Leverage Design Thinking to pivot an existing project, or start something new

October 6, 2020

Design Thinking is a method for solving complex problems.

It is a well established technique that will unlock your potential to design solutions that create lasting impact.

Organizations around the world -from Fortune 500 companies, to non-profits, to social enterprises- are using Design Thinking because its proven successful in helping their teams design products and services that are more desirable.

Enactus partner company Intuit has what they call Design for Delight, aka D4D, which is a series of three principles which represent how innovation is managed at Intuit -- you can take the Design for Delight course through the Enactus Training Center by logging in here.

As a team, integrating Design Thinking into your process will help you increase the success and impact of your projects while creating a more engaging learning environment. As an individual, regardless of which direction your career leads you, a foundational understanding and the real-world application of Design Thinking will give you a solid edge.

What are the Modes of Design Thinking?

This model of Design Thinking is built upon one of the most commonly accepted core models with one addition -- the inspire mode (I'll explain why below).

While these modes are explained in a linear manner, the process is actually non-linear and iterative in its application.

I've provided a real world example at the bottom of the article "What baking 1,000 cupcakes can teach us about Design Thinking" that highlights the iterative non-linear nature of Design Thinking.


The Inspire mode is the process of motivating your team into action. It's a mix of motivation and direction setting.

While Inspire is not typically included in Design Thinking, I felt it was a unique need for Enactus teams.

Oftentimes, Enactus teams remain stuck at the starting line when creating a project or when a project has lost momentum. They often don't know which direction to go and which first step to take; the seemingly unlimited number of options can be overwhelming.

Keep in mind, you don't need to have a detailed understanding of your final destination to get started but you do need a direction. Having a general, even vague, sense of direction will give your members the minimum amount of structure needed to take those first steps forward.

Take action:

  • Spend time discussing within your team the challenges and problems that you're inspired and called to work on. Are there any particular issues or problems that seem to resonate more than others? Are there any problems that your team is uniquely aligned to pursue (through either partnerships, resources, or experiences)?
  • Narrow down to the top 1-2 issues your team wants to further explore.
  • If you've already chosen a project and people are losing inspiration, spend time in each meeting reconnecting with the original vision and purpose of the project. Share some of the quotes from the people you're helping to remind people. Spend time reconnecting with and sharing your WHY so that members can reignite and share their passion and purpose.


To create meaningful innovations, you need to know your users and care about their lives.” – d.school, An Introduction to Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE

Empathy is not only about understanding the problems and the needs of the people you're designing for, but more importantly, its about caring enough and being committed enough to actually solving a problem.  

Simply put, if you don't empathize with the problems of the people you're trying to serve, its highly unlikely you're going to be successful.

Empathy is the most important mode for breaking out of your own personal biases and misunderstandings to truly connect with the problems and the challenges of the people you're serving.

Take action:

  • Spend time with your team discussing and framing the problem. Start making connections on your campus and in your community with the goal of speaking with people who are directly impacted by the challenge (a homeless person) and with stakeholders who work directly on the challenge (the leader of a non-profit who works with homeless people).
  • As potential partners, customers, or beneficiaries, this growing network of contacts will be valuable throughout the entire life-cycle of your project.
  • As a team, go through the exercise of Empathy Mapping.


Framing the right problem is the only way to create the right solution.” -- d.school, PROCESS GUIDE

To create a solution, you must first clearly define the problem.

Oftentimes, we remain stuck in thinking that is far too broad and undefined to be helpful.

For instance, you might say you want to address the issue of homelessness. For many, the issue of homelessness is a highly complex and multilayered issue that is likely the result of many other problems which require breakdown and definition.

You will continuously need to Define and redefine the problem as your understanding grows and evolves throughout the Design Thinking process.

Take action:

  • Develop a Point-of-View (POV) statement that incorporates this basic template: "[User . . . (descriptive)] needs [Need . . . (verb)] because [Insight . . . (compelling)]" For instance, "Sara, a single mother of 3, needs access to childcare that offers a wider range of hours. She often gets called into working very early hours and most childcare centers aren't able to accept kids before 6 am."
  • Work through this Problem Tree exercise to develop a 360-degree understanding of your problem. Whenever possible, try to validate your definition of the problem by speaking directly with stakeholders and beneficiaries.
  • Work through this 5 Whys Exercise to explore potential root causes of a problem.


It’s not about coming up with the ‘right’ idea, it’s about generating the broadest range of possibilities.” -- d.school, PROCESS GUIDE

Now that you have a general idea of the people and the problem you're solving for, its time to brainstorm to generate as many different potential solutions as possible.

Quantity is what's most important here -- not only the quantity of ideas but also the quantity of people who share their ideas.

Take action:

  • Brainstorm a wide variety of ideas, choosing your brainstorming method of choice.
  • "As a team, designate three voting criteria (we might suggest “the most likely to delight,” “the rational choice,” “the most unexpected” as potential criteria, but they’re really up to you) to use to vote on three different ideas that your team generated during brainstorming. Carry the two or three ideas that receive the most votes forward into prototyping. In this way, you preserve innovation potential by carrying multiple ideas forward—a radically different approach than settling on the single idea that at least the majority of the team can agree upon." -- d.school PROCESS GUIDE


Build to think and test to learn.” -- d.school, PROCESS GUIDE

Now that you've narrowed down to a 2 or 3 potential solutions, its time to start prototyping.

A prototype is essentially a "rough draft" version of your solution that allows people to actually experience your idea (either partially or wholly).

A prototype doesn't need to be a physical product. It can be a flier, a website, a presentation, or a Facebook page.

Take action:

  • As a team, start brainstorming ways that you can prototype your product or service.
  • Your goal should be to create a prototype as rapidly as possible so you can begin testing quickly.
  • Since there is plenty of content explaining how to prototype a physical product, and since many Enactus projects are some version of a service, here's an article to help guide your process: 6 Tips for Prototyping Service Design Experiences


Testing is an opportunity to learn about your solution and your user.” -- d.school, PROCESS GUIDE

The test mode is where you solicit feedback and learn about how your user experiences your product or service.

Ideally, testing is about measuring people's responses and behaviors to the actual experience of your product or service.

Do they know how to use it? Are they annoyed by something? Did they learn what they were intended to? Do they love X and dislike Y?

Everything you learn from each round of testing should support further definition, further ideation, and ongoing prototyping that leads into more testing.

A rule of thumb: always prototype as if you know you’re right, but test as if you know you’re wrong—testing is the chance to refine your solutions and make them better. -- d.school, PROCESS GUIDE

Once you feel like you've refined your product or your service, and you're confident that particular solution has a clear fit within the market, you should start the process of moving into production to start scaling up.

What baking 1,000 cupcakes can teach us about Design Thinking

Imagine you're supposed to bake 1,000 cupcakes for a friend's wedding from a recipe you're supposed to make from scratch.

Your friend wants this recipe to be "unlike anything she's ever had before and something that's one of a kind." (define)

Now, you wouldn't go ahead and bake 1,000 cupcakes from the first recipe that popped into your mind that you like best.

Rather, you'd think through who you're baking for, what they like and dislike, and any food allergies. And you realize this needs to be extra special because its your friend's wedding (empathize).

Based on that information, you'd think through the types of cakes you could bake and what flavors go well together (ideate).

Then, you'll sketch up your ideas around the recipe and the design of the cake and will go ahead and bake your first cupcake (prototype).

Now that you've got your cake you take a piece for your friend to sample (test).

What do they like? What don't they like? (empathize

Based on her feedback, you realize the cake needs more raspberry, less chocolate, and more creamy icing (define

You would take what you've learned and brainstorm how to adjust the recipe before baking your 2nd cake (ideate and prototype).

Then, you serve them a piece of the 2nd cake to sample (test)

to learn what they like and don't like about this recipe (empathize and define).

You would want to repeat this process until you find the recipe that they absolutely love.

Once you have this recipe down, only then would it make sense to bake all 1,000 cakes (scaling up).

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