The Double Diamond method: its history and current uses

As we venture further into unchartered territories in our rapidly changing business environment, we might be surprised to find that the landscape is largely unstructured. Many of today’s most exciting innovations require design thinking elements to shape the governing ideas that surround how things work now.

Think of Netflix, one of the best examples of a company that essentially disrupted the video entertainment industry in the new decade. They had originally started as a mail-in video subscription service that adhered to many of the structures surrounding the industry. But through clever design and insight leverage, they were able to introduce an entirely new business segment in online streaming that gave them the reins as one of the most successful companies in the world.

But no one had done what they had done before (at least to the same level of success). How then did they navigate such unexplored and unknown territories? For this article, we will introduce one framework which might help you start mapping out the different aspects of a specific project: the double diamond method.

What Are Design Frameworks?

If you’ve read a few of our articles recently, you may have noticed us introducing many different types of frameworks for you to use. These frameworks help you develop and manage your projects in either a more visual, more efficient, or more collaborative sense.

Going beyond established norms will then greatly benefit from frameworks as you’re likely going to be prototyping and testing different possible solutions to an equally diverse number of possible problem focuses. Frameworks provide you with that basic structure to better understand your focus on a particular problem and create a map of how you arrived at its particular solution.

Frameworks, despite their usefulness, aren’t required by any means. But saying that frameworks aren’t required in a particular situation is like saying you don’t need a map for certain places you want to travel to. If it’s your usual daily commute or someplace you frequent often, you’re likely not going to need a detailed map to get there. But if you’re traveling somewhere foreign or an area you have little experience in, then having that “unnecessary” map will definitely almost feel like a requirement.

Each framework’s effectiveness will be highly situational, so assessing how a particular method will fit in your given context is absolutely critical in mining its potential benefits.

How Does the Diamond Method really work?

There are many different frameworks that you can utilize for your design thinking project, such as Interaction Design Foundation’s 5-Stage Design Thinking Process or Inside Designs’ 5-Key Steps to project ideation. For this article, we will look at Design Council UK’s popular double diamond method, which uses a 4-stage ideation process that converges on three different specific points of focus.

Launched in 2004, the double diamond method uses a highly visual and easy-to-understand model that has since been used in different industries as a way to take advantage of divergent-convergent thinking exercises. Design Council UK itself has been at the forefront of designing better solutions for different businesses, NGOs, governments, and other independent organizations in an effort  “to promote by all practicable means the improvement of design in the products of British industry”. Their organization understands the importance of design thinking in relation to the everyday user of equally everyday products, and as such has continued to develop the double diamond method to reflect changes in industry understanding.

Processes in the Double Diamond Method

The double diamond method can be understood as a way to begin expanding upon initial ideas, what Psychologist J.P. Guilford calls “divergent thinking”, which then gets condensed towards more focused ideas through a process known as “convergent thinking”. The former problem allows you to practice different elements of lateral thinking to develop alternative solutions beyond what might have been initially apparent upon surface analysis. After exploring different possible pathways toward a solution, you then work toward analyzing and evaluating each possible option to arrive at a singular directional focus.

The double diamond method is then split into two main stages, applying divergent and convergent theories twice in its entire framework. The first stage has to do with “Discovering” and “Defining”, which are the divergent and convergent aspects of exploring the boundaries of the initial problem and defining it down to a specific problem statement. You then expand once more by “Developing” possible solutions and “Delivering” the most applicable and effective one.

How to approach the Double Diamond methodology 

The double diamond design methodology is a process that requires a good understanding of skills and expertise between team members and relevant stakeholders. This means a high level of collaboration is expected out of this strategy, which will be further bolstered if different team members represent different areas of the project itself (such as marketing, finance, creatives, etc). The more complex your project is, the more integral it is to include different perspectives that can enrich the discussion.

In terms of execution, you’ll want to prepare at least a few sessions to get through the entire framework without having to keep people locked into any workshop for too long. Around two to four different sessions should be sufficient, splitting the framework either into the two diamond phases or into each of the four main phases to explore.

You’ll also want to utilize visual aspects when you can to better organize people’s thoughts in a dynamic yet easy-to-understand way. An online platform that can manage live collaboration can be useful for teams that are located remotely, as well as to include other stakeholders that might not be located in the same office as you.

1 - The Initial Problem and Discovering

The first aspect to start off with is the initial problem statement. It’s likely here that you will be utilizing rough initial problem statements that your team has been tasked with solving. These can be items such as “How to improve customer satisfaction” or “How to grow market share”. These types of problem statements are generally vague and offer no exact boundaries to the possibilities you can utilize to solve them.

As such, you’ll want to begin your discovering phase, which essentially tasks you with exploring the different aspects of your problem statement to see if you can get to the root cause of whatever is causing that initial problem.

A useful technique here is to define the initial problem statement as a more focused “Why”, such as “Why is my customer satisfaction down” or “Why am I losing out on market share”. This practice is called elaborative thinking, which has been studied by pedagogical experts as a way to deepen an individual's understanding of the different dimensions of a problem by simply asking “why”.

Other similarly useful techniques would be utilizing mind maps, which help visually lay out your main ideas into different related terms and concepts. Mind maps are simple to use and flexible enough to be utilized in many different scenarios. If all else fails, a standard brainstorming session regarding the problem at hand can work just as well. Don’t forget to utilize secondary research sources as a way to further bolster your understanding of the problem.

2 - The Problem Definition

Defining is an integral part of this first diamond process, as it essentially begins focusing your perspective on particular aspects of the problem. Here, you need to invest your time and resources in sifting through the different data points and insights you’ve gathered so far.

Identify here where the key problem elements are, such as bottlenecks or inefficiencies in resource utilization. Measure the different impacts of your chosen discovery points to better analyze whether a particular topic will be the focal point of your discussion.

This is also an opportunity to define what isn’t going to be the focus of your project. This can take the form of a list of items that your team will decide not to tackle due to practicality, resource constraints, lack of control, or all of the above. It’s key here that everyone understands the context of the project at hand so that you all can properly start defining the project scope on the same page. Ideally, you arrive at a more concise problem definition at the end of the defining stage, which can be a guiding foundational statement that informs your subsequent diamond’s focus points. An example of focusing on a customer satisfaction problem would be “How can we improve customer experience in-store in an effort to improve their overall satisfaction”.

3 - Developing the Solution

Think of the development phase as the actual time in which your project team begins designing a potential solution to the problem. Designers often think this section marks the official “design process” start, which follows as we initially spent the first diamond properly defining the scope of the problem before even attempting the solution.

Solutions at this stage will require a lot of multi-disciplinary collaboration efforts. You’ll need to rope in engineering teams, design teams, finance managers, brand leaders, and more to arrive at an adequate solution base. The importance of cross-collaboration here is to ensure that the proper resources and capabilities are understood throughout the organization, lest you run into a speed bump down the road that hinders your solution.

Several alternative solutions can be explored at this stage and testing is an expected reality that will take up time and resources. As Microsoft so explicitly said in a 1988 internal email to their employees, they must “eat their own dog food”, meaning that the items they develop at this stage need to be tested by the developers themselves so that they can be properly put into their shoes.

4 - Delivering and Final Solution Iteration

The Delivering stage is interesting as it is here that you actually begin releasing early build versions or iterations of your product at large. You may want to include here some final testing procedures to ensure the proper delivery of the product to your intended audience. But it’s here that you will truly begin to get feedback about your product from your market of choice.

A key skill here is to know how to “listen”, and this includes listening between the lines for what consumers are really feeling about the change or new product iteration. Depending on the type of feedback, consumers might be indicating another issue entirely in an indirect manner.

The goal here is to arrive at your final solution iteration, which will be progressively defined as you continue your convergent thinking toward your final product state. After this point is reached, any developments should be incremental in nature rather than complete overhauls or changes to integral systems.

The evolution of the Double Diamond Method: Adding new principles 

Even the double diamond method isn’t impervious to improvements over time. In the past few years, the Design Council UK has revisited the model to include 4 additional factors that can shape the success of the framework, outlined as Engagement, Design Principles, Method Banks, and Leadership.

Engagement: Build relationships

Engagement is an often overlooked aspect of collaborative efforts and is integral in getting people to work together on a particular subject. Ensure that you spend enough time to build relationships with those around you to get the best types of inputs needed for your projects as well as support your initiatives with the required resources.

Design Principles: Be focused on collaboration

Design principles were introduced in the framework to further guide design thinkers in how to approach the two diamonds. It’s laid out in People, Communication, Collaboration, and Iteration.

Essentially, you need to better understand the people you are attempting to service, internalizing their needs, strengths, and even aspirations. Next, you need to focus on how you will communicate these benefits to your customers to ensure that their problems are heard and validated.

Collaboration here extends past the internal teams you’re developing the product with but towards external forces and stakeholders that have a say in how the product is to be used and managed. Lastly, don’t be afraid to spot errors early and build upon them through different iterations.

Method Banks: Understand other activities

Method banks here explain the Design Council UK’s categorization of different activities that can help identify problems and successfully address them. It’s laid out in a three-stage process, focusing on Exploring, Shaping, and Building.

Leadership: Getting support from others

Lastly, you want to ensure you have enough support from those whose decisions carry with them great weight. This includes your managerial board, your supervisors, and even executives higher up in the organization. Recent developments in the industry require that leaders must also be agile and inclusive when it comes to the types of ideas they support and develop.

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