” Design is thinking made visual” -Saul Bass-

“Design is what links creativity and innovation. It shapes ideas to become practical and attractive propositions for users or customers. Design may be described as creativity deployed to a specific end.” -George Cox-

How is design different from other activities?

Perhaps the most obvious attribute of design is that it makes ideas tangible, it takes abstract thoughts and inspirations and makes something concrete. In fact, it’s often said that designers don’t just think and then translate those thoughts into tangible form, they actually think through making things. This ability to make new ideas real from an early stage in developing products or services means that they have a greater chance of becoming successful more quickly.

Another, sometimes less obvious, attribute of design is that it is human-centred. Designers are sometimes caricatured as self-obsessed, but the truth is that really great designers care hugely about the real people who will use the product, service, building or experience they are developing. This focus on users inspires great ideas and ensures that solutions meet real needs, whether the users are fully aware of them or not.

This pragmatic process of making ideas tangible and then trying them out with users means that design has a particular ability to make things simple. Anything that is too complicated to understand, communicate or operate is soon exposed. Perhaps this is why really great design can seem as obvious as common sense.

Finally, design is collaborative. The dual qualities of tangibility and human-centeredness mean that the design process is very good at engaging others. Design processes are increasingly being used as a way to enable groups of designers and non-designers to work together to tackle big issues.

How do designers design?

Every designer has a slightly different approach and different design specialisms also have their own ways of working, but there are some general activities common to all designers. At the Design Council we like to illustrate this with a ‘Double Diamond’ model.

Divided into four distinct phases, Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver, it maps how the design process passes from points where thinking and possibilities are as broad as possible to situations where they are deliberately narrowed down and focused precisely on distinct objectives.


The first quarter of the double diamond model covers the start of the project. Designers try to look at the world in a fresh way, noticing new things and seeking inspiration. They gather insights, developing an opinion about what they see, deciding what is new and interesting, and what will inspire new ideas.


The second quarter represents the definition stage, in which designers try to make sense of all the possibilities identified in the ‘Discover’ phase. Which matters most? Which should we act on first? The goal here is to develop a clear creative brief that frames the fundamental design challenge to the organisation.


The third quarter marks a period of development where solutions are created, prototyped, tested and iterated. This process of trial and error helps designers to improve and refine their ideas. Key activities and objectives during the Develop stage are: brainstorming , prototyping, multi-disciplinary working, visual management, development methods and testing.


The final quarter of the double diamond model is the delivery stage, where the resulting product or service is finalised and launched. The key activities and objectives during this stage are: Final testing, approval and launch and Targets, evaluation and feedback loops.

The creative process is complicated, making it difficult to capture simply but this sort of explanation can at least help make it appear a little less mysterious.