The Double Diamond: A universally accepted depiction of the design process
From humble beginnings to a cornerstone of design language
The Double Diamond is a visual representation of the design and innovation process. It’s a simple way to describe the steps taken in any design and innovation project, irrespective of methods and tools used.
In 2003, Design Council was promoting the positive impact of adopting a strategic approach to design and the value of ‘design management’ as a practice. However, they had no standard way of describing the supporting process. Richard Eisermann, Design Council’s then Director of Design and Innovation, thought that this was incompatible with their broader message, so he asked his team, “How do we describe design process?”.
Of course, kite-shaped process models have been referenced as far back as the 60s, but models of design process were not widely shared at this point. Part of Design Council’s reason for creating the Double Diamond was to address this lack of visibility.
This universally accessible description of the design process has become an accepted part of design language. Today the Double Diamond is used and referenced worldwide.
“How do we describe design process?”
At the time, Richard Eisermann was new to his role at Design Council. In his words, he and his new team “took big steps to change the landscape for design in the UK.”
Moving from Whirlpool Europe to Design Council in 2003, Richard had inherited a multi-disciplinary Design and Innovation team from predecessor Clive Grinyer. The team comprised a mix of Design Council and independent design strategists, with a varied combination of backgrounds, expertise and experience. The group included Anna White, Chris Vanstone, Gill Wildman, Jennie Winhall and Jonathan Ball, all of whom were embedded in challenge-oriented project teams.
Clive Grinyer had routinely brought the group together to share experiences from their developing practice. Richard continued these regular meetings when he took over the reins.
One of his first steps was a study of Design Council methods and practices. The aim was to categorise and document the design methods used across the organisation, and determine a flexible framework in which these methods could be used. This endeavour led to the creation of both the Double Diamond and another Design Council resource called the Methods Bank.
Although project teams across Design Council talked about design process, they didn’t have a standard way of presenting this process, or a consistent way of managing design projects. They also had widely varying points of reference and experience.
Jonathan Ball, an independent strategist on the Design and Innovation team, recalls how things got started: “As Richard got his feet under the table, he was excited to see the new work at Design Council and the breadth of challenges that were being addressed. He realised that Design Council talked about process – the design process – but wasn't explicit about how this process was defined.”
Richard believed Design Council needed a consistent way of telling a process story. So, at one of those regular team meetings, Richard expressed his curiosity as to how Design Council might define design process and the methods that could be used at different stages of that process. He then challenged his team to answer the question.
Deconstructing a common process
Responding to the challenge, the Design and Innovation team set to work beginning a series of reviews of recent projects shaped and delivered through Design Council programmes. At the time, the programmes were responding to business, science and technology, and social challenges, with the approaches heavily influenced by the newly developing practice of service design.
The ambition was to create something that would be applicable in any field; to create a model that Design Council could use with anyone they worked with.
There were (and are) many ways to describe design process, and diamond-shaped models were not unfamiliar to Richard. He remembers the first time he was exposed to the concept, “Dave Duncanson, an engineer at IDEO, talked to me about the product development process as being like the classic diamond-shaped kite, with a tail composed of progressively smaller diamonds. So the double diamond shape was definitely already present at IDEO in the late 90s, although it may not have been called such”.
Richard’s next encounter with this diamond shape was at Whirlpool. “We did an extensive innovation programme with business guru Gary Hamel. Gary used the diamond as a way of framing innovation. He even called it the Double Diamond. But the names of the four steps were different.”
So the seeds of a diamond shape were already planted in Richard’s mind and he conveyed the idea to the team as part of their review and development process.
The team 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.
These were the likes of Herbert Simon, Thomas Marcus, Thomas W. Maver, Bela H. Banathy, Barry Boehm, Paul Souza and Nigel Cross. From the 60s through to the 90s, their research had resulted in proposed models containing elements of divergence and convergence, cycles and iterative structures.
As Jonathan recalls, “We assumed from what we'd done that there might be a common process. What we went through was a way of finding out if we were right, and what that process might be.”
Chris Vanstone and Anna White were tasked with setting up the reviews, which included research with each of the Design Council teams, as well as looking further afield.
Anna recounts the extent of the task: “We mapped out the processes for each team, comparing, contrasting and looking for similarities. We also looked outside out Design Council too, mapping methodologies and reviewing publications on design process and design methods at the time, which were also incorporated.”
The group individually assessed the methods they had used in their projects. They considered the criteria for defining what ‘good’ looked like in terms of project output. They explored the place of concepts such as divergent and convergent thinking and iteration – the repeatable characteristics that come into play throughout the design process. They also critiqued the impact of the systematic use of design methods including user research, prototyping and testing.
By deconstructing the process around the methods used in different projects, they started to see similarities and patterns. This enabled them to then work together to map a potential common design process.
Over the course of several sessions, the group came up with a simplified way to describe any design and innovation process. It is based on four distinct phases that the team, deliberately seeking a memorable device, named Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver:
Discover - The process starts by questioning the challenge and quickly leads to research to identify user needs.
Define - The second phase is to make sense of the findings, understanding how user needs and the problem align. The result is to create a design brief which clearly defines the challenge based on these insights.
Develop - The third phase concentrates on developing, testing and refining multiple potential solutions.
Deliver - The final phase involves selecting a single solution that works and preparing it for launch.
Chris and Anna worked with graphic design agency Cartlidge Levene to develop the graphic design and print representation of the Double Diamond and Methods Bank. Visual design company Matt & George then worked on a digital animation.
This representation of the Double Diamond remains unchanged today. Two diamond shapes starting with the initial challenge or problem statement to the left, moving through a definition of the problem to be addressed in the centre and ending with the solution to the right. The diamond shapes represent how divergent and convergent thinking fit within each stage. Symbols in each phase represent points of iteration for research, learning, prototyping and testing.
From the outset the team recognised that, although a graphic convenience, the simplicity in the symmetry of the diagram helped the introduction of the concept and its subsequent application.
Working with the process
In 2004, Design Council started to share the Double Diamond at conferences and in presentations. The Design and Innovation team also started to use it and reference it in their work with clients on the Council’s programmes.
While Jonathan remembers that the team was pleased to have succeeded in meeting Richard’s challenge, he recollects that the process of doing so was, at times, a struggle. In the beginning, Jonathan also couldn’t see how he would use it in his own work:
As a model for the design process, I thought it was a neat representation, but I have to say that at the time, apart from presenting it in an almost academic way, I couldn't get my head around using it in practice. I found I had to rehearse the way I told the Double Diamond story. Once I was comfortable with it, it became the starting point for any design-orientated conversation, for positioning design in a broader context, discussing a specific design project, or as the process itself.
Anna White loves this about it too. “For me the first part of the diamond is about questioning the brief and defining the problem statement. I explain it as ‘designing the right thing’. The second part of the diamond is about exploring possibility, iteration, testing and developing, so ‘designing the thing right’.”
The versatility of the Double Diamond is evident in the variety of different ways that it can be used today, including:
for an initial assessment of project type and the approach needed to address a specific challenge
to facilitate a conversation around a number of projects, to help decide on their priority in terms of relationship, stage or approach
as a tool to help focus teams at the start of a project
as a method for starting to shape the strategy and management of a project
to check in on a project in terms of ‘where we are in the process’
to help people get comfortable with ‘going broad and unfocused’ in both of the divergent Discover and Develop phases
for shaping research (for example Design Council’s 2007 research report “11 Lessons on Managing Design” was structured around the Double Diamond).
The people behind the Double Diamond
The Design and Innovation team were perfectly placed to take on this challenge. Originally handpicked by Clive Grinyer, they were smart, enthusiastic and had permission to experiment. The team’s diversity of interests, skills and experience proved to be invaluable. The team included, along with others:
Anna White, an ergonomist and product designer, had come from Ford Motor Company and subsequently went on to work with IDEO and LUMA. Anna is now Design Thinking Lead for Zeiss Group.
Chris Vanstone, a recently graduated product designer, worked as an independent strategist. He was one of the first people to realise the place and application of design in public sector services. Chris later joined Design Council’s pioneering Red Team, which used transformation design to influence policy. He now works with the Australian Centre for Social Innovation.
Gill Wildman’s background was in design strategy and innovation. First a design manager and then design strategist for Design Council, at the time she was involved with their science and technology accelerator programme – Humanising Technology – and exploring service design as a specialism. Gill has gone on to found her own business, Plot, to hold the position of joint design chair at Carnegie Mellon University and to work with companies such as Hyper Island and Upstarter.
Jennie Winhall, a Design Council strategist, was focusing on the place of design in social enterprise. She later joined the Red Team with Chris Vanstone. Jennie now works as a social innovator and service design consultant, advising organisations such as The Banff Centre, Rockwool Fonden, Innovation Unit and The Point People.
Jonathan Ball was a product designer by training who had worked across sectors. He has contributed to the development and delivery of many government-funded support programmes in the UK and overseas. Jonathan continues to work closely with Design Council, is an instructor for LUMA Institute, an associate of What Could Be and works with many other businesses and public sector organisations.
Keeping it simple
I think you can use the Double Diamond to tell all sorts of design stories in really helpful ways. Part of its beauty is its simplicity.
The Double Diamond originated from humble beginnings as the answer to a simple question, but its impact has been far reaching.
As Anna White recalls, it initially formed part of “a drive to demystify design process and make it accessible to a non-design audience of policy makers, manufacturing CEOs, technologists and educators. What was nice, though, is that the design world embraced the model as well.”
The Double Diamond remains at the heart of Design Council's work today; not just where it all started as a visualisation of design and innovation process and as a method for understanding the type and shape of project that is being undertaken, but also at the heart of the Framework for Innovation, Design Councils' framework for setting design thinking in a strategic context. Although only recently published, and like the Double Diamond before it, the Framework for Innovation is provoking new conversations and new developments like the Design Thinking Canvas. Design Council encourages these developments and would like to know more about how you are making a difference by using the Double Diamond and the Framework for Innovation in your work.
We know that many people contributed to the development of the Double Diamond and we are keen to share opinions and viewpoints of how it was developed, and has been used, adapted and evolved to help us capture its history. If you would like to share your views please get in touch!
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