Over the last couple of months, I’ve been part of a project to use human-centred design processes to approach challenges in Higher Education (HE). This was a big project, looking at institution-wide challenges and what could be developed to address them. We gathered volunteers across the University and asked them to work with us on identifying problems or challenges. We then considered what success looks like outside of HE and what solutions are needed in HE. Finally, we developed prototype solutions to identify how those issues could be addressed. These processes are primarily based on The Design Council’s (2019) Double Diamond (see below). The Double Diamond is a visual representation of the design process and is used to help ensure projects design the right thing and design things right (Ball, 2019).
The Double Diamond
Working through the Double Diamond leads you through two sets of divergent thinking to dream big – before using two sets of convergent thinking to bring back towards the issue at hand. This avoids the tendency for projects to identify one solution and fudge it until it works. Thinking through the Double Diamond puts people first, allowing a human-centred approach to design. The first diamond works towards identifying a design brief, while the second diamond develops and pilots solutions that eventually support an outcome. It can be argued that this is the heart of the design process.
These Double Diamonds of divergent and convergent thinking represent the four stages of design: discovery, define, develop and then deliver. These Double Diamonds sit between the challenge and the solution, leading teams from the problem to the outcome.
Discover focuses on questioning the problem or challenge. This focuses on dreaming big with the use of divergent thinking. Here, ideas can absolutely run wild – often, the crazier, the better. In our own project, one team developed a substantial monorail system to link the University to local communities. While we’re not going to build a monorail – it is a fantastic synonym of a wider problem. This all leads to the next stage: define.
The second phase takes the findings of the discover phase and uses convergent thinking to synthesise and make sense of them. The end goal is a design brief that summarises and defines the problem. This clearly identifies the challenges and is used in the second diamond to work towards solutions. Using the monorail example led to a cohesive and condensed design brief that identified a challenge with connection and transport.
This phase can also identify further challenges that may link back to further discovery phases.
The third phase takes the design briefs and develops multiple solutions for them. This is another phase of divergent thinking, allowing that big-dreaming – but within the scope of the brief. At this phase, the different solutions will be prototyped and tested. This doesn’t have to be a real-world trial – but can involve mapping the solution and testing it with colleagues and service users.
The final phase of the double diamond works to deliver the outcome. This phase uses convergent thinking to take one of the solutions forwards. This will eventually become the launched solution to whatever problems, issues or challenges have been identified.
This phase can identify the need for alternative solutions that link back to further phases of development. It can also redirect back to the very start if it identifies other challenges that require the full process again. As such, the Double Diamond can be cyclical, re-directing back to earlier phases where required.
From challenge to outcome with The Double Diamond
The below diagram brings together the phases discussed above. While there are multiple representations of The Double Diamond (Ball, 2019), you will notice they are all based on the principles written above. I’ve kept this visual simple, documenting the core steps and links forwards/back.
Conclusion: Using The Double Diamond in Higher Education
The Double Diamond processes worked perfectly for our project. This was something that was largely linked to our digital and physical estate – but I am interested to see how this can be used elsewhere in our institution. These processes put people first – and there is significant potential for expanding this. I’m particularly interested in how this could support curriculum design. Our institution uses some excellent curriculum design frameworks, but this often misses that broader discovery phase. Programme teams may look at similar programmes of study, but we rarely go beyond. For me, the crux of the potential is this:
How often do we ask ‘What does an excellent educational experience look like?’ – thinking beyond the confines of Higher Education or our existing programmes of study.
This would allow us to look to schools, colleges, apprenticeships, coaches, training companies, MOOC providers and all other forms of education to learn from them. As a school governor, I often see excellent things happening in Primary and Secondary education that we could learn from. These experiences are had by our students in their early forms of education – and I often think HE isn’t ready to meet the expectations these set. Part of the problem is that programme teams are not responsible for the broader educational facilities and experiences that require development to meet some of these challenges. This would require a different mode of whole-university support for programme design, requiring different management forms, development and financial accounting.
Ball, J. (2019) The Double Diamond: A universally accepted depiction of the design process. Design Council. Available online: https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/our-work/news-opinion/double-diamond-universally-accepted-depiction-design-process [Accessed 20/08/2022]
The Design Council (2019) Framework for Innovation: Design Council’s evolved Double Diamond. Design Council. Available online: https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/our-work/skills-learning/tools-frameworks/framework-for-innovation-design-councils-evolved-double-diamond/ [Accessed 20/08/2022]