A Design Breath
a.k.a. how to save Creativity in a world dominated by Frameworks
Frameworks are the most dangerous and useful of things.
I suspect that this duality applies to more than just frameworks, like bombs, or love, or sandwiches; but frameworks are dangerous and useful in a peculiar way, as their dangerousness comes, in fact, from their usefulness.
And even if this, as well, may apply to more than just frameworks, I intentionally give up any attempt to generalize, and will only talk about frameworks. Specifically, the one that seems to reign the design world: the Double Diamond — and share with you my personal escamotage to escape the Stockholm Syndrome it can generate.
It’s as easy as taking a breath.
Double Diamond: from a model to a framework
The Double Diamond model  was formalized by the British Design Council in 2004, synthesizing their own experience with previously introduced concepts like convergence/divergent thinking and iteration. Its original scope was to outline a comprehensible story around how the design process works, mostly to explain it to non-designers. In time, it evolved into a discussion-facilitation tool used within design teams to navigate their projects. And for being used by designers in their design process, it started to naturally morph from a model into a framework — as evidenced by the fact that the last version of the Double Diamond by the British Design Council itself is called Framework for Innovation .
The success of the Double Diamond is huge, and it sparked an ongoing conversation on how good it is to describe the design process. Designers that didn’t necessarily use it, or named it differently, tried to put their way of working into the framework and discovered that they needed a triple diamond [3, 4, 5, 6], or a fractal diamond , five or them , or no diamond at all …
Here lies the danger of frameworks: they’re supposed to make a method accessible to anyone, by strictly defining a process that may not be universal. Indeed, just as every other model, or framework, the Double Diamond can’t be universal. Nonetheless, its ubiquity reveals an underlying truth that we all perceive — because that’s what we do with truth: we recognize its bits and hold onto them in the attempt to catch some taste of that ungraspable piece of cake that truth is.
So, what’s the truth behind it?
From what I see, no one really questions the shape of the diamond — you can call it Diamond, or Squiggle  — I like to call it Breath — but that’s basically it: a formula for problem-solving; a journey from chaos to order; an abundant creation, followed by analytical consumption; a triumph of possibilities that prepares the execution on one ponderated option. And the reason we all accept it is because its truth is manifested in each one of us with a frequency of a few seconds: in every breath.
Inhale ⏦ Exhale
It’s about shape, phases, and simplicity…
The reasons why I like the idea of a Design Breath are many, but I can name the three basic ones:
I love the shape of a breath, and the math of harmonics behind it.
A breath is commonly represented as a sinusoidal wave — a scary name for a simple curve that we are all familiar with. One example over all: it is the shape of the interface between chaos and order in the ancient symbol of Yin-Yang (coincidence?). It’s a periodic wave, meaning it replicates itself in time with a fundamental frequency — and it generates, or contains, a rich (not to say infinite) series of similar periodic waves, called harmonics, which simply change in the number of repetitions of the same curve in a given amount of time.
The reason I think this is relevant has to do with the ongoing discussion on how many diamonds we should use to describe a design process. The mathematical truth is that each repeating unit (a diamond, a breath) contains every other possible repeating sequence of it. As often happens, a picture (or, even better, an animation) is worth a million words.
One phase implies, and denies, the other.
There’s no escape to that: after an exhale, comes an inhale, that sparks an exhale, and so on, and so forth…but either you’re inhaling, or exhaling. You can’t do both at the same time (well, trumpeters can, but that’s a superposition accessible to few of us). Being bound in devoting two distinct moments to the divergent and convergent phases of thinking let us unleash a wild creativity during an inhalation, and a serious commitment on the exhalation of a specific solution — comforted by the continuity of the cycles. An expansion will naturally follow, in which we can test our solution against a populated range of possible outcomes, in an asymptotic dance of iteration, implementation, and refinement…
Anyone can relate with a breath.
Do you know someone who doesn’t breathe? The only answer is no, as, tautologically, this person couldn’t be alive. We all know how to breathe, and this is the basic promise of every framework, or model, or discussion-facilitation tool: making something obscure more accessible and manageable for the vast majority of us.
It’s the curse and delight of things like the Double Diamond, or Design Thinking. Love it or hate it, we all know them for a reason.
What is this all about?
This article is not about a new framework, or model, or a breathing exercise. Rather, it is about an *nth discussion-facilitation tool.
Free yourself from the boundaries of a fixed framework, don’t argue anymore on how many diamonds you have, or what model represents your method — there is a common ground underlying every creative act to which all designers can agree: when we breathe, we breathe the same.