SSIR Guide to Design Thinking, 10 Years Later

(Illustration by iStock/DrAfter123)

Ten years ago, SSIR published a seminal article on using design thinking in social innovation. The concepts it outlined went on to become a major component of strategic changemaking by civil society organizations. Over the past decade, SSIR has published dozens of pieces exploring specific and varied applications of the approach. After a decade, the authors of the original piece and SSIR‘s editors decided it was time for an update. How have design thinking’s principles and practices changed? Jocelyn Wyatt, Tim Brown and Shauna Carey write:

Over the past decade, this design-led approach to social innovation has gone from a relatively nascent practice championed by a few organizations to a rich ecosystem of practitioners, academics, and adopters around the world. At, we’ve had the opportunity to use design to address a vast array of challenges—from working with mobile-network operators in South Asia and East Africa to create digital financial services that advance women’s financial inclusion to partnering with institutions to address racial inequities in health care.

For a deeper look at the role of design thinking in social innovation over the past decade, explore these SSIR articles:

1. The Next Chapter in Design for Social Innovation (Winter 2021)

To address more complex social challenges, design thinking must become radically more collaborative and oriented toward systems change.

2. Webinar: Harnessing Design Thinking, Ethics, and the Power of AI for Social Innovation (November 2020)

This SSIR Live! two-part webinar-workshop explores integrating design thinking in AI for social innovation and the ethical and societal implications of AI.

3. Codesigning Better Futures With Citizens (Spring 2020, Subscribers Only)

By opening space for public discussion where people can feel heard and respected, democratic societies can not only achieve better results but also restore a level of trust in institutions and a sense of belonging to communities that are dangerously crumbling. Learn more about subscribing to SSIR.

4. The Next Step for Human-Centered Design in Global Public Health (October 2019)

As human-centered design in global public health enters its adolescence, we offer a guide to help practitioners break through their misperceptions of people’s needs to prescribe real solutions.

5. Human-Centered, Systems-Minded Design (March 2018)

Both human-centered and systems-thinking methods fit within an effective design approach, and can work in conjunction to address social challenges.

6. The New Science of Designing for Humans (Spring 2017, Subscribers Only) 

The days of privileging creativity over science in design thinking are over. The rise of behavioral science and impact evaluation has created a new way for engineering programs and human interactions—a methodology called behavioral design. Learn more about subscribing to SSIR.

7. Human-Centered Design for the Voting Experience (February 2016)

IDEO brings a human-centered design lens to voting in Los Angeles County—and finds compelling opportunities to increase participation nationally.

8. Before the Backlash, Let’s Redefine User-Centered Design (August 2015)

We must better understand user-centered design’s limitations—not just its strengths—in the context of international development. And we must adapt it from its original uses designing commercial products to solving for social good.

9. The Rise of Design Philanthropy (March 2014)

The launch of the new Autodesk Foundation marks another catalytic moment for the social sector.

10. Designing for the Science of Service Delivery (April 2013)

A case study on using design thinking to solve governance bottlenecks in Jamaica.

11. Turning Design Thinking to Design Doing (December 2012)

Getting started: Insights from experiments in Southeast Asia.

12. Social Innovation Needs Design, and Design Needs Social Innovation (November 2011)

Social innovation needs people who know how to create lives filled with both success and purpose. It needs designers.

13. Podcast: Applying Design Thinking to Healthcare (December 2010)

CEO Joel Sadler about the company’s initial product, an artificial knee joint that is dramatically changing the lives of amputees in developing countries

14. Design Thinking for Social Innovation (Winter 2010)

By working closely with the clients and consumers, design thinking allows high-impact solutions to social problems to bubble up from below rather than being imposed from the top.


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