Human-centered design frameworks

Human-centered Design Frameworks

The 3 most relevant processes to designing with the human in focus to spark innovation

This post explains the human-centered product design process on the example of the Double Diamond and compares the Design Thinking framework and IDEO’s human-centered design process to it.

The Double Diamond

by Design Council

The double diamond methodology is a framework for driving innovation, by the Design Council.

The framework includes the innovation process of a product or service, from a challenge to an outcome.

The challenge could be a user need, a problem with a current product, a life problem, or the current situation in general.

The outcome represents the final product or service that is created at the end of the innovation process.

Double Diamond design process

The 4 phases that shape the double diamond

Discover  (open up)

The process, starting with this one challenge, first opens up: The multidisciplinary project team starts to deep dive into the problem. The goal of this part is to truly understand the user(s), their current situation, and their needs.

Instead of assuming, the team goes out into the field and spends time with the people affected.

By talking to people, observing them, and taking their perspectives, the team gains insight. On top of the future users of a product, the team also looks at other stakeholders involved.

At the end of the Discover phase, the team has documented what they have observed, learned, and found.


Define  (boil down)

The second phase is to evaluate what was gathered in the Discover phase. The team organizes, structures, and clusters the gathered information. They can name different stakeholders involved and describe their roles. The team can also start to see the main topics around the challenge. Topics could be problems people face, their needs, behavior, or other central points or questions that arise.

In the Define phase, the team rates and prioritizes their findings, boiling the mass of information down to a few main points relevant for the further development process.

Discover and Define build the first diamond of the framework.


Develop  (open up)

From the defined main points, the Develop phase opens up to finding different possible solutions. How could a product which is solving the formulated problem look?

The project team creates ideas internally, but they also go back into the field, engaging a range of stakeholders and users. The goal of this phase is to find as many different answers as possible and open the horizon.

No idea is a bad idea!

People build on each other’s ideas, think pragmatic but also dream big and come up with crazy solutions. The more diverse the people giving input are, the more knowledge feeds into the end product.

This phase is all about creating ideas and looking in different directions. It could include a large range of outcomes; from written ideas to sketches, very simple cardboard mockups, or additions taped to existing products.

It’s not about a few polished design variations but about bringing ideas to reality, quick and dirty.


Deliver  (conclude)

Having different ideas on the table, the team now needs to decide which ideas to take into the final product, which functions, features, materials, and design elements to go for. In the Deliver phase, different prototypes are tested with future users to decide what works and what doesn’t, the production process is taken into account; the ideas need to pass reality checks.

Through iterations of prototyping and testing, the second diamond slowly closes down and eventually, the final product – the outcome – is here.


Iterations are everything!

This process is in no way one-directional or linear. As the arrows in the process visualization show, it’s never too late to go back to an earlier phase or even to square one. And even inside each phase, there are many, many mini-cycles taking place.

Questioning the findings and re-define ongoingly, never looking at something as perfect or finished, is what creates a good product in the end.

Design Thinking process

by Nielsen Norman Group

Design thinking is a framework that focuses on a human-centered perspective, hands-on innovation processes, and interdisciplinary teams.

Rooted in the 1960ies, design thinking became more popular over the past 30 years with big leaders, such as design companies IDEO and the Nielsen Norman Group who not only apply but also teach design thinking as a process to spark innovation.


While the Nielsen Norman Group visualizes the design thinking process with circles – one large circular process or a row of six consecutive circles – it describes the same core idea and process as the double diamond:

Design Thinking framework

Design Thinking:

Understand  Explore – Materialize

Understand: Empathize, Define

The first part is called understand. It combines the phases Empathize and Define.

 Understand represents the first diamond in the double diamond framework; conducting user research in the field and defining users’ common needs and pain points.

“People who face those problems every day are the ones who hold the key to the answer”

 The Field Guide To Human-Centered Design


Explore: Ideate, Prototype

Part two is about exploring ideas: In the phase Ideate, the project team creates ideas which they later materialize in the phase called Prototype. This part represents the Develop phase of the double diamond.


Materialize: Test, Implement

The last part, Materialize, is bringing ideas into reality. It’s what the double diamond calls Deliver: The project team returns into the field and validates prototypes with users in the Test phase before the final design is made ready for mass-production in the Implement phase.


❯❯ Exactly like the double diamond, design thinking also is an iterative process: It’s allowed, yes, even encouraged to take a step back or to create an extra round of talking to users during the development.



A product designers mindset applied to business

While design thinking comes from product design, it’s a framework that can be applied much, much broader:

Where there is a problem and a wish for an innovative solution, design thinking fits perfectly well.

 In the last decades, design thinking became popular among corporate teams and has helped to drive innovation.

❯ The process can be applied to physical as well as digital products, services, experiences, and processes.

In the end, design thinking is a blueprint, a step-by-step guide on how to create, test, and implement ideas. The most important tool to use this blueprint with is the design thinking mindset; learning from users and peers, being open for any kind of inputs, building on each others’ ideas, and evaluating what works and why.


“A hands-on, user-centric approach to problem solving can lead to innovation, and innovation can lead to differentiation”

by Nielsen Norman Group

IDEO Human-centered design process


“Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem solving. One that starts with people and ends with innovative solutions tailored to meet their needs.” human-centered design explainer Video


Design company IDEO’s human-centered design process has the goal of creating better lives for humans. It reflects the core ideas from the double diamond and design thinking.

Similar to the double diamond, it also visualizes two phases of diverging and converging. (Mirror the waves horizontally and you pretty much got a double-diamond shape).

Over the two waves, three phases define the innovation process:

Human-centered design framework HCD


Inspiration is all about learning in the field, with close contact with future users of the product. Observing, talking to people, and many other design thinking methods can be applied to get true empathy and understand the user’s perspective.

This phase includes the steps emphasizing and defining from the design thinking framework and represents what the double diamond calls discover.



The second phase, ideation, spans from analyzing the gathered data from the field until a final product is found. Like the other two frameworks, also the human-centered design process includes analyzing and sorting observations which build the base for ideas for new products.

Prototypes are created and tested in the field until one well-working design is found. Prioritization is a big part of this process.



Unlike the other two frameworks, IDEO’s human-centered design process doesn’t stop with the final design.

It goes further, covering the journey to the market, including business model, finding partners who can finance, produce and sell the product.

Only when the idea is realized and implemented into the world, the design process ends.

Human-centered design

what is innovation to IDEO?

IDEO describes innovation as designing from the user’s perspective and finding unexpected answers.

“You rarely get to new and innovative solutions if you always know precisely where you’re going.”

The Field Guide To Human-Centered Design


Not technology nor the newness of materials, features, or the visual design matter. What counts is how well a user can solve their problem with a product.

“Human-centered design sits at the intersection of empathy and creativity”


When how a product is used is copying what existed, it can’t be innovative, no matter how never-before-seen it looks. When a product offers a new, smarter, easier, more frictionless user experience, however, it is innovative.

Human-centered design is for everyone: IDEO’s Free e-book

IDEO doesn’t only offer their services to those who pay them for a design project.

For decades they are thought leaders in the industry. Several books are written by company leaders Tom Kelley, David Kelley, and Tim Brown explain their design and innovation process and describe frameworks, methods, and mindsets that human-centered designers of any kind need.


With a strong commitment to creating a huge positive impact, not only in the western world but also in poorer regions (many projects are designed for meeting the very basic human needs in developing countries), IDEO provides its knowledge on how to innovate to everyone for free:

“The field guide to human-centered design”, an e-book teaching process, mindset, and methods, visualized on example projects, can be downloaded on the design kit webpage. “The field guide to human-centered design” (ISBN: 978-0-9914063-1-9):

The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design PDF

Final thoughts


While the three processes may be visualized differently and vary in details, they overlap for the very most; they all have the same goal of a good design based on inputs from the humans that use them.


All processes:

  • describe how to come up with a new, impactful product (in their words, how to solve a problem)
  • put the human in its very core, understanding the person usually described as a user
  • are very strategically using methods supporting the design process
  • are ok not knowing the answer. Instead, they are very open to unexpected inputs. The design process includes going broad and concluding
  • use iterations inside the large phases
  • Teamwork over ego: The teams build on their ideas and on observations and inputs from the people they work with. Even if a team includes only one designer, they are not designing the product all by themselves. They use the people around them – project partners, users, … – to collaboratively come to a solution
  • include a learner mindset of a multidisciplinary project team: Team members learn from each other, the user, and the environment.
    No idea is a bad idea.
    Hierarchies don’t matter.


“Human-centered designers are unlike other problem solvers – we tinker and test, we fail early and often, and we spend a surprising amount of time not knowing the answer to the challenge at hand. And yet, we forge ahead.”

 The Field Guide To Human-Centered Design


In the end, they all come from the same school of thought and were heavily influencing each other, yes, sometimes they were even defined by the same people (design thinking and human-centered design process).


The three frameworks all lay the foundation for true innovation – new ways of doing things and they reach it by focusing on the people who matter.


It seems like focusing so much on the users, innovation becomes a nice side-effect.



PS: The double diamond framework is the reason this blog is called diamonds and dots.


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Human-Centered Design Frameworks

Jan 3, 2022 | Design Thinking, PRODUCTIVITY

by Corinne

by Corinne


Design Council – Double Diamond 

Nielsen Norman Group – Design Thinking – The field guide to human-centered design


The design framework graphics inside the photos are owned by their authors (links to their home pages above)


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