What the Heck is EX Design? Part 4: Divergent and Convergent Modes of Working

//What the Heck is EX Design? Part 4: Divergent and Convergent Modes of Working

Have you ever been in a brain storming session and you’re stuck for ideas? Have you needed to move a project forward but instead of making a decision you felt overwhelmed by the different possibilities the project can go? If the answer is yes, then this post is for you!

Previously in our series when we introduced Employee Experience Design, we explored the philosophy that shapes it and looked at some driving principles. In this article we will explore the broad modes of working that we use as EX Designers.

By “Modes of Work”, we mean distinct approaches to work and ways of thinking. Distinct patterns and approaches of thinking. Edward De Bono does an excellent job explaining these different modes in his Coloured Hats model.

In design, these modes of working are well described by the Double Diamond and the Design Thinking models. In this article we’ll focus on the Double Diamond and we’ll look at the Design Thinking Model in the next one.


These Design models are often seen as processes. They are not. They are better described as a set of mental and action gears for solving a problem. Everyone who has seriously engaged in a design project knows it’s as simple as following steps one to five.

Driving a manual car is a good analogy for what design feels like. When driving you don’t start in first gear, then switch to second, then third, then fourth, and finally fifth as you arrive at your destination. Yet this is the feeling you get from attending an average Design Thinking workshops.

When you drive you actually shift between gears multiple times as required. You spend a lot of time in the early gears, you move to the higher gears as the road opens, but you are constantly shifting up and down the gear box.

Let’s look at the modes of working that the Double Diamond and the Design Thinking model use.

Let’s start with the Double Diamond. This model, initially shared by the Design Council in the UK, highlights two broad modes of work: Divergent and Convergent.


In the double diamond, divergent thinking is represented by the first half of the diamonds, which start at a point and open wide.

In divergent thinking you are in an explorative mode. You are focussed on discovering more, you are curious and open to looking at new information that contradicts assumptions you may have. You are also creative, playfully putting concepts, ideas and items together and seeing what may come of it.

Divergence also permissive, you are allowed to make mistakes, you are allowed to look silly, and you remove the fear of being wrong. Divergence feels wasteful, you may explore areas that don’t directly contribute to the final solution, you may create ideas that never see the light of day.

Divergent thinking allows ideas and understanding to blossom, it opens. It is needed when we are trying to understand a problem, to empathise, or when you need to think of new possibilities.


Convergent thinking is represented by the second half of the diamonds which starts at a wide point and closes back into a point.

In convergent thinking you are in an analysis mode. You are making assessments and decisions about the ideas, concepts and information gained. You are questioning and critical, looking at what is central, what is important, what is significant, what is practical. You are also focussing, defining vague ideas and concepts and creating concrete definitions and examples. Convergence feels like pruning, removing the lesser to accentuate the greater.

Convergent thinking brings shapes concepts and ideas with the constraints of the real world, allowing actionable outcomes to be produced.


Due to personality, upbringing and training, people tend to prefer one way of thinking and working over the other.

People who are most comfortable with convergent thinking can struggle at times when new ideas or perspectives are required and find it difficult to create the space for ideas to blossom. They can get stuck thinking about why an idea won’t work. They may even get frustrated with others who just “need to get on with the project”.

People most comfortable with divergent thinking can struggle during times when action or decisions are required. They see possibilities, options, considerations and “what about”s that need to be explored – how can a decision be made? It’s common for them to feel frustrated that a problem or idea hasn’t been explored enough and by people or processes that seek to get a decision made.

One of the skillsets of Employee Experience Designers (and designers in general) is the ability to recognise what mode of working a particular situation requires, and being able to “change the mental gears” to the type of thinking best suited to the need.


Next time you are at a meeting, ask yourself, do we require divergent or convergent thinking here? Name it so others can get on the same page and can work in the same mode. Nominate one person to help the team remain in the right mode of working – this involves telling others “that’s a valid point, but now is not the time for convergent thinking, we need divergent thinking” or vice versa.

If you struggle with either of these modes of working, practice is the cure. Take on activities that require you to think differently.


Within the broad modes of divergent and convergent thinking, there are sub gears that the design thinking model clarifies well and which we’ll cover in our next post.

What is your preferred mode of working? How did you get better at thinking in a different mode?