Editor’s note: This post was last updated on 19 January 2024 to include information on the alternative design thinking methods that have been published this year.
To accomplish your tasks, you’ll need to set up a process that will allow you to complete them quickly and also give the best results.
Sometimes the design process can be a jungle of trends and patterns; it involves a lot of back and forth to produce the best design solutions. No design is the final design; every procedure can be iterated on.
This is why the Design Council came together in 2005 to develop a new approach to designing solutions with creative thinking, systems design, and design management in mind: the Double Diamond design process. The process has also had its share of improvements over the years; let’s talk about how modern Double Diamond design works and how you can apply it for a better design process.
The Double Diamond model is a design process developed in 2005 by the British Design Council. It is divided into four phases: discover, define, develop, and deliver.
The Double Diamond is a guide for understanding design problems and communicating solutions. The Double Diamond model serves as a visual representation and guide for the design process.
Since the 1960s, kite-shaped models have been referenced, but these models of the design process were not widely accepted at this point. Design thinking needed more visibility because every organization had a way they wanted their designs done and had different names for these processes. The Design Council thought of a way to bring these different phases and names under one umbrella term, and today, the Double Diamond is used and referenced worldwide.
Part of the Design Council’s reason for creating the Double Diamond was to address the need for more visibility in design processes. This description of the design process has become an accepted part of the design language.
The Double Diamond shapes were created by Béla H. Bánáthy and Nigel Cross in 1996. Béla and Nigel are design educators who studied systems design.
The Design Council’s framework for innovation is a guide that supports designers and nondesigners in solving complex social, economic, and environmental problems using human-centered design principles. They help product owners modernize the way they create and deliver their services.
When the process was first developed in 2004, it was divided into two phases: the problem phase and the solution phase, with solutions designed using convergent and divergent methods. This 2004 model depicts the process as rigid and linear, in which one phase would need to be complete before moving on to the next phase. The solution would wait until the problem was defined and researched.
After a few years of using and observing this model, the UK Design Council made some changes to the process in 2019. They reasoned that design was not a linear process and that, depending on the project, team, and location, it could be a back-and-forth process with challenges and outcomes.
The 2019 update considered leadership and the importance of creating a safe space for design and innovation by accepting diversity and differences. It also prioritizes user, partner, and stakeholder engagement.
The 2019 framework for innovation outlines principles that designers and other problem solvers can choose to follow in order to work effectively. These principles include:
The Double Diamond design process traditionally has four steps: discover, define, develop, and deliver.
The model looks like two kites put together, giving it a diamond look. The first kite represents the problem phase, and the second kite represents the solution phase. The problem phase is divided into two steps, Discover and Define, while the solution phase is Design and Delivery.
It is the first step in defining the scope of the problem. In this phase, the designer or design team explores the problems and challenges of the project. This aims to identify the project’s needs, target audience, delivery methods, etc.
In this step, we employ industry research strategies, and the design team sets out to explore them. This phase of the design process allows you to collect information regarding the challenge. At this time, all data collected should be documented and not discarded.
The Double Diamond method is not rigid in nature as most designers are led to believe; it is a guide for laying down your own process. As a designer, you can intend to start designing by laying out your thoughts and assumptions about the project during the discovery phase. In contrast, another designer may decide to start off the discovery phase by speaking to current users or target users before addressing their assumptions. The goal of this step is to learn more about the problem, its effects, objectives, and output (solution). Other processes in this stage include market research, competitive analysis, and user research.
User-centered design is adopted by many companies. As the design lead, you need to be clear on how you decide to start this phase. Depending on the team members and processes involved, you are bound to collect a large number of data that will influence the following stages of this design process; it is important to also discuss how to manage this information during this phase so you do not lose crucial data.
The game “4 Pics, 1 Word” is a puzzle game of 4 pictures where the player picks a name that is either relative to or common to all pictures. The only issue with the game is that players have to start over whenever they log out of it.
During the discovery phase, designers ask users and players of the game questions to learn how they feel about it and how better designs can help improve the game’s experience.
Using the Double Diamond design approach, my first duty was to discover the problem. I had friends who played the game regularly and others who had stopped. I asked them a few questions to understand their pain points and positive feedback regarding the game.
These were some of my sample questions:
As a next step, I conducted interviews and read reviews, articles, and other content about the game. I found out:
This laid out the first process in the problem phase and the first step in the Double Diamond design model. Next, we move on to step two.
Define is the second step in the Double Diamond process; it is convergent in nature, meaning that in this phase, you are focused on getting a solution, and your thoughts and ideas are fixed (unlike step one, which was divergent and allowed you to welcome new ideas that influenced your decision).
In the define phase, the design team will analyze the data obtained. You will filter all your research data, user interviews, and personal design assumptions here. This is because you collect all the data during the discovery phase, and everything is important to you as a designer.
The define stage allows you to decide which data is important to your design solution and which should be discarded. You will not be working on this alone; you and the team of designers at your organization will discuss and decide which data is important to move into the solution phase.
In fact, at this stage, you have begun to work on your solutions. This teamwork can lead to identifying edge cases and unnecessary data. Since this process is flexible, you can always go back to the discovery phase to conduct more research if you are not satisfied with your present results.
The definition stage is also used to communicate the project goals and ensure the design team is aligned and everyone understands the project internally and externally. In this phase, personas are created, affinity maps are drawn, etc. Additionally, we work on setting the context for product development, assessing what is realistic, and analyzing how this project aligns with the corporate brand. The second stage of the Double Diamond model provides the foundation for product development.
Following up on the case study from the discover phase, I had to define the data collected so the team could understand the design needs. Below are some of the deliverables from this stage.
Here’s a persona from my research:
And an empathy map from the define stage:
We have now entered the second “diamond” or “kite” of the model, which is also the solution phase. The first step in this process is the development step. In this step, we assume that the team not only understands the problem but has also done their research, filtered unnecessary data, and is now brainstorming and testing ideas.
In this step, all the research collected and sought has now been defined and put into visuals for clarity. This step allows you to use the personas created by the team to design sketches, wireframes, and prototypes of the solution. Some organizations may decide to develop the personas, journey maps, etc. in this phase, the deliver phase. In this phase, the solution is complete, and the product has been delivered to the public. Users can now download the final product and use it. It was tested in the previous stage by a select group of people.
Sometimes users may use the product or solution in ways the designer did not plan for. It is essential to receive feedback and monitor reviews and downloads, as this will affect your team’s evaluation of the product’s success. This feedback would be used to iterate on the product’s next release, as some products go on to have newer versions or even feature updates. This stage involves product sign-off, retrospective, product marketing, etc.
The insights were analyzed, and these were the follow-up iterations for my example project:
These solutions enable your information and game progress to be stored in the cloud, as well as earn while you play, and reuse information whenever you sign in to a new device.
The advantages of the Double Diamond design process are that it helps generate creative thinking and gives a name and structure to the frameworks and methods used in solution design. This ensures that designers never retrace their steps, eliminate good ideas, or lose focus. Here are a few more key benefits:
So far, our definition of the Double Diamond barely touches on how we use it within a design process to facilitate design thinking. Each phase employs additional activities, frameworks, methodologies, tools, and concepts.
The design thinking process, in general, is very flexible and won’t always follow all four steps for every client, project, or problem. Oftentimes, depending on the problem, you can use the Double Diamond from the last diamond moving forward to the first one. You create a solution first, then you iterate and improve on it. Other times, only one diamond is used; it all depends on what works for your client or team.
Sometimes, you’re just doing the research and then handing it over to the development team. Before designers start working on a project, there’s a design brief or problem statement. This problem could be users saying they find a feature hard to use, or they expect a certain feature for ease of use, or they just want to make something better. The Double Diamond design process separates the times when we figure out what the problem is from the times when we come up with ideas and make things happen. It’s like first understanding the issue and then figuring out the solution.
Some may argue that it’s a very linear process, and great designers don’t work that way. I believe great designers are great because they have a structure and a process, not the design thinking model they use. Although it is true that some designers, when presented with a challenge, often start with some solution in mind, sometimes having a solution in mind before beginning the design process can lead to biases that can affect the output of the design.
Some designers espouse a “Reverse Double Diamond” design process that focuses on post-design research. People often misinterpret the double diamond design process, alleging that it takes away from the design concept and focuses primarily on design research. I would say the reverse is the case. It understands the design concepts and breaks them down into researchable blocks while focusing primarily on user experience and product value:
I will argue that even when faced with challenging design problems, no designer, even with all experience and certification, can come up with an absolute solution; the most we have is an idea of what might work, which oftentimes is not universal. For instance, you are designing a children’s app, and you’re presented with a brief or even a working prototype with a problem statement. As a designer, you can go straight to designing the solution for that problem and, after launch, provide feedback on the user experience. At least, this is what the reverse Double Diamond method suggests. What happens here is that oftentimes, while you solve a challenge based on the problem statement available, your solutions without proper understanding, brainstorming, and research create even bigger issues for another set of users that may interact with this problem. In this case, another set of users can be parents, teachers, nannies, etc. Whereas a deep dive into the problem statement following the Double Diamond method can give insights into what challenges may arise for a set of users as a result of the solution for another.
Another grave misconception about the Double Diamond is that it makes convergent and divergent thinking mutually exclusive. Divergent thinking creates space for exploration, while convergence brings focus, clarity, and direction. The Double Diamond represents how designers can alternate between these two processes throughout the design thinking process, building on the ideas generated during each diamond to define, refine, and improve the problem.
At the start of the process, divergent thinking prevails, allowing us to explore the problem statement and be more open and aware of the challenges of the product, user, and market view. After gathering these insights, convergent thinking helps us eliminate and structure potential solutions.
The Three Triangles process — discovery and ideation — run in parallel from the start. If you place three triangles together, it becomes one and a half diamonds, which means a step is still missing from this:
One thing about the reverse diamond and three triangle methods is that they miss out on a crucial step: defining the problem. Defining the problem is a step to user-centered design; it allows designers to not only understand the problem, but this analysis leads to clarity of direction, which is why it is a convergent model. Designers don’t end trust by delivering a product on time; they gain trust by building usable and user-centered solutions pre- and post-launch.
The double diamond does not wait till launch for users to interact with it before iterating; during the design process, hypotheses are tested, biases are removed, and during development, the product is continuously tested. This allows for ample time to monitor the product effectively and also a longer time before money is spent on feature implementation or modification.
The reverse double diamond proposes an alternative approach to traditional design processes. It suggests starting with implementation and gradually narrowing down to define the problem.
An advantage of this is that it allows for quick prototyping and tangible results early in the process and can be beneficial in fast-paced environments. However, this may lead to overlooking important aspects of the problem during the early stages and focusing too much on solution details without a thorough understanding of the problem.
The alternative model, a “three triangle process” instead of a diamond, emphasizes three key aspects: discovery, ideation, and delivery. It encourages a more dynamic and interconnected approach. Fosters collaboration between designers and developers, but this might introduce some complexities and dependencies because it requires a well-coordinated team and effective communication.
These alternatives might sacrifice the thoroughness of problem understanding and solution development that the Double Diamond emphasizes, as well as the risk of oversimplification or overlooking critical elements.
The Double Diamond model is a methodology that can be used in a range of industries, not just design. It is a designer’s guide because it can be applied to any problem that requires a solution. It is a comprehensive approach to making good design decisions with users and solutions in mind.
As a designer, you may have designed a process that works for you, or your organization may have designed a process that works for designers; the Double Diamond assists you in breaking down these processes by having a problem and solution phase to help you design better solutions.
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