Design Thinking for Business: The Double Diamond Framework

Mike Stevenson
May 10 · 4 min read

Despite countless attempts to dethrone and dishevel the Double Diamond, this framework for design thinking has withstood the test of time. This article is an introduction to the framework that unlocks Design Thinking.

What is the Double Diamond?

The Double Diamond is a visual framework for understanding the 4 stages of Design Thinking. The ‘diamond’ shape is used to convey whether a stage requires a divergent (open, exploratory) or convergent (narrowing, decisive) approach. The 4 stages form 2 pairs of divergent and convergent thinking, with each pair creating a diamond shape, thus the Double Diamond.

Each design challenge begins with a catalyst. This catalyst may come from user feedback, the business, regulators, competitors, suppliers or other sources.

The Double Diamond Framework helps us avoid a reactionary response to the catalyst and reframes our thinking to create solutions that serve their users.

Following the catalyst, we embark on the Discover stage of the process. We engage divergent (open, exploratory) thinking to create hypothesis and research the challenge. Depending on the nature of the challenge, we may need to identify user-problem fit, conduct interviews, survey users, review secondary sources or other exploratory activities to generate knowledge.

We then take all the qualitative and quantitative data we have gathered and progress to synthesise it in the Define stage. Here we engage convergent thinking (narrowing, decisive) to formalise our understanding of the user/s we are working to create solutions for, how they see the problem/s they face and what they need from a potential solution.

Only once we understand our user and their needs do we move to try and propose solutions in the Develop stage. We again engage our divergent thinking (open, exploratory) to bring forward potential solutions for how we might meet the user’s needs and test those ideas with users.

Finally, once we have identified the idea/s that our users want, we then work to make those ideas in the Deliver stage. Here we again engage our convergent thinking (narrowing, decisive) to take the concepts that our user/s found desirable and make them a reality.

How was the Double Diamond created?

The Double Diamond was developed by the UK’s Design Council in 2005. The Design Council was first founded as the Council of Industrial Design in December 1944. It was created to ‘by all practicable means the improvement of design in the products of British industry’.

The Double Diamond framework was the result of research conducted by the Design Council into the practices of design teams in 11 global companies. Those companies were:

  • Alessi
  • BSkyB
  • BT
  • LEGO
  • Microsoft
  • Sony
  • Starbucks
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Whirlpool
  • Xerox

Why is the Double Diamond essential to the practice of Design Thinking in business?

The simplicity, accessibility and scalability of the Double Diamond make it a useful device for engaging professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds to collaborate in design thinking.

For beginners it provides a guide by which to explore design thinking practice.

For practitioners it provides a short hand to contextualise work with peers and inform stakeholders.

For leaders and innovators, it provides a clean, accessible device for facilitating, managing, understanding and communicating what is often messy, ambiguous work.

Some designers reject the double diamond. Some of this group prefer to deny there is any process that can be followed. Instead they would have us believe they are creative geniuses beyond the accountabilities of mere mortals.

This first sub-group are effectively artists, not design thinkers. They will make what they want to make and if the user doesn’t like it, the user is wrong. Their rejection of the Double Diamond is as relevant to Design Thinking as their rejection of Double Entry Bookkeeping is to Accounting.

The second sub-group are trying to practice design thinking and want to create user-desirable solutions, but are misguided. This group generally tries to add to the Double Diamond or replace it with something more complicated (often with a mess of squiggles and at least one loop). Without judgement, the desire to replace or personalise the Double Diamond normally stems from:

  • recognition (‘my work is more complicated/creative than 4 triangles’)
  • fear of accountability to a linear process (‘what if I get something wrong and need to go back’) or
  • religious objection to any linear framework (Agile zealots)

These views are misguided because the Double Diamond does not pretend that the work of Design Thinking is not complicated and creative, nor does it mandate we keep charging forward senselessly.

Describing our work using the Double Diamond helps us engage more people in the process and participate more confidently in the messy underlying complexity and creativity. It does also help us be accountable to ourselves and others when we need to go back a step and correct an error or start again.

Whether it is the P&L, the 4Ps, Porter’s 5 Forces or the Double Diamond, the role of a framework in business is to help us make sense of complexity and improve our choices and actions. By this measure, the Double Diamond is an essential operating framework in design thinking for business.

Further Double Diamond reading:

The Healthy Organisation

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