Squiggles and diamonds and sprints – how interdisciplinary teams visualize design process

Very few successful products or services are built by a single group of people with the same backgrounds. We all rely on working in teams of people with different skills, different training,  or different working methods – each giving us access to the diverse insight we need to help our projects succeed. The challenge is making sure that all of these diverse people can talk to and understand one another, and work together to reach everyone’s common goals. One of the ways teams try to make this happen is by having everyone agree on a structured design process – a model for understanding where they are in the project, and how far they have to go. There are many ways to do this, and each discipline has a number of preferred methods; which can lead to challenges when you pull integrated teams together. The ultimate goal is to support the team and the client with a common process framework – flexible enough to allow for the best work to happen, yet controlled enough to give some assurance of meeting time and budget goals.

The most basic design process may be seen as the famous squiggle, drawn by Damien Newman of IDEO, which captures the essential quality of a project that moves from a state of messy questions to a state of polished answers.

Graphic of the "Design Process Squiggle" by Damien Newman, showing a line moving from a chaotic squiggle of uncertainty on the left to a flat line of clarity on the right.

This illustration is missing some detail, and it by no means is usable as a project plan, but it still describes the process most projects will go through. It is reassuring to know that while this line is erratic, it is continuous, and you are always somewhere along it no matter how challenging that part of the process might be. What matters most is that you have some way of showing that you and your team are always moving, getting ever closer to the clarity and focus of the latter half. This is where disciplines have different ways of structuring their process.

People with a background in Industrial Design will likely be familiar with the Double Diamond design process method developed by the British Design Council. The diamonds show two modes that are critical to design process – an initial period of divergent thinking where the broadest possible insight is sought out, followed by a period of convergent thinking where that insight is narrowed and brought into something usable.

A graphic illustrating the British Design Council's Design Process, showing two diamonds arranged end to end, stepping through the processes of "Discover, Define, Develop, Deliver".

The double diamond model takes two sets of these modes of working and pairs them, creating a first point of contraction that delivers the product brief, and a second that delivers the product itself. An actual project may have any number of phases of divergence and convergence strung together to reach the final goal, but it’s useful to know that the process will be broken up into these same repeated parts. It’s also useful to know as a team whether you’re diverging at that moment or converging – is this a time for new ideas and new techniques, or is this the time to work with what you’ve got?

Software developers have a similar process for dealing with uncertainty, most commonly implemented via an Agile project method. While there are many different ways of structuring an Agile project, the essentials are the numerous iterative “sprints”, each incorporating testing and feedback loops, and potentially delivering pieces of the end-product that are ready to ship sooner. String together enough sprints, and you will get a more refined product in less overall time.

Agile method digram showing a process with separate Discover, Design, Develop, and Test phases looped together three times.

What you may notice is that the Agile approach also has divergent phases (Discover & Design) and convergent phases (Develop & Test), which link up with the double diamond approach quite nicely. So while designers might be moving through diamonds, and developers might be looping through sprints, there are many opportunities to bring both processes together.

THINK is exploring new ways of working, new methods and processes, prototyping earlier, working in both digital and physical realms, pushing boundaries. As we hone and refine these new ways of working and thinking, we’ll continue to report on our progress and the methods that are working well for our team. We’d love to know if your team has a favorite design process or method that we haven’t covered here. Let us know in the comments!