“The clients expected to hear more about the Double Diamond process” was my manager’s feedback from a Service Design 101 I ran last year which left me a bit dazed and confused. It also got me thinking. Service Design isn’t just about the Double Diamond, so why do these Business Analysts think it is? It is certainly a practical and useful articulation of design, but perhaps the infamous process has overshadowed design as a discipline and perhaps it’s time we move forward and beyond the process as simply doing the Double Diamond doesn’t make Service Design, or any design for that matter, because design isn’t that simple or that straightforward.
When we look at the Double Diamond today, we have only just started becoming critical and analytical of it unlike other areas of design like HCDTM, Design Thinking, and even our very own design titles and terminology. But we haven’t looked at the root cause or common threads across these methods and tools, where I believe the Double Diamond is playing a key role in its message and structure, where we may also find that it represents the kind of standardised, predefined and prescriptive formula that restricts innovation, rather than fostering it. And that’s mostly because the Double Diamond never really came from a place of design and innovation itself.
Let’s examine where it came from and how it is used today.
Decades ago, the Double Diamond did us a great service by having a universal starting point, something tangible to show colleagues and stakeholders or to sell to clients, a visualisation of the creative process to assuage fears and banish the myth that design is fuzzy and vague. And it worked.
Developed by the British Design Council over 15 years ago, the Double Diamond was designed to help standardise and improve the industrial design process, not Service Design or UX, which virtually didn’t exist back then. It was based on best practices and interviews from 11 companies, companies like Microsoft who back then, apart from demonstrating how many different ways a product can fail, were hardly the benchmark of creativity and innovation. Other references like Starbucks, Xerox and Sky Tv are questionable, so how did these companies end up informing the global standard? And based on what evidence?
Interestingly, times may have changed, but we still use the Double Diamond as a generic blueprint to specialist practices such as Service Design, Product and UX, even if their mediums, methods and outputs are vastly different and even if design has jumped into the interconnected and hyper-active digital age.
In fact, there’s so much design around us and interacting with us today, our perception and understanding of design has changed so much that the high level and reductionist view of a 15 year Double Diamond is simply too primitive and limiting for this sophisticated age. It’s too high level and generic without being specific or useful which is why a non-sanctioned but universally accepted revamp was made a few years ago to try and keep it relevant and meaningful. A definite improvement. Equally, there was tacit acknowledgement in the Design Council’s “New 2020 Double Diamond” that it was heavily process focused, but that’s all I’ll say about that…
Even so, it still doesn’t quite work because its still a rigid and prescriptive framework that focuses on the wrong things, and to continue to show and rely on it is a disservice to ourselves because it oversimplifies our work and reduces great complexity, skill and knowledge into a process which isn’t what design is, nor strictly what it does.
And it’s symbolic of this process-ification of design, replacing higher order thinking, deep understanding and abstract thinking by giving us a general framework and process that is neither relevant nor specific to what we do. Much like Design ThinkingTM, the Double Diamond ultimately promotes and reinforces a view that design can be easily duplicated by anyone who rolls up their jeans and grows a beard, and that’s a problem because it removes the thinking and understanding from the process and further implies that anyone can do it, which unfortunately isn’t true.
And therein lies the problem with trying to create a linear, one-size-fits-all process, we think process can impart or replace mindsets, and swap behaviours and creativity with steps and actions, which as Jon Kolko rightly points out, leads to a shallow understanding and limited view of design and creativity. Most troubling, even large design companies such as IDEO misrepresent design and “positions their methods as legitimate instructions for “how to do design”; follow the instructions, and you are suddenly a designer. It’s that easy”, that is, until it doesn’t work. By focusing on process we remove the purpose and anima that makes design what it is and what makes it special, and that may sound like a philosophical moot point but it’s actually fundamental to our existence.
Which brings us to the point where as a design community, I think we should think hard about the Double Diamond’s role as a communications tool and design blueprint because it’s brand is depreciating and we’re losing credibility.
Internally and externally, Design regularly over promises and under-delivers, and most notably, the evidence of Double Diamond’s success, or lack thereof, should be serious pause for thought. Often when it does deliver, it’s done poorly and branded a ‘Design’ disaster story, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with design, leaving the burnt managers and businesses tarring us all with the same brush. Why is that so?
If we remove all the variables and look closer, I think what we’ll find is that the Double Diamond just isn’t being done properly because it isn’t understood well because it’s focusing on the wrong things, principally quantity over quality. Today the Double Diamond is scaling faster and further than it’s understood without bringing the requisite mindsets and critical thinking that drive it, and the unique perspectives that make it valuable. As designers, we don’t think strictly in terms of process and standard definitions, that’s the point of what we do and why we are different, and that’s why it’s even more important to understand what Design is to demonstrate our value.
So what is that we do differently and what’s missing from the Double Diamond?
We think in abstract and lateral ways, and use abductive and inductive reasoning to translate insight into ideas and thoughts into action. That’s real design thinking. We make sense of things. And that’s where deep understanding and mindsets are invaluable and the Double Diamond comes unstuck.
The Double Diamond also falls apart because it doesn’t adequately define or emphasise design’s role to criticise or challenge a subject or space, instead, it’s often pulled by HCD or Design Thinking methods towards validation, consensus driven collaboration rather than a critical view that builds rigour and robustness. This is a key mindset and a common failing which Don Norman and Roberto Verganti point out, criticism is not only constructive, it is in fact essential for design; “to create through criticism” without it, we risk creating meaningless solutions or propositions without any tangible impact or change for customers. The growing scrapheap of useless apps and meaningless products are a testament to this.
In this sense, the role of critical thinking is misunderstood just as collaboration is misused. It’s about the diverse perspectives that see something new and different that make collaboration useful and valuable, critical thinking is one way we don’t end up with more of the same, which is where most collaborative efforts end up. I think a lot of this comes from the fear to take risks and the stress or difficulty of critical thinking, but the funny thing is that as Designers, that’s what we’re good at doing.
Because to design is to explore, take risks and challenge, to react and adapt, and to solve or discover new meaning from new perspectives. Just ask Apple, Volvo or Alessi who continuously find new ways to create added utility or meaning by adding new overlays — emotional or technological — that customers didn’t know they wanted; remember, no customer ever asked for an iPod, seat belts or singing kettles. That’s real design based on insight as creative currency to forge new perspectives or reframe existing ones, not packaging or aesthetics, and the less critical thinking and creative exploration we do, the more we continuously homogenise design.
So what do we do?
Too many Designers are missing the theory, prior knowledge and connections that just aren’t articulated in the Double Diamond, so we need to find a better way to illustrate our design values: insight and perspective, critical thinking, purpose of our role and the mindsets we employ that clearly speaks to design thinking, doing and being.
What was new is old now, and I think the time has finally come to say goodbye to the Double Diamond. We should thank it for its many years of service, it’s comforting presence, familiar structure and neat labels, it has been hugely useful and served us well. But necessity is the mother of all invention and we need to start working to a new vision that embraces who we are and how we think, not just what we do.
In the long run, we’ll be stronger and better off without it.
Kolko, Jon.,Enough design methods, 2018, http://www.themoderniststudio.com/2018/05/28/enough-design-methods/
Verganti, Roberto., One size does not fit all innovation, 2010 https://hbr.org/2010/04/one-size-does-not-fit-all-in-i
Norman, Don.A.,Verganti, Roberto., Why criticism is good for creativity, 2019https://hbr.org/2019/07/why-criticism-is-good-for-creativity