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The Double Diamond And How It Fosters Innovation

Susana Binder
January 18, 2023

I don't know about you, but when I come across the word innovation, it makes me frown. I feel like the concept is hackneyed. In the last two decades (or more), it has been used widely and loosely by anybody wanting to present themselves at the forefront of progress. Which has led many to ask what is innovation anyway?

About innovation

Of course, when you start looking for an answer to this question, you find a myriad. Thus, in 2009 a group of researchers identified around 60 different definitions of the topic. And a survey conducted in 2014 found over 40. None of this is surprising as the term innovation has undergone a transformation process that has lasted more than 2000 years.

The Greeks came up with the concept sometime around 350 BC, relating it negatively to political action. Eight hundred years later (4th century), the Romans created a new word for the same idea: innovo, meaning “I renew”, which was used both positively and negatively in a political and spiritual context. It then regained an exclusively negative connotation, and during the 15th to 20th centuries, they used it to attack enemies. It also was an early-modern synonym for rebellion, revolt, and heresy. And more recently, the spread of social innovations (socialism, communism, nationalization, cooperative associations) was perceived as an assault on capitalism.

With the end of World War II (1945), the concept of innovation became accepted and started to evolve into how we know it today: People began to talk about technological product innovation, tying it to the idea of economic growth and competitive advantage.

Interestingly, this date coincides with the birth of the Design Council. Winston Churchill's wartime government created it in 1944 to tackle the biggest challenge of the time, the post-war economic recovery. Apart from this, the Design Council played an important role in establishing and implementing design as a driving force in Britain and in introducing a social and human-focused approach to design. And, of course, they created the Double Diamond around 2000.

Ok, so what is innovation today?

Sticking with the definition resulting from investigating 60 scientific papers, “innovation is the multi-stage process whereby organizations transform ideas into new/improved products, services or processes, to advance, compete and differentiate themselves successfully in their marketplace”.

As to the forms innovation can take today, they range from developing new technologies or products to introducing new business models or processes or adopting new practices or approaches to problem-solving. It can involve a single individual or a team working together and can occur in a variety of settings, including businesses, governments, and non-profit organizations.

Another layer I believe helps to find our way through the innovation maze is this nice categorization by Greg Satell. He divides the concept into Sustaining, Breakthrough, Disruptive Innovation, (and Basic Research).

Following Satell, most innovation qualifies as Sustaining: usually, we seek to get better at what we already do, want to improve existing capabilities in existing markets, and have a pretty clear idea of what problems need to be solved and what skill domains are required to solve them. Design Thinking methods are very appropriate to further this kind of innovation, according to Satell, and this is where the Double Diamond comes in.

About double diamond​

The Double Diamond is a visual representation of the design and innovation process. It's a simple way to describe the steps taken in any design and innovation project, irrespective of methods and tools used, and it offers designers and non-designers alike a structured approach to understanding and addressing complex problems and developing innovative solutions.

It breaks the design process into four stages: Discover, Define, Develop, and Deliver.

The first two phases (Discover and Define) comprise the first diamond and focus on the problem space, on “doing the right things”.

The second two phases (Develop and Deliver) form the second diamond and aim at the solution space and at “doing things right”.

Discover (divergent): This phase is about understanding the problem and the context in which it exists. It involves gathering information, identifying stakeholders, and conducting research. Ideally, it includes speaking to and spending time with people affected by the issues.

Define (convergent): This phase focuses on synthesizing the information gathered in the Discover phase and defining the problem or challenge more clearly. It involves refining (or even reframing) the design challenge and outlining the scope and outcome of the project to guide the rest of the process.

Develop (divergent): This phase encourages us to embrace diversity and experimentation and be open to exploring a wide range of potential solutions. We should seek inspiration from elsewhere and co-design with a range of people. It involves generating ideas, exploring different concepts, prototyping and testing them, and iterating the design as needed.

Deliver (convergent): This phase is about taking the final design and bringing it to market. It involves testing the product or service with users, refining it based on feedback, and launching it to the public.

If you’re interested in a breakdown of the activities that can go in each of the phase, Dan Nessler came up in 2016 with his “revamped Double Diamond”:

We know that Design Thinking methods are suited to promote Sustaining innovation (see above). Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that involves understanding user needs, generating ideas, prototyping, and testing to arrive at a solution. And the Double Diamond does just that so it’s a suitable tool for innovation processes.

The remaining question is: what aspects of the Double Diamond drive innovation?

Exploration: The Double Diamond model encourages designers and non-designers to explore multiple ideas and concepts during the divergent Discover and Define phases. This approach helps them to think creatively and consider diverse possibilities, which can lead to new and innovative solutions.

Collaboration: The Double Diamond model promotes the value of teamwork, which can help to stimulate new ideas and perspectives. Bringing together people with different backgrounds and expertise can create a more diverse and innovative culture within organizations.

Iteration: The Double Diamond model furthers the importance of testing and refining ideas during the Develop phase. This iterative process helps to identify and address problems early on and to keep improving and refining the design.

User-centered design: The Double Diamond model emphasizes understanding the needs and desires of the target audience. Thus, organizations can create innovative products and services tailored to those needs.

After all these explanations, you may ask yourself if and which well-known companies have worked with the Double Diamond. The answer is yes: known names of various industries apply this method, adapted one way or the other, to keep improving or innovating their products and services.

Some examples are Starbucks, GE HealthcareIBMAirbnb, and UberEats.

Final thoughts

Summing up, the Double Diamond helps teams to innovate by providing a systematic approach to problem-solving that supports them to stay focused and not get sidetracked while avoiding getting stuck in a narrow or linear thinking process. Simultaneously, it stimulates exploration, experimentation, and creativity by encouraging them to consider numerous potential solutions for complex problems.

On the downside, the Double Diamond can be time-consuming and may require significant resources to complete all four phases. It, furthermore, can be challenging to identify the most relevant areas to focus on in the Discover and Define phases, which can lead to an excess of information or an incomplete understanding of the problem. Additionally, the Double Diamond may not be suitable for all design projects and seems more appropriate for larger, more complex projects with a longer timeline.








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