Design process

One of the first questions we ask in our conceptual design teaching is can you define design as a process?

Why defining design as a process can be helpful

Design can be many things. It can be a noun, as in ‘I like good design’, or, ‘I don’t think the design is very good’. It can be an adjective, as in ‘designer sunglasses’. And it can be a verb, as in ‘we are designing a new concert hall’.

It’s the verb design that we find most useful in teaching. By thinking of design as something that we do, rather than something that is created, we can work on doing the designing better. 

If we focus on design as something that we do, then the next question we can ask is what does the process of doing design actually involve, and what frame of mind do we need for each stage.

There are many models for describing the design process. Here are some that we use in our teaching at Constructivist.

Chevron model for design

This is Oliver’s simplest way of describing design. When he thinks of design as a process, he thinks of his two hands held up in front of him like two opposing chevrons.

Chevron design process diagram
Oliver showing the Chevron Design Process diagram

These chevrons conjure up for him the four distinct phases in the design process. The four phases are:

  • Starting – listening to others
  • Divergent thinking – having ideas
  • Convergent thinking – improving ideas
  • Selling – convincing others

Something starts from very little, blows up into many possibilities and then shrinks back down to a final, well-resolved output.

Each of these phases of operation requires a different mode of thinking. Each of these modes of thinking is something that we can teach.

Think Up Design Process Diagram

Think Up Design Process Diagram

The Chevron Design Process Diagram is a simplified version of the Think Up Design Process Diagram. This is a model first developed by Chris Wise and Ed McCann, which Think Up further developed in collaboration with Arup to create their Conceptual Design Mastery programme. See this page on the Think Up website for a full definition of terms.

The Double Diamond Design Process Diagram

When we ask people to come up with their own design process diagram, the one most people reference is the Double Diamond. This is the process that the Design Council uses, and it has many merits. In particular, it emphasises two distinct output phases: the generation of a brief; and the creation of the final product. 

Our simplified Chevron process could be seen as being either one of these diamonds. The reason however that we don’t tend to use this diagram much is that we prefer to emphasise the simultaneous development of brief and output through an interactive process. This process is a consequence of the Designer’s Paradox.

It doesn’t matter which model you use

Ultimately it doesn’t matter which design process diagram you use. What’s most valuable is to be deliberate in your process, to think about what frame of mind you need for each stage and what skills you may need to develop.