The Double Diamond Design Process In Innovative Education

With greater attention being paid to Design Thinking in Secondary Education, you may have heard of a number of tools and processes being introduced into classrooms with the objective of arming students with the skills to thrive in the 21st Century. One such process is the Double Diamond Design Process. So what is it and how can it be used in the classroom? 

When asking students, teachers and the public what 'design' is, a common answer tends to focus on design as a finished product (people often imagine 'designer' products, which they sometimes describe as expensive and exclusive, typically with a celebrity name attached). Yet, in many instances design could much better be described as a process, rather than an end product

Design Thinking is the name given to this process of creative problem solving. Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo (a design firm leading in this field) describes Design Thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.

The double diamond diagram was originally developed through in-house research at the Design Council in 2005 as a simple graphical way of describing the design process. The diagram below was adapted by Tom Allen for the Jump Start program and is used throughout the program to guide students on their problem solving journey.


Understanding the Double Diamond Design Process for use in the Classroom


The Problem Space

Students begin by focussing on getting an in depth understanding of a problem. Any problem can be addressed, whether that be waste, transport, homelessness, inefficiencies in hospitals, education challenges, obesity, indigenous disadvantage or unemployment; there is certainly no shortage of issues we can improve upon and create opportunities for. At the beginning, students can use a variety of tools and research to begin to understand the problem. Both primary and secondary data is important in order to begin to see and understand the problem for themselves.

In a nutshell, it's in this phase that we want to build empathy with those we are designing for. Going out to visit those affected (and those who may provide support/services where the problem exists), making observations, experiencing the problem for themselves through immersion (obviously this depends on the problem at hand), gathering research and obtaining insights is part of the first phase of divergent thinking. At this stage, journey mapping can be a very useful tool and one which can be revisited as students progress with their solutions.


Students then use convergent thinking as they enter the definition phase. They begin to make sense of the data they've collected, analysing and synthesising their observations, looking for points of tension and continuing to build empathy with the users they are designing for. It's here that students begin to re-define the problem at hand and create clear objectives. The problem should be more specific now and by the end of this phase, students should be much more confident in understanding some of the key factors which form part of the problem. 


The Solution* Space

Before entering the solution space, student's should be encouraged to come up with 'how might we....' questions. These questions will help guide students during the solution space and if framed properly are very effective in creating innovative ideas.

Now that students have a strong problem definition (or in many cases re-definition), they then enter the solution space, which begins by using a range of divergent thinking tools to respond creatively to the problem. A creative process of conceptualisation, brainstorming, idea generation and co-design allows students to think broadly about how the problem could be tackled. A broad, diverse range of solutions should be ideated at the beginning of this process. Try to encourage students to come up with many ideas rather than falling in love with one of their ideas from the beginning. Using the business model canvas and value proposition canvas can be highly effective tools in helping to conceptualise and develop ideas, especially towards the middle of this phase.


With a large range of ideas on the table, students use convergent thinking to iterate, prototype and test their ideas. A variety of methods can be used during this process, from role play and storyboarding to getting real feedback from end users. In rapid learning loops, students learn from their successes and failures, test their business models and work towards coming up with tried and tested solutions that create positive impact.

Jump Start gives students a lens through which they can confidently tackle problems and creatively respond with innovative solutions. A blend of the ‘double diamond’ design process with a range of lean start-up, business modelling and social enterprise tools are taught in order for student solutions to be as successful as possible. Students pitch their ideas, gain confidence in public speaking and have the opportunity to crowdfund and launch their ideas via platform like Pozible.

*In Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving, Jon Kolko states that 'solutions to wicked problems can be only good or bad, not true or false. There is no idealised end state to arrive at, and so approaches to wicked problems should be tractable ways to improve a situation rather than solve it.'

Tom Allen (of Strategic Design Consultancy Seven Positive) is an experienced educator and design strategist. He lectures at leading universities in entrepreneurship and design, consults in the field and has implemented successful programs and workshops into schools and tertiary education. Get in touch if you'd like to collaborate or learn more.