The 6C Model

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During a design process, knowledge is produced in many ways, especially in multidisciplinary teams where several approaches are implemented to drive innovation, sustainability, and functionality. Non-design fields are increasingly influencing the traditional deign methods, including sketching, prototyping, planning and development[1]. To facilitate a holistic approach, a designer must understand how knowledge is produced and combine/integrate diverse fields to ensure shared understanding.

To help expand the designer's understanding the 6C Model has been developed, which describes six types of knowledge production in a design process. The model is designed to help the team members actively observe and become aware of different approaches when designing. Together with a collection of co-creation cards, the method helps translating knowledge into practical approaches (Friis, S.A.K.)[2] [3]. The model takes the design process through four stages: Collect, Comprehend, Conceptualize and Create, not necessarily in that order. This is held together using Collaboration tools and continuous Communication. The co-creation cards introduce specific step-by-step design methods within each of the six categories to promote continuous progress and help guide the project manager through the project.

The method introduces guidelines for creating project boundaries, which can be followed as a recipe in several projects to facilitate streamlined project baselines on a program level. The model makes it possible to map out the project stage, which is usually easy in structured projects, but can be difficult in projects that follow an organic flow.

The term knowledge production refers to everything shared, used or implemented in the design process, which may contribute to a project. The method combines theory of cross-functional teamwork and understanding of the design process, similar to the 3 Cs[4] and the Double Diamond[5], respectively.

The 6C Model can be considered a management tool for mapping a project and choosing relevant design methods in open, complex problem solving. This article will explain the 6C Model and its comparison to similar models. Finally, limitations of using this model and suggestions for future application will be discussed.


The 6C Model was originally developed by Friis and Gelting in 2016, with a focus on integrating co-creative design methods into everyday design practices. The model is a developed version of the 5C Model by the same creators[3]. It is a framework to facilitate the design process through observation, understanding and then conscious acting on diverse approaches of designing. The method aims to accommodate collaborations across different disciplines and cultures and expand design principles into new areas of application (Friis, S.A.K, Section 3.2).

The model is a product of the focus of enabling design thinking as an increasing role in organizational management, bringing innovation and adaptation to new circumstances of economic, social and cultural aspects (Buchanan, R.)[6].

Elements in the 6C Model

The 6C Model is a way of structuring the project work by planning and coordinating activities to ensure novel and innovative solutions. Traditional project management should be performed in parallel, while following the steps in the model. The model is structured around four stages of the design process: Collect, Comprehend, Conceptualize, and Create. Together with Collaborate and Communicate the model has six categories involving different types of knowledge production. The framework puts emphasis on investigating both the problem as well as the solution. A visualization of the 6C Model is shown in Figure 1.

The vertical axis in the model is a scale with opposite modes on each side: By experience or thinking, including some sort of subjective mental processing. The horizontal axis is relating to the orientation and focus of the production of knowledge, considering whether it is produced about an existing situation, so what is, or a future situation asking what might be (Friis, S.A.K, Section 3.2), similar to the transformation of an initial condition into a target condition (Züst, R., Section 1.2)[7].

Figure 1: The six types of knowlegde production. The model is based on a figure in (Friis, S.A.K.).

How to use the 6C Model

The model has a circular shape, unlike the Double Diamond, which has a linear structure. In the beginning of a design process the team can intuitively start with collecting information and follow the steps in the circle clock-wise, but it does not have to be strictly followed. The idea with the model being circular is to allow for blurring the perception of a step being completely finished before the project finishes. This means that the step of e.g. collecting information will never completely end, which encourages the team to organically jump between steps in the design phase. The effect of this is to inspire a creative process by reducing boundaries and accept people thriving with fewer boundaries, as well as avoiding tunnel-vision and premature project decisions.

It is up to the project manager to decide whether the team should follow a structured or organic flow.

For each step the co-creation cards have specific suggestions of design methods they can follow. The project manager can use a card at any given point, and when used successfully the team should have continuous project process.

The Six Categories

The six categories are listed below with a brief description of the type of knowledge production, (Friis, S.A.K.) (Kjær, L.B., et. al.). For each category there are examples of co-creation cards, which work as design methods themselves. The cards will be explained further in the following section.

  • Collaborate
This category puts emphasis on the team members and dynamics, mapping out what expertise, skills, perspectives and values are present in the team. The collaboration category is respecting the relationships within the team roles and creates a set of ground rules. This category goes in hand with the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct within the project management community, which is based on responsibility, respect, fairness, and honesty[8]. Successful collaboration utilizes sharing knowledge and learning from each other.
From a stakeholder and company point of view the collaboration field puts emphasis on having conversations and making observations. Knowledge is shared so everyone knows the process flow, strategy, and vision within the organization.
Examples of co-creation cards are Personal Pictures, Walk & Talk and Expectations.
This category gives value to team familiarities which may seem irrelevant to the project, but clarifies that projects are driven by people, and personalities are inevitably affecting the project.
  • Collect
The design phase collect is about wondering, research and exploring, to thereby gain experience on the topic of the problem. This phase can be considered being on the objective side of the spectrum, by observing what the existing situation and context is. Knowledge is produced by physical engagement with the world, including interviewing people, going to the physical site of which the project is going to take place, and searching for information online.
Understanding comes from experience and helps support the design process. In an organizational approach this can be done by collecting information on stakeholders and perform Stakeholder mapping. This is also where opportunities and challenges of the future are identified.
The Co-creation cards supporting this topic are for example Experience Mapping, Questionnaires, Visual Experiencing and Experiments.
  • Comprehend
Comprehending is knowledge about the existing situation and can be produced by processing information mentally as well as analyzing, sorting and organizing the collected data. The phase process introduces analytical thinking that opens up for new insights and descriptions of opportunities and challenges. Methods include Desktop Research, Challenge Framing and Personas.
  • Conzeptualize
In this phase the design process moves into a potential solution space. The focus is on generating ideas and developing concepts for drafting possible solutions. Questions of what might be are generated by collectively sharing subjective visions and possibilities. This phase cannot be considered to be either converging or diverging but can go through the entire framework of the Double Diamond.
Knowledge production is derived from intuitive thinking, innovative conceptualizing and selection of most promising ideas. For organizational projects this stage includes drafting, prototyping and testing to identify whether a concept is useful and beneficial. Methods include Show & Tell, Inverse Brainstorm, Direct Inspiration and 5 Senses.
  • Create
In this stage, the focus is on physically producing and/or trying out new possibilities towards a final product that fits the problem scope and project objectives. Creative tools such as collages, models and sketching are used for sharing the concept with and present solutions to relevant stakeholders. An understanding of the result is derived from evaluation, active engagement with the concept, and reflection. Co-creation cards in this stage are Creative Constraints, Zen Walk, and Sketching Together. De-creation or inverse solution is helpful to support decisions on why certain solutions are made or not made and can be carried out using the cards Take a Different Path, Let Go and The Other Hand.
  • Communicate
Communication, together with collaboration, is not a project phase but a requirement throughout the entire process. Within all phases of the design process knowledge about content and process is shared by articulating opinions either verbally or through models, sketches, text, logbooks, emotionally etc. It is important to stress that verbal communication should be a fraction of the communication, and visual and written communication is equally as important. Communication and interaction serve the understanding and dialogue between team members, the team, and stakeholders in all four project phases. Continuous communication creates more viable, desirable, and implementable design results, and is guided using the cards Storytelling, Elevator Speech and Behind the Scenes.

Co-creation Cards

As an extra toolbox the Model includes a collection of 89 co-creation cards (developed from the traditional 62 cards included in the 5C Model[1]), which are designed to help translating understanding and knowledge into complex problem solving and design progress. The cards help the team investigating the situation and provides a shared language.

Figure 2: An example of a Co-Creation Card as a part of the 6C Model. This card is within the step Collaborate. The picture is from the collection of cards made by Friis.

Physically the cards can be accessed through a PDF document or printed as physical playing cards. Each card has a title of the design method, e.g. Personal Pictures, a short explanation of the method with an example, as well as why and how the card is used in practise. An example of a card is illustrated in Figure 2.

The cards are considered a tool and can be interpreted and followed more organically rather than considered a strict rule book. This gives space for creating agreements in line with the team culture and working norms for better team commitment[8]. Oftentimes in team work many of the cards are followed without the team knowing, since methods included are following traditional procedures within design thinking and processes. The cards are simply framing the methods to give the team a pinpoint to where in the 6C circle they are located. In a creative process it is not uncommon that the team is in a stage of overlapping phases.

The cards are related to the six Cs, but the cards themselves can also be put into categories that are not necessarily phase specific. The categories are

  1. Data - Designed to help team members collect and organize data.
  2. Insights - Designed to help the team share knowledge, analyze, and interpret data.
  3. Concepts - Helps the team generate ideas, develop concepts, and prototype.
  4. Evaluation - Gives an overview of the project and solution, which is then related to success of the design process.


Example of use in a project

In the following a case study is presented. The model is developed in the recent past by design researchers from Deign School Kolding and the Royal Academy, which means that the case study presented is limited to design students. Further examples of use outside of university and preferably on a manager level are therefore essential to evaluate on the success of the method in organizational context.

During a 4-week course on Design School Kolding teams of 4-5 students were created to solve a task for a client: an official tourist organization. The teams were multi-disciplinary and with people of different genders. In the course the 6C Model was introduced and should be followed throughout the course to identify the problem and make solution proposals. The objective was to learn to apply design research methods to investigate a complex situation and acquire an understanding of the significance of diversity in a creative teamwork. Consciousness and reflection were key for learning from each team member. One team had an exchange of people at some point, where the person who left the team would later return. During this challenge the co-creation cards assisted and made a smooth transition and integration of the new team member. It was important for the team to establish professional as well as personal connections to acquire team "equality".

Later, the students from all teams reviewed the method and the design process and shared positive opinions such as:

  • Getting outside one's comfort zone
  • Learning much about themselves
  • Acquiring new understanding of how other specialists think and gives new perspective
  • Visual communication in complex problem-solving

Some negative aspects:

  • A lot of time is spent talking/communicating instead of delegating work and start producing
  • Some experienced feeling demotivated, lost, and stuck in the team
  • Less successful teamwork could cause less benefits and outcomes

It should be mentioned that the section is based on the report (Friis, S.A.K.) written by the author of the model, which can naturally lead to a bias towards the positive student aspects.



While the 6C model offers a useful framework for understanding knowledge production in a creative design process, there are a few limitations of the use of the model. Some limitations mentioned by the students using the framework shared that they spent too much time within the team where a lot was spent talking and wanted more individual work before coming together for a "show and tell". The frustration of not producing and talking too much can result in a point where some members simply deactivate and feels demotivated and stuck in the team (Friis, S.A.K.).

Like other frameworks with a focus on design thinking it is a benefit to keep teams at a maximum of 8 members. Even though the case study included a group member exchange the method encourage the group to strengthen relations and trust in the multi-disciplinary team, and even though there are co-creation cards which can be used for integrating new members, it is useful if the team defined in the beginning is mostly intact throughout the project. Furthermore, the model does not account sufficiently for complex social and cultural contexts in which the design takes place.

As explained the method includes investigating both problem and solution area, and if a project already has a well-defined goal and direction, the intention with the method is lost. The method encourages the team itself to set the goals and is suited for open problems free from previous opinions or ideas to expand the creative process[9].

The method does not extend after creating the solution and does not introduce strategies for launching it. The lack of including the business aspect will require the introduction to other management models.

Comparison with similar design methods

It is useful to study the use of the 6C method in a leadership management case study, however the model does follow structures similar to classic design methods often used in management, which have been proven successful. While the 6C Model has a unique approach to understanding knowledge production in a design process for conscious acting, there are many methods that are overlapping in the process.

The comparisons will be with the Double Diamond and 3 Cs[4]. Further similarities can be found within Design Thinking, which shares the focus on empathy and boosting creativity with the 6C Model, and Lean Startup Methodology[10], that aims to shorten product development cycles to test the prototype through an agile procedure, which challenges the time-consumption of the team work using the 6C Model. These comparisons will not be covered in this article.

The comparisons should help highlight strengths and weaknesses of each approach and help identify potential overlapping and possible integration.

The classic Double Diamond has become "the heart of the Framework for Innovation". In the wiki-article the design method is described as "the framework which dictates the plan and coordination of activities" in a project much like the 6C Model. The double diamond focuses on first discovering and defining the problem, and then developing and delivering the solution. This focus on understanding the problem and solution is sought in the 6C Model as well. Two steps are focusing on collecting and comprehending, which relates to seeking knowledge about what is, hence the problem. The other two in the middle circle have a solution-oriented approach to what might be and explores concepts and creating the solution proposal. The circular approach, unlike the double diamond, blurs the understanding of finishing and moving on to next step, as described previously. The purpose of both is to shape the project within both planning, management, and execution. The 6C Model has an extra focus on the communication and coordination of the team and acknowledges the pressure that designers experience while being in limbo for long stretches rather than producing a product. These extra Cs supports teams to be able to consciously contain and endure uncertainty in the complex work (Friis, S.A.K, Section 7.2).

The 3Cs is a guiding tool for cross-functional teamwork for more efficient work, avoiding problems, and for better decision-making using Collaboration, Communication and Coordination. While the mid-circle in the 6C Model is a framework for project structure, these 3Cs maps out processes and find connections in how you work with others[4], like the inner and outer circle in Figure 1. Coordination is something the 6C structure does not include, which could be beneficial to implement if used cross-functionally for process tracking and synchronization.

Future Application

The role of collaboration and emphasis on multi-disciplinary teamwork are key aspects in the model, and it would be useful and interesting to further explore ways in which collaboration is integrated in the model to support a virtual or remote team in an increasingly digital world.

As the design field is continuously expanding and growing it will be important and necessary to consider how the 6C Model will adapt and evolve to meet the changing needs and challenges. Since the model is still rather new and is developed in Scandinavia (Friis, S.A.K.), it is developed to fit into a context that is common for that specific geographical area. It will be interesting to investigate how the model fits into a broader context and accounts for culturally and socially responsible design practices.

Finally, the 6C Model should be explored and tested further as a tool for organizational management, and while it seems like a playful trial-and-error approach it is valuable in project and program management for open problem solving in a complex context. As described by Kolko “Leaders need to create a culture that allows people to take chances and move forward without a complete, logical understanding of a problem” (Kolko 2015)[11]. The idea is to create a structured framework for reducing the enduring uncertainty and pressure that designers face during a project and assist in understanding the knowledge produced and hence the progress in the team (Friis, S.A.K, Section 7.2).


The 6C Model is a toolkit and framework to facilitate a holistic approach in open, complex problem solving. It introduces the phases in a design process to explore and investigate the problem and solution space in a project. With a set of concrete cards suggested for use in each of the six Cs the team can work progressively in a continuous project flow.

The method shows similarities from other design methods, and both dictates the plan and coordination of activities as well as strengthen connections in a team work for creating innovation, knowledge sharing, and better, collective decision-making.

The tool has been appreciated as a method for challenging how designers perceive and attack a problem during multi-disciplinary teamwork, while making each designer more conscious in their own actions and working structures.

By trusting and relying on each team member to lift their individual responsibilities the team creates a large amount of knowledge from researching, exploring, and experiencing. To create an environment with maximum knowledge, communication is key for sharing and combining learning, and creating novel and cross-functional solutions. This process can be time-consuming and project success relies on the project manager to manage the project direction and avoid getting stuck as well as continuously motivating and engaging team members.

The 6C Model would benefit from being explored and tested for introducing the framework and ideas from design thinking as an increasing role in organizational management, bringing strategies for driving innovation, flexibility, functionality, and sustainability.

Annotated Bibliography


Kjær, L.B. & Eskholm, L. &, Tøstesen, T. & Lagoni, T., Gain Power - An empowering tool kit for designers to understand Business & Organisational Context [12]. First edition, first printing 2017, Published by Design School Kolding, ISBN: 978-87-93416-22-2

The booklet introduces material offering a flexible, scalable, and easily accessible toolkit. It describes the 6C Model related to Design Thinking and Sustainability along with other useful tools such as Stakeholder Map, Value Identification, Assessment Tool, and Designed Value Chain.

Articles and Web-pages:

Friis, S.A.K. (2016), The 6C Model: The Contribution of Design to Open, Complex, Problem Solving [2]. The International Journal of Design in Society; Rome Vol. 10, Iss. 3, 13-30. DOI:10.18848/2325-1328/CGP/v10i03/13-30.

This paper describes the 6C Model and its use in complex problem solving. This article is interesting in describing the model and its benefits and weaknesses through a case study from the perspective of the model creator.

Buchanan, R. (2015), Worlds in the Making: Design, Management, and the Reform of Organizational Culture [6]. She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation; Volume 1, Issue 1, Pages 5-21, ISSN 2405-8726. DOI:

The article introduces design as a part of organizational management. Buchanan explains how there is a "principle that distinguishes design as a practice of management from other schools of management", and how companies can benefit from introducing design thinking in their organizational structure, as an addition to traditional management, by including different perspectives on management, innovation and entrepreneurship.


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