Think Big, Think Small; problem solve like a designer


The Double Diamond design thinking framework was originally introduced by the British Design Council and has been adapted by leaders in creative thinking such as google to run creative thinking workshops and problem solving exercises. This article will look at the framework and how this can be used for a variety of problem solving situations.

Most people working in the creative or innovation industry will be familiar with the sprint process. This is a framework used almost universally by companies which need to problem solve to develop ideas and solutions. There are many variations of the standard sprint process but most follow the same five steps in some variation or other; research, define, ideate, select and test.

During the discover stage of a sprint, participants would look at gathering information which could inform insights. This could be industry knowledge, trend analysis, competitor analysis or any other research which the participants may offer insights further into the creative process.

Taking into account knowledge gained in the discover phase, the participants would then try to define a problem, challenge or area for development. In some cases they may be conducting a sprint process with a challenge already in mind. In this case, the define stage is usually spent identifying causes or barriers to change for the challenge.

Now armed with relevant knowledge and a set challenge, participants would work through a series of brainstorming sessions or creative exercises to find possible solutions to the challenge.

Once a list of ideas have been recorded, the ideas will then be filtered down based on a selection criteria. A small selection (usually only 2 or 3) ideas will be selected and these ideas will be moved into the testing phase.

During the testing process, the ideas will be prototyped and tested to check viability. Depending on the results of this phase, the ideas will either be pushed to launch or cycled back to the the Ideate phase for a re-think.

A standard sprint framework may look something like this:

While this is a widely adopted framework, this generally relies on some experience of creative thinking or innovation thinking to achieve the best results. It also favours sessions in which the desired outcome is to develop a product or service which can be sold on to a client. Although applicable, it is not as flexible for someone who is trying to address a general challenge.

As an answer to this, the double diamond framework was introduced. The Double Diamond sees the sprint process simplified into four steps; discover, define, develop and deliver. The key differentiating factor for this framework in comparison to a traditional sprint process is the representation of thinking process. The lines of the diamonds are intended to represent an opening and focusing of the mind throughout the steps. This is particularly useful when working with people who are less experienced with creative thinking. A typical double diamond framework may look something like this:

During the discover phase, participants are encouraged to approach research with an open mind. All insights are considered useful and at this point no filtering or restriction of thought should be exercised. All input is accepted and supported. Once these insights are gathered, insights are filtered and refined in the define phase in which participants are asked to focus their mind on finding a defined challenge to solve.

Once a challenge is chosen, this represents the first major milestone of the process, participants are asked to take a break and digest the challenge and it's implications. This is often done by splitting the process into two days, the first focused on the first diamond and allowing the participants to consider the challenge overnight. The second day can then be focused on developing the solution using the second diamond.

In this diamond, participants are asked to develop potential ideas and answers to the challenge. Again, this is approached with an open mind, all ideas are welcomed and discussed. Once a bank of ideas are collected, participants are then asked to focus their minds once again and select ideas they believe best address the challenge posed, this is the start of the deliver phase. Finally, participants are asked to consider the steps that would be required to deliver or implement this idea. Unlike the traditional sprint process, this does not specifically need to include prototyping or testing. The deliver process would vary depending on the challenge posed and the desired outcome.

The double diamond can be used with a team to facilitate a brainstorming session or as an individual to apply structure to thought process while addressing a challenge.

This way of thinking is common place for many people working in the creative industry. There are many variations and alternatives but the key purpose of all these processes is to provide a structured approach to unstructured thinking to develop ideas and solutions that you may not think of through a standard linear thought process. This process can be applied to business challenges, creative concept development or even personal challenges.

If you would like to know more about creative thinking frameworks or would like help facilitating a creative thinking workshop, you can contact me here for support.


I am an award-winning creative director and innovation consultant from England. I work with various creative agencies, brands and art organisations to develop and deliver break-through creative and innovation concepts.

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