Oliver Ding

Oliver Ding

Oliver Ding

How to develop a new concept with diagrams

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How to develop a new concept with diagrams


 I have developed a framework called the ECHO way. The framework offers several diagrams for thinking. The first diagram is Theme U, it allows you to place six themes in a U shape. The second diagram is Project I, it is about starting a Developmental Project. The third diagram is Container Z, it uses three containers to connect two themes. 

The Container Z diagram has three containers: The left side is Container X, the right side is Container Y. Each side has its own clear boundary which defines inner space and outer space. If we want to connect these containers together, we can add the third Container Z in the middle. Since Container Z connects two sides, it becomes a creative space for developing new ideas. 

If you are familiar with the venn diagram, that is great! We can use the venn diagram as our starting point. For example, I made this venn diagram with a pair of opposite themes: strategic thinking and design thinking. I named the intersection “Strategic Design Activity”. 

This is the first step. It doesn’t matter the name for the intersection right now. We just need a name as a placeholder. We can rename it if we find a better idea later. 

Now we can adopt the Container Z diagram to push our thinking deeply because it requires six themes. That means we have to find more things about the original pair of opposite themes. For example, I found three relevant practices about strategic thinking: Corporate Strategy, Design for Strategy, and CIS. The CIS stands for Corporate Identity System. This was a popular strategic design activity in Japan around 1960s to 1980s.

For the Design Thinking container, we can consider three things: Product Design, Design Strategy, and Design System. “Design Strategy” or “Design-led Strategy” is a course developed by The University of Sydney. The course is about applying design thinking to advance business strategy and entrepreneurship. Design System is about designing design guidelines for a platform or a large ecosystem in order to support scalable design activities. 

We should pay attention to the positions of six themes. Two themes are placed outside the Container Z: Corporate Strategy and Product Design. Inside the Container Z, there are four themes. CIS and Design System are very similar, so I put these two themes together. 

This is the second step. You can stop here if you find an ideal result. However, you can try it more than once. 

This is what I did the second time. I discovered several pairs of opposite themes between Strategic Thinking and Design Thinking. For example, I found these metaphors: War — Joy, Global — Local, Far — Near, Cold — Hot, Compass — Journey. I also found six themes again: Competitors, Organization, and Project. This is the Strategy container. For the Design container, we see Customers, Service, and Product. 

In addition, I added some keywords to the diagram. These keywords are just simple notes. 

The last step is moving to Container Z and rethinking our new idea. Do we want to keep the original name for the new concept? Or do we want to change it? Can the new concept really connect these two sides together? This step is a tough challenge. It is not only about names, but also conceptual thinking. We need to solve the structural tension between the pair of opposite themes. For this step, I use this diagram as a tool. I find there is a dimension called “Thinking” under these two themes. A creative solution is jumping out of the box, I adopt “Activity” as a new dimension. 

Finally, I keep the original idea of the new concept: Strategic Design Activity. This new concept is a rough idea. We can use it as a starting point to kickstart a Developmental Project. 


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