Human-centered design is an approach to problem solving that focuses on developing solutions to the challenges that people face every day. It’s a potent process for deepening our empathy and understanding of the people who use our websites, apps, products, and services that truly meets their needs and desires. When we focus on people while practicing design, our odds of success are greater, and we can be confident that we are releasing what our users need to help them tackle their challenges.

One of the main tenets of human-centered design is collaboration. Working with diverse groups of multidisciplinary people — those with different life experiences, perspectives, and expertise — can lead to richer solutions that serve the needs of everyone involved. When approaching a challenge, we often say that we’re “designing for people.” While that’s not wrong, I would argue that we should be “designing with people.” We call this participatory design or co-design. Through cooperative design activities, people take an active role in envisioning and creating solutions that meet their challenges.

The Double Diamond

Caption: The Double Diamond design framework developed by the Design Council.

Among the various human-centered design processes that guide us while co-designing, I prefer to use the Double Diamond process, with its phases of divergence and convergence, to help us think broadly and then align on a direction. I will briefly discuss the framework and suggest moments when collaborating with people makes the most sense.

The Double Diamond, created by the Design Council, is simply a way to visualize a basic design process. The left diamond, sometimes called “the problem space,” contains the discover phase, where we’re diverging and going broad, talking to and observing people to understand their challenges. It also contains the define phase, where we’re converging and focusing on the main challenges, through insights that have bubbled up in the discover phase.

On the right side of the Double Diamond, referred to as “the solution space,” we have the develop phase, where we again diverge and go broad, this time while envisioning solutions to the challenges discovered in the problem space. Last is the deliver phase, where we converge and focus on a solution that works best for our users through testing, feedback, and iteration.

I want to add that the Double Diamond is not necessarily a linear process. You may not move seamlessly through the Double Diamond from left to right, though you may certainly go through it that way. Most likely, you will move back and forth between the diamonds or phases as you discover new insights from research or learn that you missed something during testing.

LUMA methods and the Double Diamond

Collaborating with people takes different forms depending on where you are in the Double Diamond process. If you’re in the problem space – discovering what challenges people are facing – or if you’re in the solution space – envisioning ideas – there are reliable design methods you can use to collaborate with people.

The LUMA System of Innovation provides a set of 36 methods to support design processes like the Double Diamond. LUMA’s System includes Looking methods for observing the human experience, Understanding methods for analyzing challenges and opportunities, and Making methods for envisioning future possibilities.

I’ll discuss a few methods from the LUMA System that you can use on each side of the Double Diamond and show how you can combine them with other methods to create design recipes that produce great outcomes.

Uncovering the problem using LUMA methods

We typically begin by learning as much as possible about the problem or challenge we are facing. A big part of that happens while we’re in the discovery phase, on the left side of the Double Diamond, while immersed in the problem space.

Here, we want to use design methods that enable us to work directly with people, discussing their considerations and the choices they make. When we collaborate with our users, we gain a richer understanding of their challenges and needs. Let’s explore a few of the methods that you can use to collaborate with people while in the problem space.

What’s On Your Radar

What’s on Your Radar reveals what’s on people’s minds as they approach a particular challenge and how they prioritize what’s most important.

Start by creating a radar that has a series of circles, beginning with a small circle in the middle, labeled primary, another larger circle around that, labeled secondary, and an even larger circle around that, labeled tertiary. Bring together a group of your users and have them capture their thoughts about a challenge on stickies. Sort the stickies into groupings with labels, using a method such as Affinity Clustering, to see what patterns bubble up from the collective output. Add your grouping labels to the radar and instruct participants to plot the stickies that were within each group according to primary, secondary, or tertiary importance. Make sure to encourage discussion as the group is plotting its stickies so you understand the motivations behind their choices.

Problem Tree Analysis

Problem Tree Analysis is a great method for digging into the causes and effects of a problem or challenge people might be facing. Together with your users, first capture the root causes of the problem. Capture what you know about the challenge, based on the research you’ve done, while your users are capturing what they’ve experienced. Discuss the output and cluster them together, putting the groupings together under causes. 

Next, do the same for the branching effects and consequences that result from the problem. Again, capture what you know about the problem while your users do the same. Similarly, discuss the output and cluster under effects, looking for connections between the clusters that share some relationships. Finally, combine Problem Tree Analysis with a converging method such as Visualize the Vote to gain alignment on what are the most important causes and effects.

Rose, Thorn, Bud 

Consider a process, service, or subject that has some challenges your users are facing. Use Rose, Thorn, Bud to find what’s working, what’s not working, and where there might be opportunities if more attention is given to an aspect of the challenge. Together, use pink stickies (roses) to capture what’s working well, blue stickies (thorns) for what’s not working well, and green stickies (buds) for areas of opportunity.

Next, combine the roses, thorns, and buds with a converging method such as Affinity Clustering to see where patterns arise between your user’s output and yours, and to see where there are commonalities and differences. Discuss the groupings that take shape and label them together.

Once the groups have come together, you can use the color coding of the stickies to discover where there are problem areas to focus on (blue thorns), where there are areas of possible opportunity to investigate (green buds), and where there are things to celebrate that are working well (pink roses).

Caption: The Double Diamond design framework combined with LUMA methods.

Envisioning solutions using LUMA methods

Once we have gone through the problem space of the Double Diamond and have a good understanding of the challenges people are facing, we can begin to dream up solutions to those challenges. Now we want to go broad and envision many ideas as we enter the solutions side of the Double Diamond. Again, we want to collaborate with people to co-create solutions to their challenges. Let’s review some methods you can use to collaborate with people in the solution space.

Thumbnail Sketching

Thumbnail Sketching with people is a fun way to come up with a lot of ideas together in a short amount of time. It promotes visual thinking when exploring solutions to challenges and invites discussion of ideas when reviewing the designs.

Begin by bringing your users together and giving them some markers and paper, or grab some dry erase markers and gather around a whiteboard. If you’re remote, use an online digital whiteboard tool such as Mural and upload photos of your sketches. Review your research together and ask participants to roughly sketch out ideas to the challenges uncovered. Let them know the sketches can be messy. We want to promote visual thinking at this point, not perfection.

Once you’ve sketched out ideas, you can employ a method such as Critique to evaluate the ideas. Begin by having the group ask clarifying questions about the sketches before moving into the critique. Ask reviewers to start with warm (or positive) feedback, discussing the things that are working well in the design. Next, collect cool (or negative) feedback and discuss the aspects of the design that aren’t working. At the end of reviewing the sketches, ask reviewers to suggest how they might improve upon the designs. Repeat rounds of sketching, critique, and iteration until you have an exciting set of possible solutions. 

Concept Poster

Creating Concept Posters is a quick and visual way to flesh out ideas without spending too much time and effort. Since it’s done quickly – in an hour or less – Concept Posters need to be highly collaborative. They are perfect for co-designing with people.

With your users, break into teams and join them in tackling a common challenge or problem they’re facing. Give them materials such as pens, colored markers, paper, tape, and scissors. On large, poster-sized paper, create sections at the top for the audience the solution is designing for as well as a short summary of the idea and what problem it solves. In the middle, draw a large illustration of the concept or a diagram of how it works. Encourage participants to think about why the concept might fail or how they might measure if it’s successful and add those to the poster at the bottom. If your group is remote, you can build the poster template in Mural and ask them to pull in icons and images from the internet to make the poster visual. Finally, have them think about what to call the concept and write it at top.

As we want to build our posters quickly, encourage teams to do a first draft quickly, on a separate piece of paper, then put the final poster together. Tip: divide up the sections of the poster, for different team members to work on to move even faster.

When teams are finished, hang up their posters and have each group present their concept, leaving time for questions from the other teams. After presenting and discussing the concepts, use a converging method such as Visualize the Vote to gain alignment on which idea the group likes best. You can also vote on specific ideas or features within each Concept Poster and see if the winning pieces can be picked up and used to improve the winning poster.

Buy a Feature

Buy a Feature uncovers how people consider options and deliberate as they’re choosing the things they need in a design. To begin, go through the research you have with your users and, together, create a list of features that offer solutions to the challenges uncovered. Create playing cards describing each feature’s details and prescribe a cost to them based on the perceived worth of the item or the amount of effort to build it.

Next, break into groups and give them a limited amount of artificial money, enough to buy some features but not all. Invite a member of a different group to buy another group’s features using the money they have, listening to their discussions as they decide what to purchase. Remember to provide some blank playing cards so that buyers can add features that you may not have thought of.

One fun thing you can do after they’re finished buying features is to take some of their money away and see what trade-offs they make as they deliberate what features to remove. This shows you what people truly value in the features of a design and sets you up to use Rough & Ready Prototyping to build a solution to test.

Caption: The Double Diamond design framework combined with LUMA methods.

The benefits of collaboration

Whether it’s in the problem space or the solution space, co-designing with people reaps huge benefits. For example, collaborating with your users…

  • Reveals what they value, want, and desire
  • Shows how they deliberate and make choices
  • Uncovers their latent and unmet needs
  • Challenges their preconceptions, as well as our own
  • Leads to richer solutions that solve their needs
  • Creates outputs that inform work in other phases of the Double Diamond

Collaboration through co-design deepens our empathy for others and increases our understanding of what people need in order to overcome the challenges they are facing. When we design with people, we act as partners, and stakeholders can take an active role in envisioning and creating solutions that truly meet their needs.