coming up with a physical prototype that you can put in front of somebody, and doing some tests that somebody can interact with you and give you more information.


Design thinking is super powerful that’s why it is a process that is used in major corporations today. 

As a side note: if you’re trying to create an impact and learn how to apply design thinking, I suggest reaching out to give back hack. They offer workshops to private companies, institutions, and other groups on design thinking so that you can be successful in the social impact that you’re creating.

Reach out to emily@givebackhack.com for more information.

Design Thinking

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