Project Description

Workshop Overview

As Non-Profit leaders, we’re often asked, “How might we help motivated people change the world?”

In partnership, ZIP Idea Lab and Social Policy Institute have developed a very interactive event for the SDSU School of Social Work, students, faculty and professionals to collaboratively identify ways to generate new ideas and solve problems using Design Thinking.

Workshop Plan


Every model of Design Thinking starts with Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. There are different ways to understand people, and different levels of understanding. Research, observation, engagement. Each one provides different information and different levels of learning what it’s like to be the people you are trying to help.

In this workshop, we use an interview as a tool to learn. You will ask your partner questions to learn what you need to know to help solve their problem. You will take note of the most interesting things you learn, and use these notes in future steps.

We also us a tool called “Dig Deeper” to gain more empathy. When we first interview someone we usually get information on a topical level – the stuff most common that’s on top of everything else. It’s when we digger deeper – underneath what is showing – that we often find the most valuable information and insights, so we will dig deeper.


When we speak of “define,” we mean framing the right problem. Identifying the REAL problem is the only way to create the right solution. Sometimes problem definition may be nothing more than the art of asking the right questions at the right time – like we may have done in interviews.

This is your chance, and responsibility, as a design thinker to define the challenge you are taking on, based on what you have learned about your user and about the context. After becoming an instant-expert on the subject and gaining invaluable empathy for the person you are designing for, this step is about making sense of the widespread information you have gathered.

Synthesize What You Learned: In order to synthesize, or to digest, what we have learned, we need to organize our information into like piles. Review your notes and thoughts to list the user needs: the things they are trying to do. Use verbs like build, grow, run, make and other action-oriented language. List your insights into this problem (so far), and make inferences (or fill in the blanks) wherever your partner did not provide all of the information.

Reframe the Problem Statement: In this next exercise, each of you will work by yourselves to define your unique problem statement using the structure you see in your worksheet.

(Person, Group or Organization) needs a way to (insert users needs from your synthesis) surprisingly // because // buy… (insert your insights).

For instance, Students needed a way to learn about the concept of design thinking along with a process to follow but there wasn’t anyone on campus that could do that. So, Idea Lab created a series of weekly classes that made learning easy and fun.

Based on what you learned during reframe, how might you update your problem statement? How might we…”


Ideate is the step of the design thinking process in which you concentrate on idea generation. Mentally, it represents a process of “going wide” in terms of concepts and outcomes – this is called divergent thinking.

Ideation is your chance to combine the understanding you have of the problem space and people you are designing for with your imagination to generate solution concepts. Particularly early in a design project, ideation is about pushing for a widest possible range of (divergent) ideas from which you can select, not simply finding a single, best solution. The determination of the best solution will be discovered later, through user testing and feedback.

After you ideate, you need to gather feedback. It is time to converge – to make a selection from your concepts – based on what you can learn from the people you are trying to help.

Feedback comes in different forms, positive and negative, however, no matter what, it should always be constructive. Before we give someone feedback, we really need to check our own motives and current mood -whether we feel stressed, annoyed, jealous, afraid, or simply have antipathy towards the other person.

In this next exercise, you will share your concepts with your partner. You will present your concept but you will not defend your concept. This is not about validation, it is an opportunity to learn more about your partner’s feelings and motivations.


A prototype is an example of what you are considering to build. The Prototype step is the iterative generation of artifacts intended to answer questions that get you closer to your final solution.

For example, I can describe a new concept for a remote control for a television and you would follow along, to the best of your ability, referencing what you know about remote controls to understand my idea, OR I can hand you a piece of cardboard with some buttons and words drawn with a marker and you could start to imagine what my remote control would include, how it would work – you could react to my idea.

These are two different experiences for the user and elicit two different responses.

In this next exercise, you will build something that represents your concept that your partner can interact with. You can use any of the materials available here in the workshop to build your prototype.


The Test mode is when you solicit feedback, about the prototypes you have created, from your users and have another opportunity to gain empathy for the people you are designing for.

Testing is another opportunity to understand your user, but unlike your initial empathy mode, you have done more framing of the problem and created prototypes to test. Both these things tend to focus the interaction with users, but don’t reduce your “testing” work to asking whether or not people like your solution. Instead, continue to ask “Why?”, and focus on what you can learn about the person and the problem as well as your potential solutions.


Our attendees found that empathizing with diverse people, and defining the problems in our communities, participants are able to use divergent thinking to create multiple solutions to problems. Quickly prototyping these ideas we can generate potential solutions that can help make a positive change where we live.

Like-minded ideas can form groups that generate a unique problem statement. Members can plan their approach to the problem and take action. More than just a workshop, Design Thinking for Social Work launches new ideas in action.



Contact Idea Lab to learn how we help people, just like you, create new ideas.