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  • GK VanPatter

What STILL Got Missed

Updated: Dec 10, 2023

Welcome back NextD Journal readers. Quick post this week on the seemingly never-ending subject of Double Diamond..:-) Last week we were pinged on LinkedIn several times by friends notifying us of a UK Design Council anniversary post entitled The Double Diamond Design Process, Still Fit for Purpose? That post referenced something we published in 2017 entitled Double Diamond Method: Understanding What Was Missed (*1). We were happy to see the Design Council include reference to “What Was Missed” AND a little surprised to see the angle taken in the remainder of the anniversary post. It seemed like an opportunity to clarify some of the issues around Double Diamond was missed and instead, a different kind of picture was painted.

What we wrote in the 2017 post was primarily a call for a more cross-community awareness approach to methods design in order to help advance the subject. Methods experimentation and methods redesign can be super constructive but tends to narrow, be inbred, go round in circles and misfire if robust cross-community historical methods knowledge is absent. As practitioners and methodologists, we do see hundreds of methods being tabled online every year that often indicate such knowledge was not present. When it comes to innovation/design methods, it is not difficult to see lots of repeating starting points appearing, and even some process models that go backwards from what is already known. That kind of approach tends to work only if one remains within the echo-chamber of one’s own discipline…:-)


Believing that clarity can inform forward motion:…Happy to share a few brief observations on the UK Design Council post:

1. To quote the opening paragraph of the anniversary posting: “Let’s be clear about one thing”: Yes! Happy to do that for our readers: Neither Alex Osborn, Sid Parnes nor Bela Banathy ever proposed any two cycle models as stand-alone processes. That notion is coming from UK Design Council. Instead of muddying the waters suggesting that Design Council “did not invent Double Diamond” why not just make that clear? The two cycle Double Diamond as stand-alone process is a Design Council invention.

2. What Design Council did not invent is divergence and convergence which appears (not in two cycles) in literature and practice as early as the 1960s in the CPS (Creative Problem Solving) community inspired by the work of JP Guilford, who wrote The Nature of Human Intelligence in 1967 and The Structure of the Intellect in 1969. Guilford was closely aligned with the CPS community.

3. As embodied in the Design Council post, the design community seems to still have a difficult time understanding and embracing the notion of behaviors in methods design. We could not help but notice that 45+ years after the CPS five cycle model appeared and 20 years after Design Council two diamond model appeared there was still no mention of the term “behaviors” in the Design Council anniversary post. Once it is understood that the original intention of the diamond shapes was to graphically signal behavior shifts it is not difficult to see that there is NO design or innovation process that contains only two cycles of divergence and convergence. That has been known in the CPS community for decades but still not integrated into much of design. In this context the two-cycle Double Diamond can be considered a rather false narrative presented as methodology.


4. The design community tends to go round and round on a suite of discombobulated contradictory notions: 1. The public does not, but should, take design more seriously. 2. Process models are too structured and do not reflect what actually happens. 3. We like to dumb down our processes so they are blatant misrepresentations of what actually occurs. 4. Our processes were intended for application to small, framed challenges but surely, magically they scale to world peace sized challenges too. 5. We are deeply invested in process models that are not in sync with the expanding context of design but we won’t move away from them. That 5 part discombobulation (*2) is a real head twister that seems to cycle on and on, in part encouraged by the often slow moving, slow to adapt, graduate design academic community. Surely its important to have a sense of humor in this subject…:-)

5. No one we know is questioning the contributions of John Dewey, Herbert Simon, Donald Schon or Bela Banathy, however, none of those good folks were particularly interested in or focused on behaviors. Why not clearly state that and give credit where it is due? Behavioral considerations, behavioral orchestration within methods as skill comes from the CPS community. They happen to know a lot about the subject. As challenges scale in complexity, involving many constituents, beyond the design team itself, this know-how becomes more and more important.


6. Where is it recognized within the Design Council explanations that Banathy’s 1996 process was not actually Double Diamond? Anyone looking at the book, Designing Social Systems in a Changing World would see that Banathy had a specific process architecture in mind that was not two diamonds. Where in Design Council literature is acknowledgment of the other pieces? No question that Banathy was big on seeking differentiation, with some of his lingo like “spirals” trying a little too hard, adding confusion rather than clarity. In addition the diagrams in that book border on incomprehensible but clearly other parts, described as “Spaces” were intended for the complex context that he had in mind. Remarkably, what he seems to have had intended is a Banathy version of Sid Parne’s Five Cycle Model with Banathy calling his “Five Spaces”. Quote: “Systems design is a conceptual process that takes place in five spaces. The relational arrangement of these spaces is the design architecture. Our journey through the spaces is accomplished in five spirals”…”In the course of spiraling through the design spaces, we create and evaluate various potential design solution alternatives.” That is 5 cycles of divergence and convergence right there. In addition to his "Five Spaces”, Banathy has a list of "Five Domains” within his “Design Solution Space” noted as 1. Core Definition, 2. Specifications, 3. Functions, 4. Enabling Systems and 5. Systemic Environment. He then describes: “For each of the substantive design domains we first diverge as we create alternatives…and then converge as we evaluate” Unquote….Taken literally, Banathy has between 5 and 10 cycles of divergence and convergence there. …Suffice it to say: The two cycle Double Diamond was never intended to be the process architecture. It was not intended to be so in Parnes 1976 (*3) and not intended in Banathy 1996. So lets step back and reflect on what that means. Enormous amounts of design community energy has been expended on the two cycle model. With all of that in mind, perhaps instead of regrabbing, doubling down on a significant partial-picture misreading of the two diamond shapes, the Design Council could set the bar a little higher. Why not set the mission to figuring out and explaining publicly what the Banathy process actually was, and then proceed from there? Perhaps Design Council could ask some folks in the design community who know what they are doing methodology-wise, to objectively look at the Banathy and Design Council Double Diamond related materials. Why continue to proceed from a misreading? At what point does the misreading get course corrected?

7. Having looked at 80+ years of process design it’s not that difficult for us to see that no process creator ever intended their process to be linear. Is a compass linear? No. The central issue with Double Diamond is not fixing linearity. That’s a bit of an avoidant red herring that detracts from its central issue, the two-cycle misrepresentation. Double Diamond essentially grabs the wings off the Banathy model and leaves the fuselage behind. Clearly the loading up of the two diamonds by subsequent others with up to 12 steps, trying to make it work, signals attempts to load fuselage into the wings. No wonder folks are confused! In the CPS community, in high contrast, it was learned/known by the early 1960s that beyond divergence and convergence more of a fuselage/container was going to be needed. Much has been advanced since then.


8. One of the many things that can be learned from the CPS community is that process can be viewed as “for the experts in consulting” and, or “for the participants in cocreation”. Much of design remains focused on the former while CPS focuses on the latter. In the shifting sands of what designers have historically done and now are increasingly being asked to do, this seems to have not sunk in yet for many who are accustomed to Arena 1 and Arena 2 consulting dynamics and process models….which of course is primarily what they still teach in graduate design schools.

9. If we were to paint a picture of the evolution of innovation methods since the arrival of the CPS five cycle model that appeared 45+ years ago it would not just consist of redrawing process models! Among other things, forward motion practitioners have figured out how process models can be connected to inclusive innovation strategy, enabling adaptive capacity, maximizing brainpower, improving team dynamics, cognitive inclusion, psychological safety, inclusive culture building, etc. Much of that knowledge has already been codified and is being delivered in workshop skill-building form. The exercise of redesigning/redrawing process models is only one aspect of advancing the subject. Leading practices have moved on from that singular focus. We do not see any of that reflected in the UK Design Council’s anniversary post focused on redrawing diamonds, depicting that activity as where the community is.

10. Not reflected in any of the Design Council Double Diamond literature is acknowledgment that numerous practices are already focused in the complexity arenas of organizational changemaking, Arena 3 and societal changemaking, Arena 4, engaged upstream from the assumptions of product, service, experience, using methods that contain 6-8 cycles of divergence and convergence have existed for more than a decade. Why not make that clear?

11. From a journalistic perspective many untold stories and design industry intrigues remain around Double Diamond. Why not have Design Council lead the charge in such journalism which is sadly lacking in the design media landscape.

12. As far as we know, there is no practice, already involved in the emerging practice community, working Design for Complexity, using the two cycle Double Diamond. Why not go ask some practitioners who have already been operating beyond product, service and experience expectations for more than a decade what they have already learned? Why depict Design Council efforts as the beginning of the methods change cycle when it is not. Why create more slight-of-hand narrative, that serves only to further confuse an already confused subject. It seems like a good time for community leaders to be modeling a move away from slight-of-hand and towards clarity. Surely the community would benefit from that evolution.


Design for Complexity is a party well underway. Each quarter more folks living the changing landscape of design, acknowledge rising complexity of challenges and join in. Lots of diversity already exists there. We are happy to be participants in that community and at that party. Journalistically speaking, there is a lot to be written about regarding that party.

As practitioners we often do feel for folks arriving into this rather messy subject that remains in motion. It’s a wild west swamp out there. Good luck to all.


*1: Many of our NextD Journal readers will know that we also included Double Diamond circa 2005 in our first book: Innovation Methods Mapping, De-Mystifying 80+ Years of Innovation Process Design. In that book we are looking at the history of process architecture; what has changed and what has remained the same, across several communities of practice and an 80+ year period. Unlike other books on process, in this book each process is shown in its original graphic form, and then deconstructed via the Think Balance Analysis Framework that is included in the book.

*2: We might point out that not all of the design community subscribes to the 5 part discombobulations. We are part of the community and we do not ourselves subscribe. Many of our readers do not subscribe.

*3: In the Reference section of Banathy’s 1996 book, on page 359 there are two references to Sid Parnes, 1971 and 1972. His name is spelled incorrectly as “Parness”.

Image credits:

Book cover: Bela Banathy,1996. Five Spaces Architecture Model, Bela Banathy,1996.

NextD Geographies Framework, GK VanPatter & Elizabeth Pastor, Humantific, Rethinking Design Thinking, 2020.



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