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Does following a design formula help or hinder?

Posted on 16/07/2018

First in a series of articles looking at five key insights from KTN’s recent Break Through Innovation Event.

This article forms part of a series of articles looking at five key insights from KTN’s recent Break Through Innovation Event which examined the principles of human-centred strategic design and the challenges facing companies wanting to take design on board in the early-stages of innovation.  This first article in the series focuses on The unexpected challenges and solutions created by human centred design strategy. 

Duncan Fitzsimons, 7th Design and Invention

The double diamond can be limiting if followed too closely or too chronologically.

During the ‘Break Through Innovation’ day many of the speakers referred to what is known as the double diamond design process in their presentations. This four-phase model was mapped out by the Design Council and is a useful tool for showing how the stages of strategic design work. The first diamond has two phases, ‘discover’ and ‘define’, and the second diamond has two phases, ‘develop’ and ‘deliver’. With design being a multi-faceted discipline, that can confuse people with its breath and depth, the double diamond provides a framework to refer to, for those being introduced to strategic design for the first time. It is understandable that the companies funded by the Design Foundations initiative would anchor their design experiences around this model.

The Design Foundations projects have been about identifying new innovation opportunities, which has involved challenging and researching the initial business proposition. As Ben Swan from Immaterial neatly outlined, their objective was to find ways of scaling their metal organic frameworks technology (MOFs). To do this they needed to research, “Where are the markets? What are the industries? What are the applications? Who are the stakeholders and beneficiaries? Who is going to fund it?” All of these questions relate to the discover and define phases of the first diamond.

Eunice Baguma Ball and Stav Bar-Shany, from the Africa Technology Business Network, also outlined how their ‘discover and define’ research lead them to find new insights around the barriers preventing people investing in the tech sector in Africa. In Nairobi, they discovered there is a shortage of seed funding for early stage start-ups. In Accra, they discovered a fragmented ecosystem that needs policy to drive it forward. In London, they discovered the barrier to entry was investors lacking information and access to vetted investment opportunities due to the high costs of sourcing and due diligence. All of this newly gained information enabled them to create a digital innovation hub with knowledge partners, connecting investors and tech hubs, that could assist with these challenges.

Simon Kampa, from Senseye, explained how through the first diamond ‘discover and define’ process they discovered their technology for reducing the downtime in factories, “wasn’t being used in the way we expected.” Using the human-centred design approach the team were then able to create “empathy maps”, which helped them understand how to make the software easier to use. Simon explained that their usual approach would have been to just “get more data scientists on board” Instead, he says, “we tried to make UX better and accept the world is noisy”.

So, are there any issues with following the double diamond protocol to the letter? “The design process is generic, it can be applied to anything” says, Gianpaolo Fusari. And he’s right, as we can see from the previous three examples making use of strategic design in very different sectors. However, the important thing to note is that design is not always straightforwardly linear. There are twists and turns. “This is the catch 22 of the design process” Duncan Fitzsimons pointed out, “how do you think about things in parallel?”

John Denton from Golant Media Ventures asked in the Q&A section, “How can the timeline of double diamond be adjusted to give ideas more time to breathe?” Both Adrian Westaway and Robbie Bates gave their responses to this question. “How to proportion double diamond is up to you”. Adrian advises, “If you are digging deep into the research you can give yourselves more time”. Robbie went on to say, “The double diamond makes the design process feel linear, but design is more agile than that. The timeline can vary, depending on where you’re starting on the project”.

In summary, it’s good to be flexible and work on phases in parallel if necessary. However, Taryl Law’s challenge to the process still remains, “A lot of businesses are only looking at the second diamond of the double diamond model, because often nobody pays for the first half. Micro-businesses can’t exploit the outcomes [of the design process] in a traditional way due to tight time and funding”.

Thanks to the Design Foundations programme, 93 businesses have been able to invest time and energy into the first diamond. As a result, they have been able to adapt, expand and refine their offers, making their products more user-friendly, and finding more precision about which markets to target. These are all considerable advantages for any business.

Read More about the Insights:

1. Does following a design formula help or hinder?

2. Does success depend on the size of the business?

3. What does it mean to have your ideas challenged?

4. Why does transparency matter in the design process?

5. What is the true benefit of an external perspective?