Reed Elsevier’s very own Indiana Jones, Andrew Merryweather, one-time archaeologist and now Head of UX, shares how he uses the Double Diamond in a surprisingly effective way, by using it as a strategic map in which to align Product, Technology and Design teams.

Image: https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/news-opinion/design-process-what-double-diamond

What is the Double Diamond?

The Double Diamond (DD) has been around since 2005 and was first endorsed by the UK Design Council to explain a general design process. It is agnostic of industry and has been used in fashion, product design, UX etc.

The DD focuses on two different, but connected, principles: Definition and Execution.

  • Definition focuses on making sure what you’re about to build is worth doing, that it meets customer needs and can fit in with the rest of the product.
  • Execution is the iterative prototyping, testing and improvement cycle that finishes with a built product.

Once seen as a bit old fashioned for design, lately it’s been experiencing a renaissance when it comes to communicating a vision. You can see how the UK Design Council describes the DD here. The DD was also repurposed recently in a book by Peter Merholz and Kristin Skinner, Org Design for Design Orgs, published 2016.

DD: from tactical process to strategic map

I had previously approached the DD as a practical tool to help UX designers manage their process. Design thinking and UX testing can easily align with each other, but that’s where my appreciation stopped. Recently however, I talked to Elsevier’s Head of UX, Andrew Merryweather, who surprised me by taking it not only further but higher. Removing the DD from a tactical process and rather using it as a strategic map in which to align Product, Technology and Design teams.

Many designers may recognise the following scenario. The Product team decide what needs to be built, as well as who it’s for and what it needs to do (Definition) and the Tech team do the coding, QA’ing, bug testing and A/B testing (Execution). It can be very easy to see these teams (or diamonds) as two separate things, but where does the design team fit in? They get excluded and are outside the process. The result is poor communication and products get released with no testing at all.

Andrew argues that you need to align Design, Product and Technology in order to build great products and reduce wasted development time. There are many ways to do this and Andrew uses the DD as a strategic map to get everyone on the same page.

The DD is a visual representation – its simplicity is powerful for communicating to a wide group, especially when the implementation may be far more complex.

If you are trying to make a change, you have a large mixture of decision making coming from commercial, technology and insight. The Double Diamond is helpful in both definition or execution, so you can focus on the working relationships needed to make this happen. 

Where does DD fit vs. other methods?

UX teams spend most of their time (70%) on execution and only (30%) of time on definition but this 30% is huge as it de-risks all the effort and time spent on execution. Executing on the wrong product is the biggest sunk cost in enterprise software development.

The DD model has its flaws, all methods do, but it is useful as a strategic map. We need to be careful not to read too strictly in to it, otherwise it looks like waterfall and it is not Waterfall! (Waterfall is a rigid, linear sequential design process that does not allow much change. Many businesses now favour a mix between waterfall and agile). Great agile teams know they need good discovery and definition before building rather than throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks.

Double Diamond is not replacing agile, it’s a different lens.

Andrew advocates building a tried and tested kit bag of theories and tools, choosing the right one where appropriate. The Double Diamond is not like scrum, it is a strategic map that fits with tactical tools. For example the Definition part of the DD uses user research, prototyping and other specific processes. The Execution part of the DD uses usability testing, A/B testing, and many other optimisation methods. These are all examples of other tactical tools and processes that fit in to the Double Diamond map.

Radical Collaboration

This is what Andrew is promoting through the DD. When each team is on the same map, talking the same language. Collaboration is made much easier. In practice, Andrew has been presenting internally and using the Double Diamond to communicate a vision to senior executives. The Double Diamond enables self awareness for where discovery and definition work is lacking.

Andrew has also been presenting to his own design team so that design are using the same, common language in their team and between teams. The DD has given designers and product managers a map to understand where their problems are so they know what to do next and what tools are available. Fundamentally it’s raised the profile of UX by showing Product and Tech where Design can help them in most scenarios.

Finally, Andrew gives me license to share a visual model of how the two systems work together and suggests some advice for any wishing to follow in his footsteps.

  • Don’t give up or get disheartened if you need to present the same thing many times – new people join all the time.
  • Find your senior sponsor who gets the potential and importance of design and get them on your side. Use the DD to help you do this.

And how does UserZoom fit in to all this. UserZoom is a tool to be used within the Double Diamond at each stage where appropriate. It’s one of the things used in the definition and in the execution spaces. It’s an all in one UX testing platform that makes testing and collaboration easy.

My great thanks to Andrew Merryweather for his enlightening approach and sharing this insight with me.