Over 20 years ago Steve Jobs uttered the words, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.” Some point to this moment as the birth of Design Thinking or Human-Centered Design.
Humans have practiced thoughtful approaches to identifying and resolving problems since the stone age. However the conversation is getting a bit muddled. Design luminaries are calling the whole thing “a fad”, “a waste of time”, or simply, “bullsh*t”.
Thankfully, our friends from What Could Be joined us to set the record straight. With their professional experience going back to the 80s, the five members of this UK-based design group have contributed materially to the foundation of modern design through their work with, amongst others LUMA Institute and the Design Council, including contributions to the creation of the now ubiquitous “Double Diamond” model.
“At the heart of Design Thinking is the design process itself,” shares David, “One particular model of the design process that you may have heard of, and is dear to our hearts, is the Double Diamond from the Design Council.” And it was WCB team member Jonathan Ball that was on a small team there asked by the then Director of Design Richard Eisermann, “How might we describe the design process?” Richard knew of design process models that conveyed its divergent and convergent qualities but they were not widely adopted. He wanted the Design Council to make these more popular and accessible.
The team deconstructed the many methods used across numerous design-led projects. David illuminates, “They saw similarities, patterns and repeatable characteristics emerging. Their findings enabled them distill and combine the simple elements in the design process irrespective of methods or tools used.”
The Double Diamond is widely used and referenced, but as David says, “...we think it’s occasionally misunderstood and mis-applied. Many knew ‘what’ it is, but were less clear on ‘why’ it is, which can really help when making use of it.”
Here we see the classic “Double Diamond” shape. Two, equal-sized diamonds that represent a pair of divergent and convergent design dialogs.
The point WCB makes is this, “It shouldn’t be interpreted literally…it’s a model to help us communicate, understand and navigate."
There may be projects that have no diamond at all - you know what the problem is and how to solve it. David compares these “straight-line” projects to Eddie Obeng's “Paint-by-the-numbers” projects (which refer to the hobby kits requiring one to simply put the prescribed color into pre-defined outlines to complete the artwork): those with high degrees of certainty around what the problem or objective is and how to address it.
There may still be opportunities, between the stage-gates, to experiment, but largely the effort required executes along a well-understood path. Which is absolutely fine if that’s appropriate.
A project might place emphasis on only the second diamond.
In this case, a brief step back into first diamond to make certain that focus is being placed on the right problem before moving into the second diamond where more time is spent exploring potential solutions, being deliberately more divergent in our thinking.
Alternatively, below we see a project where activity is mainly in the first diamond. Here the emphasis is on research and problem framing. Opportunities for many proposed solutions, that are simple to execute and may not have been considered otherwise, come from taking the time in the first diamond.
These helpful insights David revealed about the Double Diamond demonstrate its flexibility. For example, if you were to attempt to draw a given project’s diamonds to scale, they might look like this...even then, you’d have to add feedback loops, gaps in time or additional diamonds to create something that more closely resembled reality.
The Double Diamond is a visual convenience, not a mandatory, prescriptive process with a rigid shape. That’s the domain of straight line, waterfall like projects, where certainty is high.
So then, how do you know what type of project you have? David simplified the approach with a 2x2 diagram that teases apart the questions of “what problem to solve” and “ “how to solve it” to provide some helpful guidance.
Essentially, if you know “what and how” then you’re probably dealing with a “straight-line” project. Just assign tasks and get on with it. If you don’t know “what or how” then you might be in need of both diamonds to help you clarify “what the problem is” and “how you might go about executing”. If you’re not clear on one of these, then it’s likely you need to spend time with the appropriate individual diamond.
Which leads us to their unique approach to design strategy using their Design Thinking Canvas.
The first step is captured in their Purpose Primer.
It begins with the opportunity the organisation thinks may be worth tackling. This leads to an initial discussion on Vision, Impact, Challenges and People. Spending time on the Purpose Primer really helps teams understand where to focus initial efforts.
“We saw an opportunity to create an artifact that could help ensure any design process always has a strategic context,” says David. “We know the word ‘canvas', without a doubt, is an overused term...but we do think it fits in terms of why our artifact exists and how it’s used.”
The four corners of the Purpose Primer become the bookends of the Design Thinking Canvas. Inside, the canvas helps guide team discussions over time to clarify “what”, “how” or both.
Along the top there is a location to capture elements of storytelling. How do we communicate about the project at various phases to our stakeholders both internal and external? Along the bottom is an area to capture the methods you will employ to advance discussion from current state to your desired outcomes. How will we deliver the project and monitor progress?
But read on for 5 tips on using the canvas, and news about how you can also obtain a digital version 🎉
Tip #1: Use the canvas to guide a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis.
Tip #2: Doing a purpose primer is a quick exercise that helps with alignment before too much time is burned in absence of asking these fundamental questions.
Tip #3: Take time to work out the type of project you have. Ask, “Why are we doing this?” and push for clarity and alignment. Also useful to evaluate entire portfolios of projects.
Tip #4: Select the appropriate methods to support your work. There are wonderful ones from LUMA Institute, and MURAL has many templates available, too. Use whatever best supports your project.
Tip #5: Treat it like a living document that you visit, update and post on the wall for all to see.
There you have it. Instead of a rigid design process, the Double Diamond's true value is in its flexibility. What’s more, instead of an isolated thought experiment for designers, the Design Thinking Canvas encapsulates an ongoing series of conversations from your first moment of inspiration to your product or service launch.
⭐️ Now it’s your turn! Download a PDF version from What Could Be, or click below to start a digital session using this exclusive MURAL template👇
✋ But wait, there’s more! The WCB team has been working on additional templates to help MURAL customers adopt the canvas. If you’d be interested in knowing when these additional templates are available, let us know.
🙌 Thanks to David Townson, Jonathan Ball and Justin Knecht from What Could Be for sharing their years of experience with us!
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About the authors
Head of Services
Mark, MURAL's Head of Services, has more than 25 years of experience leading creative teams and delivering high-impact solutions at scale for clients including Autodesk, Inc. and Wells Fargo Bank. *Ask him about his rockstar days.