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Innovation&: Why the Double Diamond needs an update

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

Double Diamond

Image: The double diamond - A universally accepted depiction of the design process in Design Thinking

In the realm of design thinking, the Double Diamond model, introduced in 2004, has long served as a guiding framework coined by the British Design Council. It provides a visual representation of the design process, segmented into four phases: Discover, Define, Develop, and Deliver. While this model has proven invaluable to designers and innovators worldwide, as we advance further into the 21st century, it's increasingly evident that the Double Diamond requires an overhaul. A modest approach to optimization:

The diamond is not symmetric

The first concern demanding our attention is the symmetry within the Double Diamond. This model implies that all four phases are relatively swift and straightforward. This symmetry can be problematic when allocating resources to each phase, as in real-world innovation, the "Discover" and "Deliver" phases are more time-consuming and iterative if executed effectively. The "Define" phase typically involves analyzing and filtering the observed elements (journeys, pains, un-/underserved needs, etc.) into a well-crafted single "how might we..." challenge, using a set of decision-making rules (resource, scope, impact, market, constraints, etc.). The "Develop [ideas]" and "Deliver" phases require continual interaction with the real world to define, refine, and adapt ideas, drawings, mockups, prototypes (and often necessitate requirements engineering, particularly in tech industries), based on feedback, user needs, and evolving market dynamics.

Eureka - The diamond starts out of nowhere (and where the simmering ends)

Often, change processes signifying innovation (or transformation) are unconscious processes beneath the surface. In hindsight, the sparking moments are clearly visible, but before these moments, neither the causes nor the real problems are often clear. What also often hinders change and diminishes the spark of ideas for innovations are existing organizational structures and processes confronted with change. Presumably, the phase before discovery is more comparable to the primordial soup of single-celled organisms mutating beneath the surface of consciousness. Shifts in demand, poor financial performance, or competitive innovation activities often trigger an innovation mandate and the commencement of innovation initiatives.

The discovery phase has a long nose

Innovation doesn't adhere to a linear path. Discovering and comprehending the need for innovation can be a protracted, subconscious process. It entails extensive listening, reading, observing, and engaging with those affected by known or even unknown issues. The British Design Council recognizes that this process isn't straightforward or expeditious.

The first diamond helps people understand, rather than simply assume, what the problem is. It involves speaking to and spending time with people who are affected by the issues.

The deliver phase has a long tail

The "Deliver" phase is where practical realization occurs. It's where the finest ideas emerge from the innovation pipeline. However, this phase can possess a protracted tail, as not all ideas successfully reach the market in the emergent phase. Ideation workshops should yield an array of solutions subject to validation, from swift interviews to high-fidelity prototyping. The reality is that only a fraction of ideas will withstand this rigorous process and evolve into viable MVPs (Minimum Viable Products). This phase is pivotal for mitigating innovation risk and ambiguity before making substantial investments in development.

The diamond ends, where the show starts (and the baby is born)

Even after successfully birthing an MVP or many, the journey is far from over. An MVP may lead to short-term or isolated successes, but realizing a return on investment necessitates a growth trajectory. This requires a comprehensive growth strategy, encompassing marketing and sales efforts. Curiously, many innovations perceive marketing and sales as mere executors of a project, neglecting their role as vital sources of information and data pipelines from the very inception of the Double Diamond process. This distinction is critical to ensuring that innovation aligns with market realities and customer needs.

Minimizing complexity in visuals can lead to interpretation errors

While I am a proponent of simplifying visual complexity, the sharp tip of the second diamond compels us to consider "a" or "the" single solution that may never truly exist. The British Design Council is clear with this in their statement:

"Deliver" involves testing out different solutions at a small scale, rejecting those that will not work and improving the ones that will.

In the end, it should resemble more of a long-tailed sieve, where the non-desirable, non-feasible, and non-viable ideas fall out after the original hypothesis can be validated as incorrect through data

Un-Siloing, alignment and feedback loops

One of the primary challenges in implementing the Double Diamond model effectively is the prevalence of organizational silos. Most organizations are structured around areas of expertise, making it arduous to break down interdepartmental barriers. However, for successful adaptation and innovation, fostering collaboration and communication across these silos is imperative. Liberating experts from their specialized confines not only broadens innovation team expertise but also enhances their sensory perception. It enables them to perceive the intricacies of the broader organizational landscape, paving the way for more holistic and innovative solutions. Another challenge is the need for learning, dismissing or refining ideas with feedback loops. This is the essential base for any lean startup practices and was missing at the early beginning. The British Council has adapted its framework accordingly with its latest framework for innovation.

Conclusion - Double Diamond

In conclusion, the Double Diamond model has functioned as an invaluable tool for designers and innovators, but it is ripe for an update. Recognizing the asymmetry of the phases, acknowledging the time-consuming nature of innovation, and emphasizing post-delivery strategies can lead to more successful and sustainable innovation outcomes. Breaking down silos and nurturing feedback loops within organizations are equally pivotal for adapting to the ever-evolving innovation landscape. By addressing these issues, we can ensure that the Double Diamond continues to shine as a guiding beacon in the realm of design thinking.

Double Diamond new

Image: A humble proposal of an adapted double diamond or fish :) for a real world


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