You want the world to be a better place. But what can you do?
Maybe you currently work in a purpose-driven organization, or maybe you don’t. Whatever your passion or profession may be, co-design offers a mindset that you can apply in your daily life to support a more engaged, equitable, and sustainable world.
What’s so great about co-design?
At the heart of co-design, it’s about engaging different people and perspectives to create more value. It’s a process that is collaborative, empowering, and iterative. It’s designing WITH, not for.
Co-design offers 3 types of value:
Co-design saves money. When users participate in the design process, there is a higher chance of success and adoption, the product/service is less likely to fail thus requiring less iteration, and it costs less since development was outsourced.
2. User Experience
Co-design creates a better user experience by catching problems early, avoiding negative outcomes, and promoting community adoption.
3. Societal Impact
Co-design is good for society. By opening up the design process beyond conventional decision-makers, it levels the playing field for different members of society. Co-design becomes a tool for promoting equity and community engagement. Design outcomes are often more meaningful and sustainable.
Now that you’re convinced that co-design is a good idea, let’s take a closer look at what it is and how to do it.
How to do co-design
Anyone can do co-design. In fact, co-design can be thought of as a mindset, a set of methods, an approach, or a collection of tools and techniques depending on the type of value and phase of design you are engaged in.
Human-centered design is one example that offers a co-design mindset and methods that require as little as pen and paper. This design kit by IDEO is a great place to start learning.
You might be co-designing already. Build on it!
At the SIGroup, we discovered that we’ve all experienced co-design in some way. We were a diverse mix including project managers, entrepreneurs, coaches, and facilitators. We may have different language for the steps (for example: research = discover/sense/understand, plan = define/think) but the principles are shared.
How about you? When have you been engaged with a co-design approach?
Now, let’s look at intentional applications.
Where in your project/work/life can you involve someone to add meaningful value?
Or, where could you work with an existing entity? (e.g. healthcare)
- Who are you involving?
- In what activity are you involving them?
- How will you allow authentic engagement?
- What are potential considerations or barriers?
Tips for co-designing success
Tip 1: Start with authentic connections.
This might take time but it’s worth it. Connecting human-to-human builds trust. Trusting relationships lead to meaningful exchange. To start, you might want to break bread together (wine, prosecco, or beer could help!), create team values, or outline group guidelines (sometimes called group agreement, social contract, etc.). The goal is to let people show up as themselves.
You can also ask, “How can we help?” These magic words helped Vancouver’s LEDlab embed within existing networks to support collaboration on high impact ideas that came from the community. Learn more about how they did it.
Tip 2: Use language that matches your audience.
Meet people where they are at. Some organizations might be very open but others more closed. You’ll have to adapt your methods.
Honor existing culture and history. Know that using certain language may exclude or trigger your audience. Doing pre-work and developing your empathy muscles can help prevent these scenarios. But if they happen (and they likely will), consider how you can learn and respond.
Tip 3: Do self work.
To be a responsive learner, you will need to do self work. You need to know, “What’s in your backpack?” What beliefs, assumptions, values, and experiences do you carry with you? And be honest with yourself about how those things might influence you. Learn about yourself so you can consciously and authentically engage with others.
One way to start exploring more about yourself is to complete 20 “I am…” statements. (Learn more about the Twenty Statements Test.)
Tip 4: Keep trying and learning.
Hopefully your interest in co-design is piqued! The best way to develop your skills is to try it out. You can also check out these resources:
- IBM Participatory Design Research Report
- Blog: Participatory Design: What it is, and what makes it so great
- Book Review – MIT Press: Design, When Everybody Designs by Ezio Manzini
In the end, no matter what field or community you are in, it’s about being human with each other.
Thanks again to Andee Pittman for facilitating this co-design discovery!
Andee Pittman is a UX/UI/Participatory Designer using design and tech to accelerate social change. Her belief is that we can build equity and resiliency when we involve people in their own solutioning. With this drive to progress current methodologies, she’s just getting started uncovering the deep ecosystem of this practice. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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