When we use ambiguous language to describe design, we make designing even harder. Design projects can be full of ambiguity, particularly when they’re focused on innovation. I’ve recently written about the limitations of the double diamond and suggested some alternative models. I argued that the Double Diamond is a good place to start when you’re talking about the fundamentals of design. But sometimes you might need different language to communicate the most useful information. This article is about how I explored evolving the Double Diamond to explain a process for innovation and new product development.
Is innovation different to design?
When I discussed alternatives to the Double Diamond, I mentioned the danger of design “collapsing” and not meaning very much. I’ve also faced this problem when talking about “discovery” — at least partially because of the Double Diamond. I’m being asked more and more often to design and facilitate “discovery” processes that use design thinking to originate new ideas and test them with people… people have called this request “do some discovery” — for some people that means doing the first quarter of the design process. For others, they’re expecting the team to work through an entire process, from identifying and framing problems through to testing with real people. So I now add confusion over the term “discovery” to the limitations of the Double Diamond.
I suspect even if your audience isn’t familiar with the Double Diamond, you might still face challenges when you talk about discovery. And I suspect, if you’re a design leader, you often need to talk about how design can identify and exploit new opportunities.
Volatility, uncertainty and the rate of internal and external change mean that most organisations need some mechanism for managing new ideas and creative responses to disruption. This work is challenging. It deals with new ideas. Plans and processes often need to be more flexible and adaptable. And it often results in “failure”. So even if you’re doing the smart type of failure where you’re systematically ruling out ideas rather than creating solutions, this work comes with communication challenges.
When leaders can’t see, understand or “rely” on a discovery process, it creates doubt. They’re less likely to invest, and when they do make investments they feel riskier. Being unclear on “discovery” makes investment in innovation processes less likely. And without a shared understanding of how best to navigate this type of work, teams are faced with inventing their process as well as generating answers to the brief they’re handed. They’re forced to answer too many what and how questions at the same time. That’s inefficient and unhealthy. It places teams under pressure which reduces the chance of them making creative breakthroughs. There are therefore multiple benefits to intentionally shaping language around these activities.
I think the Double Diamond does a good job of introducing the idea of design as process. But I suspect the model needs a type of ‘specialisation’ or elaboration to translate it to your organisation and context, particularly if you want design to address strategic challenges. So, I’ve spent some time thinking about how to build on top of the Double Diamond. This augmentation should make the language around design more specific, practical and able to address the most important strategic questions you face.
How do you shape the language of discovery?
With that in mind, the rest of this article is about the process and considerations I went through to create an evolution of the Double Diamond for my context — specifically innovation, discovery and new product development. I created a tool that might be useful for other people — and I will share the practical details and a toolkit in the future — but this article is not that, it’s about the thinking that went into building the model and tool.
Start with stories
The Culture Web is a model created in 1992 by Gerry Johnson and Kevan Scholes. It describes the web of influences which come to together in the culture of an organisation. It’s made up of stories and myths, symbols, power structures, organisational structures, control systems and rituals and routines. Mapping these aspects of an organisation allows you to describe and intentionally shape current and future states.
I’m particularly interested in stories and how storytelling provides the analogical underpinning and motivation to enact the more concrete elements of the web. Without the sense-making and motivating layer, the more concrete aspects of organisational design are likely to fail. I think of this as part of the information architecture and sense-making structure that people occupy within an organisation.
The Double Diamond is well-established language with the team I was working with, so I wanted to create something that built on and extended this story and symbol. I also wanted to add more concrete elements to provide more direction for aligning activities and expectations.
Interviews — collect concepts and metaphors that move people
I talked to people about their experiences doing “discovery” and listened carefully for consistent metaphors. I kept hearing the same ideas repeated:
- The need for scaffolding and support
- Exploration, getting lost and making progress
- Expeditions and returning to safety (basecamps)
I also heard people talk about different types of “discovery”:
- Pre-discovery — there are lots of activities that support effective discovery. These include resource planning, logistics, team formation and onboarding. But, I think these come before the process…
- Opportunity discovery finds needs, behaviours and insights through exploring data and research.
- Generative idea discovery generates answers to “what if…” and “how might we…” questions — potential solutions to problems.
- Desirability discovery takes ideas and interrogates whether they address actual needs… it includes more experimentation and validation.
- Evaluative discovery asks what would happen if we did this, including finding ethical, practical and financial impacts through reflection and analysis.
I started by playing with these ideas and the Double Diamond. I wanted to avoid the implication of linearity, so I broke it apart and reorganised the pieces. I also considered how I could re-label these parts to describe a discovery process and avoid the ambiguity of reusing that term. I made a new shape and discovered I can still talk about convergence and divergence. There’s an obvious connection to the Double Diamond. But it’s also reminiscent of the multi-path exploration in Zenko mapping.
By folding the shape, I then created a three-dimensional, tactile object. The three-dimensional shape gave me a richer set of relationships between surfaces and edges which I can label with types of activity and begin to build the concrete stages and activities of a discovery process. The model operates at multiple levels of abstraction — allowing me to talk at a high level about the differences between sensemaking and difference-making (an evolution of the distinction between first and second diamond) right down to specific types of activities we might undertake to complete a discovery project.
If you’re interested in the using this, I’ll be sharing a “tent toolkit” online soon — you can sign up for that here.
The metaphor — ‘Expeditions’
Discovery feels like an expedition. It has the risk and the thrill of exploration. During ‘Discovery” teams need moments of safety and places of reliability. They often need to re-locate and re-orient as they navigate unfamiliar terrain and make discoveries. This model creates a tent or temporary structure to house the discovery process. Together the scaffolding-like frame, the structure of set activities and accompanying “canvas” creates a reliable, stable but impermanent frame which allows teams to mark boundaries and make discoveries.
Intentional mode switching
You can step down from this metaphor to consider the “mindsets” and skillsets required in discovery. Rotating the structure allows the team to “face” and adopt one of the primary “modes” or types of discovery thinking I identified through interviews:
Colour-coding differentiates the modes. Modes might be “owned” or led by different disciplines. Considering this helps establish roles, responsibilities and accountability for different activities and improves multidisciplinary collaboration.
Transitioning between activities — choosing what to do next…
Each surface has three sets of activities associated with that mode — labelled on each edge. These help to standardise practice and answer some of the “what” and “how” questions missing from the Double Diamond. These are supported by a “playbook” of specific tools or techniques.
As you rotate the shape, activities across different modes provide fresh perspectives and areas of focus to unstick a team when progress becomes slower. To identify the smoothest transition between modes, one activity is always more easily readable than the others — it’s on the bottom edge of the shape and is horizontal. The other activities are at an angle, indicating that a bigger shift in perspective is required to switch to this type of thinking and activity.
This physical manipulation and reorientation of the shape forces teams into conscious decision making and communication around where they are in their process and what they might do next. The tactile shape also introduces and reinforces the importance of making, prototyping and playing with ideas — team members experience how a physical representation can communicate an idea more clearly than static words and pictures.
Stepping in and out of the process
This final layer I introduced was placing the “tent” shape onto a project canvas. The canvas allows the team to collect the outputs of the activities that the shape suggests.
Placing the “tent” on the canvas forces the team to choose which modes they’re operating within. Each mode helps populate specific sections of the canvas. The canvas provides a structured set of recommendations and prescriptions for activities and outputs. A stackable area in the canvas collects hypotheses and assumptions which can be “over-written” and updated to re-orient and re-direct the team. The physical act of moving the object encourages more conscious and visible decisions about where the team is in the process.
Trade-offs and intentional choices
This ”tent” idea might not be right for you. But it addresses the issues I was having in talking about ‘design’ and specifically ‘discovery’. If I were the type of person who enjoys a torturous pun, I’d say that I’m most delighted that this approach makes decisions about what to do next much more intentional. It extends the language you have so that you’re not limited to saying “which diamond are we in?” You can now address more specific discussions about progress and where there are still discoveries to be made.
I’m a design leader and creative director. The only way I can lead and direct is if I have a sense of where a team is and where they should be going. If I need to be directive to a team, I need to be able to communicate with clarity and give directions that will be understood. If I adopt a more coaching style, I need a shared language so that I can ask questions, provide prompts and unlock potential. Both styles of direction and leadership rest on the language I’m able to shape and share in the team I’m leading. And when I’m “selling” the role that design can play in an organisation, the language I use needs to be consistent across different levels of abstraction so that the thing I describe matches the things that other leaders see. That’s why I think you need to put conscious thought into the ways you describe design in your organisation and shape your language to meet your needs and context.
If you’re interested in the tent toolkit which includes templates, canvas, playbook and facilitators guide please express your interest here.