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The Double Diamond: 15 years on

The Double Diamond: 15 years on

3 September 2019 Written by By Cat Drew Chief Design Officer

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The below article was originally posted on Medium

Any service designer will have heard of the ‘Double Diamond’. And probably many other designers will have too. It was created by a group of people at Design Council in the early noughties (led by Richard Eisermann, including Clive Grinyer, Jennie Winhall, Gill Wildman, Anna White, Chris Vanstone, Jonathan Ball, Andrea  Siodmok and others!) as they were trying to understand how the design process works. Then, as now, many people think ‘design’ refers to objects, chairs, clothes. But these designers were using design as a problem-solving tool and wanted to make visible this process, and in particular the importance of spending time (and money!) on understanding the problem that the eventual design was trying to solve. 

Design Council is in its 75th year, having been set up by Churchill’s wartime committee to promote good (industrial) design as part of rebuilding the post-war economy. The need to harness design to strengthen economic growth is just as important for us now, on the verge Brexit, as it was then. We’ve spent a lot of this year looking back at our history as well as forward to our future.  

I came across the Double Diamond eight years ago as a non-designer, from outside Design Council. Since then, I’ve sketched it out thousands of times with other people new to design, with team mates working up project proposals and workshop participants taking them through the agenda of the session. For me, it remains the simplest way of communicating the design process to a non-design audience. People (including myself) have adapted it, changed it, drawn circular arrows around it, added diamonds before and after it. The Double Diamond brings about a visual simplicity and communication goal (of revealing an invisible process to non-designers), which is especially important as the design process becomes more complicated and nuanced (in line with the more complex problems design is being asked to solve).  

“Design frameworks provide a structure to justify the process and build trust and confidence among stakeholders”. Nick Durrant quoted by Dan Nessler  

As with any good design project, there is an audience segmentation to do here. Some people (e.g. people new to design or designers who are used to working to a tightly defined brief) will find it clear and helpful but others (e.g. designers involved in systemic design) might find it too simple. Depending on the audience, we can reveal different layers of complexity.  

The Double Diamond over the years  

The Double Diamond was designed when service design was emerging as a clearer practice, developed out of product design and graphic/UX design. The Design Council team reviewed the methodologies and tools of many organisations using design well, seeing patterns across them. This led them to create four phases: discover, define, develop, deliver. Since then, design is being asked to solve more complex, multi-faceted challenges and those challenges themselves have become trickier. So there are other models and frameworks that we can use alongside the Double Diamond.  

Over the past 15 years we have, through working on projects, developed a huge array of tools and techniques to be used at different moments of the design process. Some were developed by Design Council associates, some borrowed from elsewhere. On an old website, we found some really strange ones which are worth a look (and giggle - for example an activity to ask participants what is in their fridges). There are more being developed all the time by other organisations and people are being generous sharing them on sites like medium or twitter.  

It’s not linear! 

Some of the critiques of the Double Diamond (mine included) is that it is not a linear process, and it’s much more fluid. Digital design starts making straight away and uses prototypes (traditionally used in the second diamond) as a research method to find out more about a problem (in the first diamond). Equally, there are many instances when you might be in the second diamond and, through testing something, you reveal a much deeper issue that requires you to ‘go back to the beginning’. In reality, each project will have its own set of feedback loops, and the main thing is to be open to them. Another challenge is that it is actually based on ‘creative problem-solving community’ which has been around from the 1950s (originated by Osborn and Parnes) which argues for a process of multiple rounds of ‘deferral of judgement’ and divergent and convergent thinking. Which is why many people have added smaller and longer diamonds before and after (and within!). As Jonathan Ball explained to us it was built on what was going on before, of convergent and divergent thinking and of ‘kite-shaped’ models, and tried to give more visibility to them. For real design process geeks, here is a 150 guide to many more models. 

“[Design Council] put in the work trying to define design, process, methods, etc. What we did with the Double Diamond was codify it, rename the steps and popularise it. It was important work, but we were certainly standing on the shoulders of giants.” 

Richard Eisermann  

It is not just about a toolkit  

About four or five years ago there was a huge flurry of toolkits, some beautifully designed (and I still have half a dozen packs of method cards sitting on my shelf at home). But following a toolkit does not equal designing a good solution to the right problem. It is as much about the mindsets as the tools (e.g. being humble and open to ideas coming from everywhere and changing as a result of feedback, curious about what’s really going on and how things are working or not and working as teams rather than as a lone genius).  

Equally, using design to solve problems requires ‘enabling conditions’. These include leadership that permits teams to try new things (and not always get it right but learn from the process), procurement set up for buying the end goal rather than a prescribed and rigid means, and good partnership working so that you can follow where the problem takes you. Without these, teams enthused through a design-thinking taster session can end up deflated and frustrated.  

The value is in the outcome not the process  

Some 15 years on, with millions of Google hits and used worldwide, the Double Diamond has certainly helped expose the ‘invisible’ process of design. When I ask people about the value of it, answers like ‘it helps me reframe the question’, or ‘it helped me try out more than one idea and test which one is right’ are good, but I am curious to find out more. What happened as a result of using it? We need to get better at telling the stories of the value of design in ways that mean something to people, like how it helped a local community get their Government not just to redesign the finance quarter but also put in paths for residents to get to green space, or how it helped a team save time and money on transport to get older people to physical activities by actually building physical activity into everyday life in a care home.  

Between 2002-2004, Design Council created the Double Diamond by understanding/observing what people were doing. We’d like to do the same again now. We’re starting a campaign through September to do three things:  

  • Ask people to share their impact stories in a clear and succinct way so we can collect them on social media at #FrameworkForInnovation and #DoubleDiamond or via our survey

  • Find out how people have used, adapted, evolved and gone beyond the Double Diamond to understand how design is currently being used to address our world’s challenges, so that we can again share that widely. You can tell us by responding to our survey

  • Consider what design will look like in 75 years (2094) and use that as a provocation for what comes next. You can also tell us in our survey

At Design Council we believe that whatever the question, design has an answer. We look forward to hearing from you all – designers and non-designers – as you tell us how you have used the Double Diamond (or version of it) to identify and tackle your challenge.  

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