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Design thinking and the double diamond: FAQs

22nd July 2020

We often up-skill organisations in design thinking.

These organisations recognise the power of design in solving business problems or unlocking business opportunities. They want non-designers to think like designers.

“Design thinking” is an iterative process where the people affected by a solution are placed at its core. It emphasises a deep understanding of those people and the problem space, before developing ideas and solutions. It also focuses on developing lots of potential solutions that are often prototyped and validated in favour of getting it right the first-time round.

Understanding the premise of design thinking is easy; the tricky part is in embedding its frameworks and principles – especially if this requires a new way of “thinking” and “doing things” – beyond the training, back at work. To help fix this, we’ve compiled and answered a list of frequently asked questions that we’ve heard from our clients to provide guidance around what to do next after design thinking training.

Screenshot 2020 07 22 at 13.28.52
The double-diamond design process was popularised by the British Design Council in 2005. It is widely used and referred to across the design practice and beyond.
Q: Why is there a need for the double diamond framework (x2 convergence and divergence)? Can we stop at a single diamond? If it’s meant to be iterative, why not a triple diamond or more?

A: The rigour helps in the process of questioning the problem, our assumptions, and their implications. It’s important to see these steps: Discover, Define, Develop, Deliver; across the two diamonds.

While it’s not impossible to “stop at a single diamond”, just attempting the first means you will not have a viable solution at the end, and only attempting the latter risks designing solutions that do not tackle the user issue at the problem’s core. One of the most common mistakes organisations make is to jump into problem-solving straightaway, without understanding what that problem is in the first place.

Most of the time, challenges originate from the centre of the two diamonds— with a problem that feels ready to be solved. The double diamond framework prompts us to take the necessary step back (by going back to the first diamond) to understand that problem and the people it directly affects before attempting to solve it. This helps to ensure that we took the time to reframe the problem and inform our understanding before moving into finding and developing solutions (the second diamond).

The 4 steps ensure that we do not jump into creating solutions prematurely, or with biases and assumptions. Our initial level of understanding of a problem might not help us identify the right strategies and solutions.

Q: The double diamond framework is a long process. If I have a short timeline, what aspects should I prioritise?

 A: Design thinking might look intimidating, but it’s not a lengthy process. In fact, it can be completed in one day. As design thinking requires a user-centred approach, the amount of discovery you need to do depends on how much or how little you know about the problem and user at hand.

If your timeline is short, prioritise understanding the problem and users involved before attempting to solve it. Allocate time to develop as many possible solutions in the time you have, rather than settling on the first one that comes to mind.

The diamond is a graphical representation of divergent and convergent thinking and is not representative of the time and efforts involved in each part of the process. 

Q: Regarding problem statements, how broad is a ‘broad statement’ and how specific is a ‘narrow statement’? What’s the balance – Are there any metrics your team can give as reference?

A: So long as your problem statement specifies a validated user problem, it can be as broad or specific as you like - it all depends on what you’re trying to solve and the maturity of your product/service. The only real boundaries are:

  1. The problem needs to be expressed from the perspective of your user and not your organisation.
  2. It cannot hint at a solution, because a solution is not a problem.

However, it’s important to note that a 'broad' problem statement will likely need to be broken into multiple work-streams or projects to get solved. It might be difficult to manage and working teams risk losing clarity during the development stage. It’s easiest to start small, experiment in a focused way and then scale, rather than going big and failing to deliver anything.

Q: What do the critics of the double diamond framework dislike about the framework?

A: The double diamond framework is good for understanding and solving problems in the now. It’s often connected to existing issues, pain points and current behaviours, and therefore, can be limited to the past and present.

But as we know, design challenges are often complex, ever-changing, and rarely do they only exist in the ‘now’. Any complex problem can have an unmet opportunity or “latent need” that cannot be expressed by present users. Future problems cannot be accounted for and hence require other tools (e.g. futures thinking and scenario planning).

Q: What are the shortfalls of using the framework?

A: Seeing it as a framework which has to be followed A-Z. The framework is there to simplify things, but it’s the mindset and principles behind it that really matter. The design process can sometimes be non-linear, and following the framework step-by-step can stifle creative thinking. The framework should be treated as more of a guide opposed to a manual.

Design thinking separates the analysis/discovery and the definition of the problem from the ideation and the delivery of the solution(s). It’s common for teams to start on the Design thinking process with a solution in mind, as it’s often difficult to rid ourselves of our natural instincts to solve the problems we have at hand.

You don’t need to dismiss every idea that comes up in the process even if you aren’t at the solution stage, so long as there is an awareness that these solutions are conceived prematurely and might not accurately address the real underlying issue you’re working to uncover. The vision of a solution can stimulate and energise the process, but it’s important to keep it in check in order for the real user problem to surface.

Secondly, it could fall short due to the superficial application of the framework without understanding the central element of user centricity. There is a risk that organisations can end up with a white elephant solution that nobody would use.

Q: Is it necessary for all participants to stay through the entire double diamond framework process? Would the project encounter problems if the people working on the problem keep changing or would fresh perspectives help?

A: Having all participants on board throughout the process can ensure that you are framing and solving the problem more holistically. There will definitely be implications if the people working on the problem keep changing without proper onboarding because insights might get lost. Fresh perspectives are always helpful, but they have to be informed by research and a strong understanding of the user first.

We encourage teams to make their work visible and ensure that all steps of the process are well documented. This ensures that the insights can live in a central repository and be accessible to anyone within the organisation. 

Q: We are not designers, can we benefit from learning design thinking?

A: Absolutely! Design thinking is not limited to the design of products and services only. It’s a useful tool that can be applied to any organisational practice and the development of systems, businesses, and even our everyday lives. 

Design thinking helps businesses leverage tools and principles that can help them systematically extract, teach, learn and apply human-centred techniques to solve problems in a creative and innovative way. Despite its name, design thinking is not the exclusive property of designers. It’s a way of thinking and working, as well as a collection of hands-on methods that have a place at every level of an organisation.


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