A diagram of the double diamond process

Human Centred Design PART 1: Event Write-Up

I went to a virtual event on 30th September called Human Centred Design PART 1, hosted by Third Sector Lab and Jess Gildener, who has worked in and with charities and social enterprises for nearly 20 years. Below are the highlights from this event.

In her introduction, Jess described herself as a ‘reformed perfectionist’ and argued in favour of aiming for work that is ‘okay’ rather than ‘perfect’. That way, you can make incremental improvements and focus on the perspective of your users and their needs (rather than the perspective of yourself and the effort you put into it).

Jess started by contrasting human centred design with a more ‘linear’ approach to projects—in which someone says, ‘Here are my objectives, here’s what I’ve got to do, and success is reached when the project is done.’ Instead, human centred design is a process that focuses on how people actually interact with services and what people really need. It takes the emphasis off the designer and puts it on the audience.

Jess’s favoured user design process is more like a Double Diamond process.

An image of the double diamond method, including discover, define, develop and deliver

Diamond One

  • Discover: Research a general problem; gather lots of information.
  • Define: Digest the insights and find clarity about what is really needed.

Diamond Two

  • Develop: Ideas to explore and try out.
  • Deliver: Decide on and prototype something.

It’s a Double Diamond process because the scope is wide, then narrow, then wide again, and finally narrow again. It isn’t a linear process—you learn as you go, so you might need to go back to the beginning as you realise you’re not asking the right questions or you need to revisit your assumptions. But the Double Diamond process gives you structure, a shared language, and a constant focus on users.

The point is to step away from yourself and your own problems and think about who a service’s users are and what they find valuable. The reason your organisation exists is for the service users, not the people running it.

Part 1 of this two-part event series worked through the Discover and Define processes.


The Discover phase is all about self-reflection, taking a step back from day-to-day service delivery to see what people’s lives are like and whether you are making them easier or harder. What would you like people to say about your service when you are not there? What three things would you like to know about their experience? How would you like to have an impact? The objectives of this stage are to identify the problem, opportunity or needs to be addressed through design; define the scope for solution generation; and build a rich base of insights.

Jess started with a discussion of knowledge and assumptions. Making three lists—of the things you definitely know, the things you think you know, and the things you don’t know—is a good group exercise to identify gaps in your knowledge that you need to explore and to challenge your assumptions. It is a technique that our steering group has found particularly useful, to start a discussion about what we believe the problem is and how we assume young people are behaving at the moment.

The next stage is journey mapping or service mapping, which involves mapping out, from start to finish, what the service looks like right now, in small chunks. It plots how the service user starts to engage with the service, what they are doing and feeling during the service, and how they end their involvement. After this comes empathy mapping, which explores what people see, hear, feel, think, say and do. It’s a good workshop activity to help you better understand your service users. You don’t have to log every emotion a person could feel—just focus on your target audience and their mindsets as it relates to your work.

The next part involves interviews and observations with service users. Interviews are a great way of gathering information, as long as you’re asking the right questions in a non-leading way. You need to ask not, ‘What do you think of x service?’ but, ‘What do you hope to achieve by coming to this service?’ It’s important that you allow people to be themselves, give them a space to talk, and really listen rather than imposing your opinions on them.

Meanwhile, observations are useful for seeing how people really behave and interact with your service, and can identify ‘pain points’ that make things difficult for them. Do people understand the language used for talking about the service? Do they know what they need to do first and how to do it? What Jess has found useful is sitting next to a service user, watching them use a system, and quietly taking notes. After a while, they forget she’s even there.

Finally, you need to gather stories to bring it all together. They should be backed up by data, but it’s important to know what people’s lives are like, what they’re dealing with, how they came across the service and how they’re using it. Storyboards are powerful ways to communicate what you’ve learned about your users and their journeys.


The Define stage comes when you’ve gathered lots of information and you need to digest it and come up with something you can take to the next stage. The objectives of this stage are to make sense of the findings from the Discover phase; explore how user needs and the problem align; and create a design brief based on user insights.

Here, Jess talked about a number of different techniques:

  • Affinity mapping is an exercise in which you group together what you’ve learnt under different themes (often using Post-It Notes) and look for patterns.
  • A user need statement, also known as a point of view statement, distils your research from the Discover phase into a single statement about who a user is, what they need and what you’ve learnt about them. It can take the form of, ‘[Users] need to [need] because [surprising insight].’ Through My Best Life, we’ve been challenging ourselves to condense our vision into one or two sentences and capture what matters most.
  • ‘How might we…?’ statements are useful for pinning down the problems you’re trying to solve and then prioritising which issues to take forward and address first. We have been using ‘How might we…?’ statements a lot in our steering group as we considered what we wanted our progressive web app to be and do. If you’ve used the Discover stage to shape your vision, you’ll have found what the problems really are—otherwise, you come up with ways to solve what you think are problems, but don’t talk to the people themselves to work out what they actually want and need.
  • Value propositions are a tool for mapping how your service users’ wants and needs match up to the services you’re providing. One side of the canvas looks at what people are trying to do and the problems they have when trying to achieve their goals, and the other side shows how your service comes into their lives. It’s a way of mapping different users, but it’s also useful to see if your services match the characteristics and desires of your target audience—does your service help them achieve their goals and lessen the pains they’re experiencing? For example, if you’re a car company, and your target audience is someone who just wants a car big enough to fit their family, you probably shouldn’t try to sell them a high-end sports car with few seats, or bamboozle them with information about specs they’re not interested in.

Part 2

For more information about human-centred design, Jess’s recommended books include This is Service Design Doing and This is Service Design Methods; Good Services by Lou Downe; and The Field Guide to Human-Centred Design by IDEO.

Part 2 of the event write up is now live.