With the recent launch of Design Farm Collective, we are beginning to have some meaningful conversations with the market about how our way of working compares to traditional design methodologies. In this article, I’ve tried to organise some of our thinking into an explanation of where Smash Mix Make overlaps with traditional methodologies, where it diverges, and what are the impacts of those diversions.
For those skim-readers out there, here’s the summary:
Smash Mix Make is a power-up for first half of traditional design methodologies, like the Double Diamond. It is a mindset that helps teams overcome some common creative shortcomings that can creep into design work when it is adopted at scale through common tools and processes, and leads to more disruptive and transformative thinking.
So, What do I Mean by Traditional Design Methodologies?
Designers across disciplines operate variations of the same creative framework – “the Double Diamond.“ More than anything, the double diamond framework is a way to articulate the divergent and convergent thinking that is required to creatively address problems, and the necessity of exploring a problem in full to ensure a)you’re solving the right problem and b) you’ve come up with the right solution.
Most methodologies are all essentially different takes on the “Double Diamond” framework – with a few local flavours thrown in…and this is for good reason. The double diamond is a proven, reliable framework that has allowed many organisations to stop competing on brand and efficiency, and start competing on experience, customer relationships and service quality.
** For the purposes of this explanation I’ve used language that comes the framework published by the British Design Council.
Though the Double Diamond is a way of approaching problems, in order to adopt design at scale we have found that it is often translated into a process – a repeatable series of steps or activities designed to guide a team to a consistent outcome.
The result of going through a true design process means that you don’t get a set of hyper generalised recommendations. A double diamond inspired process results in a specific, detailed and tangible “thing” – whether it’s a product, service or new experience.
However, because double diamond is frequently utilised as a process rather than a way of approaching problems, it has the effect of focusing effort on sustaining innovations – improvements that come from listening to the needs of customers in the existing market and creating products that satisfy their predicted needs for the future. These technologies will increase customer creation, engagement or adoption, and as a result help a particular product or service move up and along the S-Curve of product performance. In practical terms, a team has helped Client X create something that enhances the performance of their product or service – whether it be through new customers, new sales to existing customers, higher retention or any other kind of success metric.
What this means
Someone once told me that advertising is the cost of bad design, and I think this is a good way to look the value created by the Double Diamond process when adopted at scale. It is a tried and tested method to ensure products and services are desirable, viable and feasible within known constraints. When I say constraints, I don’t mean a restrictive brief, or a “this is how we’ve always done it” frame of mind – in fact the design process is good at overcoming those obstacles. What I mean is that the traditional design process assumes that the team fully understand the parameters and scenarios under which their product or service will be successful. We define the problem we are trying to solve using the existing parameters of Client X. We understand what Client X do currently, we talk to Client X’s existing customers, and design something tailored to the strengths of Client X.
This process by definition can only lead to incremental improvements designed to improve performance, but it cannot create something that will eventually displace Client X’s existing business.
What is Smash Mix Make, and How is it Different?
Smash Mix Make is a methodology designed to identify the strengths of particular organisation, and then experiment with how those strengths might be put to use in a different industry, customer segment, business model, or service line. The result is identification, valuation and shaping of new opportunities for organisations looking to do something different to what they do today.
In many ways, the “Mix” and “Make” parts of the methodology emulate parts of the double diamond. The key difference is “Smash”, which is a form of exploration in which you deliberately remove yourself from the constraints of existing business and customers. This forced consideration of environments and parameters foreign to the existing business allows the identified opportunities to be disruptive to current products and services, and in doing so help organisations prepare for the future.
I like to think of it as a “power up” for a team to ensure they don’t fall into the trap of considering possibilities only within the constraints of existing business, process, products and services.
The outcome of Smash Mix Make is something new and divergent from the BAU of Client X. It could be anything from a new product, new service, or new business that brings together the core strengths of Client X, and an unmet need existing in the market.
This means the range of possible outcomes are wider. It is designed to product disruptive innovations – products or services that create new markets separate to the mainstream, in markets that are unknowable based on the constraints of the existing business. This could mean products and services that create a new S-Curve, or shift an existing product or service into a new market where the performance to effort ratio is more favourable.
Smash Mix Make uses the techniques, methods and scientific rigour of traditional design methodologies, but is specifically engineered to allow organisations to look beyond the expressed needs and expectations of their customers. This is not to say that understanding your customers isn’t important, but relying on current constraints to design the future is how good companies lose market share. Smash Mix Make works to understand the needs and expectations of potential customers to predict adoption of new innovations, without historical data and understanding to lean on. For example, while Uber is famous for digital customer experience, they didn’t come into existence because the existing industry was listening to it’s customer – it came into existence because it was able to match a strength (car ownership) with a need (private transport).
Smash Mix Make allows organisations to think beyond these constraints. It allows innovating for future markets and opportunities to exist in an environment that is dominated by the status quo, and gives those innovations a vehicle by which they can exist in that environment.
This doesn’t mean that double diamond doesn’t have a place – in fact it’s quite the opposite. We believe organisations need to pursue both types of innovation simultaneously in order get to the top, and then stay there.