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The double diamond design process – putting the whys before the whats

It’s easy as creatives or developers - or anyone really - to start with the ‘whats’. What can we do? What should we do? What is it we’re going to do?

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Thinking about these things is fun - I love starting new projects because I’ve had an idea about what I could do. And for companies it’s easy to prioritise delivery of a thing over the strategic impact that it may have. But by starting with ‘what’, we miss out some vital questions which must be answered first.

Developed by the Design Council, the double diamond is a simple, graphical way to describe the design process, ensuring the right questions are asked at the right time.

It splits a project into four main phases, showing the different types of thinking which should be used in each. The first two focus on deciding what the project should be about, and the last two on the outcome. Crucially, each of the four steps have equal weight: as much effort should be spent on defining a project as delivering it.

And, although every project is different, the process is flexible enough to be relevant, whether it’s creating a brand-new product or optimising a long-standing business model.

Discover

This is where we open up the project by gathering as much information as possible. About the service, the users, the company, the sector - everything.

Activities here could include market research, user interviews, questionnaires and analytics reports.

The goal of this phase is to create the project brief, and signifies the start of the actual, practical design process.

Define

This stage is where we review, filter, refine and often discard ideas from the previous phase. Findings are analysed, reframed as problems and solutions are pitched and prototyped.

Activities could include grouping user journeys into ‘epics’, writing audience personas, building proof-of-concepts and creating low resolution wireframes.

At the end of this phase you’ll likely have a good idea as to how successful the project will be, and is often the place where the decision to stop or continue is made.

Develop

This stage is where things get a bit more open again. We’ve got our clear set of problems, so we can have fun developing concepts and solutions to solve them.

Activities can include brainstorming, designing, prototyping and user testing.

Deliver

The delivery phase closes things right back down by giving our concept a solid dose of reality, taking it through sign off, final testing, production and launch. Compromises will have to be made.

However, if we’ve followed the process properly we’ll end up with a product which solves the need identified in the define stage, for the reasons set out in the discover phase.

The very last part of this phase is to collect all the lessons learned throughout the course of the project and feed it back into the discovery phase of the next one.

Further reading