Your Design Career Needs a Double Diamond

Note: This is Part 12 of the Ruminations for Aspiring Designers series.

The Double Diamond model has been quite popular as far as design education goes.

It’s a very good metaphor that captures the essential patterns of the design process.

However, it’s not a good representation of how design process actually happens in practice, nor how designers actually do things.

It’s a model that helps you “get the point”, not one that guides you through.

Nonetheless, it’s a useful model – maybe especially to your own design career.

Indeed, a design career also follows a double diamond (Figure 1):

Figure 1: The design career double diamond.

In a design career double diamond, there are four stages:

  • Diversifying work: divergent data-collecting.
  • Specializing skills: convergent information accumulation.
  • Expanding expertise: divergent knowledge building.
  • Reflecting on practice: convergent wisdom creation.

Diversifying Work

In your early years as a designer, the most important thing is to diversify your work experience.

Design is such a broad spectrum of wide-ranging disciplines that you wouldn’t know what fits into your career and what doesn’t – until you’ve tried bunches of them.

More often than not, any design specialization connects to many different industries and application/business domains. After all, design instantiates only in a domain or industry it serves.

You’d want to work on different kinds of design, and you’d want to work on different industries or domains. All at the same time.

Those work experiences help you grasp the breadth and depth of the design practices, which in turn feeds into your thinking on what’s best for yourself.

Making choices is, in a way, kind of hard. That’s why the more informed you’re of them, the better.

In a way, this stage is like divergent data collecting – you collect as much data as possible, so that you can use those data to make your own career-shaping decisions.

It’s kind of a data-driven approach.

Specializing Skills

Through diverse work experiences, you’d gradually develop a pretty good sense of what skills you need to sharpen for your career and to your taste, as well as what skills to pass.

So in the second stage, you start specializing, not because you haven’t seen enough, but because it’s impossible to master everything.

That’s not unlike a converging period – convergent information accumulation. That’s when you start to do more of these and less of those. You’re experienced enough to pick and choose, while you’re becoming wiser in making important choices of your life.

You wouldn’t know beforehand what skills you’d be sharpening here. Chances are, they’re not the ones you sweat on at the previous stage. You just never know.

The point is – you don’t specialize because you don’t know anything else. Instead, you specialize because you’ve seen and tasted a bit of everything, because you’re gradually getting the big picture.

Expanding Expertise

Once you’ve got a few really strong skills, you wouldn’t have too much of a problem on the job market. You’d be very hireable and maybe even well respected as an experienced, can-do professional specialist or generalist.

Once again, that’s when you start to look beyond the horizon.

The mastery of a few core skills would give you a clear idea about what you’re capable of. More importantly, it’d inform you what you could become, because now you’d be standing on your own professional shoulder and you’d be able to see the bigger picture from a much higher altitude than the one you did when you just started.

You’d have a solid foundation to expand your expertise by divergent knowledge building.

You’d know your strengths and weaknesses, and you’d have a much better chance to avoid mistakes and make much wiser decisions on what to learn and how to grow.

You’d be able to look at the design expertise as a whole and think, well, I want/need to expand here, here and there, with the confidence of getting there.

When you get far enough along the spectrum that you really know the difference between bad and good, and how much there is to know, and that you will always be surprised, and are convinced you’re nothing more than mediocre— that’s when you’re at your best. That’s when you get the best results. You’ve put in your 10,000 hours. You’ve become the person everyone considers a master. Conversely, you wake up knowing there is no such thing. You’re only a master because you never stop learning.

Robert Hoekman Jr., Experience Required

Reflecting on Practices

Eventually, you’d find the boundary of your design expertise, which is always bound by time, physical limitations and your life choices.

That’s when you start to think less about profession (or even career) and more about the timeless way of design itself.

By now you’d have become what most people regard as a true expert or master. You may still be learning, but much fewer pieces work would really challenge you, even when you intentionally look for challenges.

You’d start reflecting on the designerly ways of knowing and the timeless wisdom of design.

In short, it’s a process of convergent wisdom creation.

If you had already started writing, teaching/mentoring or giving talks in the previous stage, then now you’d be at the top of your game (even when you’d probably no longer care about mundane things like “top of the game”).

You’d be able to write and teach about what you know with ease and confidence. People inside and outside the field would want to hear what you have to say, not only because it’s often useful, but also because you would say it in a meaningful and thought-provoking way – yes, you designed it that way.

Your reflections would mostly be about legacy – what you can offer the world even after you’re gone (career-wise or in life).

Will your career path be a double diamond?

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