On two separate occasions, I’ve been asked if I’ve ever heard of the double diamond model of the design process. I’ve said no both times.

And both times, when it was shown to me, I responded with exasperation, “Oh! Of course that’s the design process. Someone has done a great job of abstracting it.” (The second time, I did add something like, “I think you showed me this once before.”)

Developed by the British Design Council in 2005, the model has gained traction recently along with other approaches to formalized design thinking. Dig around a little and you’ll find some designers have felt the model is too simplistic and added interesting details. However, it’s important to at least begin with the basic diagram. It not only invites us to recognize the foundations of the design process; it also invites us to overlay it with our own experience, leaving room for multiple, even changing, points of view.

NOTE: This article by Jared Spool begins its explanation of Design Thinking by debunking it, and also happens to be the best explanation I have ever read.

The double diamond maps the creative process at its most basic.

In a nutshell, the model shows four phases of alternately divergent and convergent thinking. The first, divergent phase—discover—is when the widest range of research and learning happens. Insights are gathered. Specific ideas may emerge during this phase, but a disciplined designer sets them aside until later. The second, convergent phase—define—is when initial learnings are distilled, organized, prioritized. Many experts say the creative brief is defined here, but in my experience it is where the brief, having been submitted at the very beginning of the project, is reviewed and revised.

Phases three and four—develop and deliver—map the development of initial design concepts, and then the production and delivery of the project in its final form.

Balancing directive and receptive design

I think a lot about how much of a designer’s personality should show through in a project. Of course this varies, but I spent years working hard to be as clear a channel as possible for my clients and employers—as close to zero ego as possible. I often imagined a clear pane of glass. The goal was to be 100% receptive to both the intended message of the client/employer and the culture of their target audience.

Then I learned that this approach does not necessarily serve people. To use the metaphor of a pane of glass, there are plenty of situations that benefit from (and have looked to me for) … a little fog on the glass … a tint of color … maybe even some pits and scratches. I recognize I’m being asked to insert some degree of my own personality—my values, aesthetic, world view, humor, etc.—into the project. At these times, who I am adds something valuable to the message.

I consider this practice directive, though it also includes the practical choice to steer the project into specific concepts, determined by research results, objectives, and feasibility.

As a way to explore the balance between directive and receptive thinking, I overlaid the double diamonds with a chart of when and how much receptive or directive involvement tends to work best for me (it’s clickable if you want to see it bigger).

Now the map is personal.

I can’t imagine any two designers agreeing on where to place the time and resource circles or what size to make them (let alone whether they should be circles—I’m still torn).

Also in my model, not one of the circles exists entirely in the directive or receptive row. There’s always some directive intent during the research/learn stage, for example, and a little receptivity is a good thing during the concept development stage. Still, it’s pretty clear the designer’s receptivity diminishes as the project progresses, and a more directive approach increases.

When I began sketching this chart, I had guesses about how it would look, but half the fun of creating visualizations is that you don’t entirely know what you’ll see until the information starts to take shape. That definitely happened here. For one thing, I expected the circles to pop up and down between the directive and receptive rows more drastically.

There’s a lot in the chart that is unwritten, so while I have comments open (I think I have commenting set to close after three months), please feel free to leave requests for clarification. And of course, to disagree 🙂

What are you wrestling with in your creative work, whether it’s a product, a team, or a recipe? What would you overlay on those double diamonds, and how would you break it down?

One more thing

Please don’t follow either of these charts as if they were a mandate, or step-by-step instructions. They are maps of what you are already likely to be doing—a way to gauge where you are in your natural (and evolving) process, and perhaps also a way to help others understand how to get the best results as they work with you. For more depth, see this thoughtful article by Tom Inns about the limitations of the basic double diamond model.

 

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