The 3 Dimensions of Design Model (3DD)

The 3 Dimensions of Design” (3DD) is a model that can be used to strategize the adoption of a human-centered problem-solving practice inside an organization.

The need for a human-centered practice

Today we live in the “experience economy, ” and this new landscape generated a meaningful, and still unsolved, problem. How to create an organization that can solve relevant business problems from a human-centered experience perspective? From a behavioral standpoint, how to reframe the environment and the way of thinking and doing inside an organization to achieve human-centricity in the day-to-day operations? Ultimately, how to scale this human-centered problem-solving practice horizontally across the group as a whole?
Thriving in the “experience economy” era is all about uncovering human’s needs, fulfilling them with a meaningful solution, and creating a business model around this solution. In the 21st century, this is the definition of “sustainable business”.

The current landscape

Unfortunately, despite generous financial investments and a positive momentum, almost every company struggle adopting the design mindset, and its human-centered approach to problem-solving, in their day-to-day operations; especially outside formal design teams.
Why the human-centered problem-solving practice, with the exclusion of few companies, is still far from being organically part of any organization’s DNA?
I believe there is a knowledge gap in the business world around what “design” and “designing” is, and what “being human-centered” means and demands.

Design, designing, and being human-centered

In my world, Design is a human-centered mindset; a mindset that can be adopted by anyone in the organization regardless of roles and job titles. Per extension, anyone that possesses a human-centered mindset is a designer. To design, is also a verb, and exists only in the act of designing; so what is designing?
Designing is the practice of generating value through problem-solving. Per extension, anyone that possesses a human-centered mindset is a designer, and the next definition will introduce, a problem-solver.
From the previous definitions, we can inductively deduct that being human-centered (or design-driven if you prefer) means using a human-centered mindset to solve problems with a solution that generates value for humans.
From this point, we can define the primary requirements of a human-centered (or design-driven) organization: hiring and or training “human-centered problem-solvers”, regardless of their role or job title.
Framing the problem from this perspective generates some interesting questions: What are the abilities necessary to be a “human-centered problem-solver”? How can we scale these abilities across the organization?
The model introduced in this article aims to provide a novel approach to the underpinning problem of building a human-centered organization, and in doing that proposing an answer to these questions.

The 3 dimensions of designing model

The act of designing, as previously defined, is a function of 3 dimensions: thinking, doing, and environment. In Figure 1 we can see their interplay and notice the underlining assumption that a human-centered (or design-driven) culture is a function of mindsets and environment; C=f(M/E). The thinking and doing activities in a given context establish a two-way relationship that creates the organization’s culture.

The 3 Dimensions of Design Model (3DD) by Andrea PicchiThe “thinking” dimension is defined by the ability to get “a deep holistic human understanding” in exploring the problem domain. This ability implies skills to empathize, learn from the user and define a problem domain based on human’s needs.
The “doing” dimensions is defined by the ability to “make meaningful connections materializing new possibilities” in the form of hypotheses. This ability implies skills to ideate and generate and downselect a range of solutions and build a real representation of them in the form of a prototype to propel the design conversation.
The “environment” dimension is defined by the physical context; where the workforce operates. Ultimately, the physical environment is the system that enables and nurtures the “thinking” and the “doing” activities.

Scaling the Human-Centered abilities

In a human-centered organization, every person must possess the ability to get “a deep and holistic human understand” to drive or contribute, to the human-centered problem-solving activity. This must-have requirement implies scaling the “thinking” ability and activity identically horizontally across the entire organization because every impactful problem has to be framed and attacked through that lens. One single person in the whole process, not equipped with these skills, is enough to jeopardize the quality of the final result.
While the “thinking” is the common ground across all the problem-solvers in the organization, the “doing” ability and activity is craft specific. Every person in the company must be able to “make meaningful connections materializing new possibilities” but in his, or her context-specific way. In figure 2 we can visually see how these two abilities scale across the organization.

The 3 Dimensions of Design Model (3DD) by Andrea PicchiIn other words, once generated a range of solutions every group (or team or department) needs a context-specific way to build a real representation of the underlying hypotheses; in design terms, a prototype.
For the industrial design team can be making a physical model using a CNC machine to validate a new smartphone design. For the marketing team, can be sketching a campaign storyboard using pen and paper to test an original message. For the human resources, can be creating a welcome plan, a team introduction strategy, and an orientation microsite to validate the first-day employee onboarding process.
Ultimately, in a human-centered organization, a prototype is just a tangible way to ask questions and validate assumptions with the users; whoever they are.
If we scale these two abilities, embedding them in every relevant problem-solving activity, indirectly, we create a human-centered organization.

Architecting the right environment

The interplay between humans and the surrounding environment is profound. From an operational standpoint instead, the “right” environment enables, catalyzes, and ultimately because of the path of least resistance, makes a given behavior sustainable.
If we don’t architect the correct environment the “thinking” and the “doing” don’t occur, and if they initially do as a result of an extreme effort, they don’t last. As shown in figure 3, each team’s space is composed of three areas:

– The “thinking” area.
– The “doing” area.
– The “lounge” area.

The 3 Dimensions of Design Model (3DD) by Andrea PicchiThe primary objective of the “thinking” area is to engender collective and holistic focus. In this area, the team leverages the collective intelligence to “get a deep holistic human understanding”, investigate unmet, unarticulated, and latent needs, frame and or reframe the problem domain and visualize the problem-domain definition.
The “thinking” space physically accommodates on its walls the result of human, business, and technical analyses required to propel the problem-solving conversation. These constraints typically aim to frame the problem domain and trigger the idea generation.
The primary objective of the “doing” area is to engender individual and atomic focus. In this area, the team maximizes independent contribution.
The “doing” space accommodates personal desks where every member can go deep and investigate a given detail of a given hypothesis avoiding unplanned interruptions.
The primary objective of the “lounge” area is to create a neutral zone where the team can mentally and physically unplug from the other spaces and cognitive modalities and relax without leaving the working context.


In this article, we presented a framework that can be used to strategize the adoption of a human-centered problem-solving practice inside an organization.
We also wanted to reinforce the idea that everyone in the organization that has a role in the problem-solving process is, nolens volens, a designer and therefore he, or she, has the moral responsibility to possess the demanded abilities to be up to the job. One unqualified person in the design and development decisional flow is enough to compromise the final product or service experience.

The 3 Dimensions of Design Model (3DD) by Andrea Picchi

Author: Andrea Picchi
License: BY-NC-SA