DICE: Design thinking for communicators

JON MCMILLAN
Feb 26, 2017 · 6 min read
The DICE Model

I’ve been fed a steady diet of the RPIE communication model for most of my 28 years as a Navy communicator. Over that time, the process of Research, Plan, Implement and Evaluate has been satisfying for most of my communication planning needs.

However, today I find RPIE is limiting and I don’t believe it should be the only process on our communication planning menu.

As the Master Chief for Navy Public Affairs and the community leader for 1,100 Navy Mass Communication Specialists, I’ve been impressed by the talent and creativity of our communication products across the Fleet.

Our team writes, produces, and designs some incredible products that are printed for distribution on our ships at sea, posted on web and social media sites, and broadcast around the world through the American Forces Network. In my biased opinion, we’ve been very good on the what and the how of communication.

But no matter how good that content is, or how successful its reach, it won’t matter if the content doesn’t serve a useful purpose and communicate with the right audience.

This is why the Navy needs its team of communicators to focus more on the why and the desired effect of its communication and media productions.

I thought it would be useful to have a single communication process that could be applied to every communication challenge, at every level of the organization, and used by every communicator regardless of experience or skill level.

The public relations models of RPIE and RACE (Research, Action Plan, Communication, Evaluation) come close, but don’t focus on the reason communicators conduct research, to solve a problem. The models also don’t impose a challenge to look for multiple solutions to the problem.

The design thinking process does focus on solving problems and looking for multiple solutions to those problems. IDEOs six-step Human-centered Design Process of Observation, Ideation, Rapid Prototyping, User Feedback, Iteration, and Implementation works very well for innovation, but doesn’t translate well for content creation and for the development of communication campaigns.

I realized that the single communication process I was looking for needed to combine elements of the RPIE, RACE and design thinking processes.

Not being able to find what I was looking for, I decided to create one.

It’s called the DICE model and it’s comprised of four steps: Define the problem, Ideate solutions, Create the content and experiences, and Evaluate the effects.

Step One: Define the problem

The first step is all about taking the general problem or issue and gaining a better understanding of it through expansive research. The research should cover who has the general problem, why they want it solved, target audiences, other stakeholders and other constituents. The research should strive to uncover the why behind the why and provide as much context about the problem as time allows. In addition to conducting research, an important part of the define step is empathy. Empathy in design means trying to see the problem from the perspective of the end-user. Empathizing with the end-user — or targeted audiece — will help guide research and move forward to refining the general problem.

After conducting expansive research, it’s time to refine the general problem or issue and focus everything you learned into an actionable problem statement. The problem statement should include a clear statement of the problem with enough context to let people understand why solving the problem is important and it should clearly indicate what needs to be solved.


Step Two: Ideate solutions

Now that there is a clear understanding of what needs to be solved, it’s time to ideate as many potential solutions as possible. The goal here is a large number of unencumbered ideas. Anything goes. Think about all the content types and experiences that could be designed and created to help solve the problem.

The proposed solution can cost any amount of money and take any amount of time to complete, just keep expanding on each idea to get as many possible solutions on the table.

After you’ve collected a preset number of possible solutions — say 50 or 100 ideas — it’s time group the various ideas into like categories and select the ideas that can be reasonably accomplished with the resources and time available.

After selecting the solution, you develop, draft and deliver the action plan.


Step Three: Create content and experiences

With the action plan as a guide, it’s time to create the content and experiences. It starts with collecting the information needed for the content or experience and coordinating with everyone needed to carry out the plan.

After collecting information and coordinating, you create the content and experience and then deliver it through the planned channels and events.


Step Four: Evaluate effects

The final step of the DICE process is to evaluate the effects. This step can be as easy as collecting feedback or as complex as conducting evaluations. The idea here is to take an expansive approach seeking feedback or conducting evaluations. Think back to the original research you conducted and see if it is possible to evaluate or get feedback from the customer, target audiences, other stakeholders and other constituents.

Once you have feedback, analyze the data to see if you solved the problem or achieved the goals you had set out in your action plan. If the problem wasn’t solved, you should question why and seek to understand what should have been done different to solve the problem.

This part of the DICE model is designed to critically assess the effectiveness of the selected solution. It’s not intended to assess measures of performance related to the content or the experience.

At its core, evaluating effects is asking the basic question, “Did we solve the problem?” And if the answer is no, it’s time to define the problem again and start DICE over.

DICE is a process loop

The DICE model is a process loop.

After Ideating solutions and working on the plan, you may realize you need to review and revise the problem statement and head back to the Define stage.

Or, while collecting information in the Create content stage, you may find another solution you identified earlier but didn’t selected would now work better and you return to the Ideation stage to add it to the plan. It’s also possible new information is found during the Create stage and you realize you need to review and possibly revise the problem statement and therefore you go back to the Define stage.

And, once you Evaluate effects, your analysis may tell you to rework content, or select another solution and you head back to the Ideate or Create content stages.

After any plan has been implemented, some change will have occurred. Your actions will cause a reaction of some sort. Understanding this reaction should be part of the analysis in the Evaluate effects stage. Did your action solve the problem? If it did, has a new problem been created? If your action didn’t solve the problem, why not? All these questions are a new general problem that will require more research to answer and you start over again at the Define stage.

Conclusion

If you want more innovative and creative content and experiences that focus on solving problems, give DICE a try. It takes design thinking principles and combines them with the communication process offering an easy-to-follow, yet powerful process that can empower your creative team.

Interactive Mind

a collection of insightful articles on modern UI & UX design theory, and usability.

JON MCMILLAN

Written by

Interactive Mind

a collection of insightful articles on modern UI & UX design theory, and usability.

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