Funnels, Tunnels, Liquid Arrows?

Over the past few months we’ve been attempting to capture our design thinking process in some sort of graphic. Part of the reason for setting out to create this diagram was my reaction to Roger Martin’s depiction of “The Knowledge Funnel” in his book “The Design of Business.” Although I’m a huge fan of Martin and his two latest books, the funnel seems a mismatch with his views on expanding possibilities via integrative thinking.

So I started sketching how we actually move through our design process, searching beyond easy answers, leading to co-created solutions. The diagram that emerged looked more like a liquid arrow.

In the back of my mind, I’ve been wondering since I first saw the funnel if I was the only person who had reservations about it. But recently, in Paula Thornton’s post “Design Thinking in Stereo: Martin and Brown,” she also questions the funnel saying “For me, the funnel detracts from the original concepts, as the funnel forces something that was once fluid and unidirectional into a very linear concept.”

So I was inspired by Paula’s thoughts to post our current snapshot above for your feedback.

-Sharon VanderKaay


  1. Sharon,
    I got very excited by the text and graphic for the liquid arrow. It is refreshing and encourging to see the evolution of an idea turn into a built environment. One suggestion or oversignt I may throw out for you…what happens after it is realized? I think a hard look at the results and a review of the answers to the initial questions will determine success or failure.

    It may be time to drift back to the beginning, so the Arrow becomes a Circle.

    • Sharon Vanderkaay

      Welcome back Nick!
      You make a good point – there should be active and rigorous learning from what is realized. Maybe your sensible notion of a circle has been driven out of my psyche by managers who want to see only time-task matrix arrows that indicate deliverables at a fixed conclusion. Thanks for making us aware of this!

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  • About The Nature of Innovation

    We see our collaboration with clients and colleagues as providing a living lab for enriching the creative process. Farrow’s built work has been internationally recognized for leadership in human-centric design. This is where we come to discuss our ideas as they hatch and our experiences as they happen.
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