The Double Diamond Design Process Model is an excellent tool for describing the process of designing products. It was published as part of a research paper on 2005 by the British Design Council and updated in 2019 to expand the process into a broader framework.
Original Study: Eleven lessons: managing design in eleven global brands
Updated Framework: What is the framework for innovation?
Double Diamond Overview
In 2005, the British Design Council created the process mode to describe the work that designers were doing. The impact was to provide some clarity to what many felt was a sometimes unfocused practice that did not have a great deal of consistency across the industry.
The process was the outcome of a qualitative research study into the design departments of 11 leading companies including Lego, Microsoft, Starbucks, and Yahoo!. While the study is about design, a detailed review shows that the design process at the time was actually performed by multiple roles including Designers, Product Managers, Researchers, and Engineers.
Here are the high level attributes of the design process they uncovered.
- Two Design Spaces: Problem and Solution
- Each Design Space is characterized by Divergence and Convergence Stages
- Four Distinct Phases map to those stages: Discover, Define, Develop, and Deliver
Two Design Spaces
Divergence and Convergence Stages
The diamond shape comes from the concept of a divergence and convergence process which Bela H. Banathy defined in his 1996 book Designing Social Systems in a Changing World. In this work, Banathy describes the dynamics of a design process as going through a stage of divergent exploration and then iterating to converge and refine a specific alternative.
So, in fact, we can see this repeat on both the problem and solution. For a given triggering problem, which may be a stated problem but it may also be an idea, enhancement request, defect, goal, or an unknown – there first needs to be an exploration of that trigger. What is the problem? What contributes to the problem? What are different ways to define the problem? What possible root causes could exist for the problem?
Once the possible problems are understood, the team must refine it to a clear and focused problem definition. This is the convergence step. After which, the stages repeats but within the Solution Space. Diverge on developing multiple potential options for solving the well articulated problem. Followed by convergence around a single solution that is best fit for the problem and constraints at hand.
Four Distinct Phases of Design
Ultimately, we can see that the repeating process of divergence and convergence reflects different types of activities that happen. The result is four distinct phases of design that are:
- Discover – Market and User Research to explore the problem space
- Define – Synthesize and interpret research, clearly articulate the problem and scope
- Develop – Identify, prototype, iterate, and test potential solutions to the defined problem
- Deliver – Select a design alternative, guide engineering through design details until it is ready to be released
At each of these phases in design, it should be evident that different practices and expertise may be required in order to achieve the best results.
For example: Deep market research expertise may be needed in the first phase, while skills in creating mock-ups dominate the develop phase.
Product Team Role in Design Process
Just as different tools are required throughout the phases of design, it should also be clear that there is ample opportunity for the cross functional product team to collaborate throughout. This is why it matters for Product Managers to understand this common process model.
From the beginning it is often the Product Manager that decides what Problem (triggering input) the team should be spending their time on to begin with. Once this decision has been made, they will often have a significant role in both phases covering the Problem Space. In fact, more often than not, I have seen these activities be led by the Product Manager with supporting expertise provided by the Designer.
The final problem definition is a by-product of market research, user research, and understanding the business needs. Of these, Designers are usually most focused on user research activities. Engineering most often plays a key role in defining the original problem if it is a technical one.
Once into the Solution Space, this tends to be led by the Designer with significant contributions from Product Management. However, the collaboration with Engineering in the final phase is what brings the solution to life. It is in this last phase that all the small but important details must be worked out and be validated against the original problem.
Product Development Status
Another way that the Double-Diamond can be used by Product Management is to simply understand where in the development process various initiatives might stand. This can be helpful in assessing bottlenecks in the development flow and giving senior management some insight into the work in progress happening by the Product Team.
Who is responsible for the overall view of this work in progress? That can depend greatly on the organization. However, if the team is regularly aligning and collaborating effectively this information should be readily available to any of them. While you may not have a big wall poster of Double Diamond to radiate status, any team should never have more than a handful of initiatives flowing through the pipeline at a time. As such, Product Management should be able to use such a diagram to convey overall status (which phase each initiative is in) to the management team whenever necessary.
Further, if a team is running a dual-track development process efficiently, we should typically see a balanced set of initiatives across the different phases.
Double Diamond Design Process is not a process just for Designers. It is a process description for the entire product development team to leverage for understanding work in progress, the nature of work to be accomplished, and overall health of the development pipeline.
As an exercise, I recommend that you try placing your various product initiatives across the Double Diamond. Then determine who is leading or supporting in each area, along with listing out the tools and practices leveraged to be successful. My hunch is that many organizations will find that you have an uneven ability to execute across the phases. If that is the case, this will make for a great baseline to contemplate how to improve your software development process.