As and when photos of the event become available, I will update this post and add them, but for now, just some of the most important points and thoughts that I personally took away from the masterclass.
Organisers Dr. Leon Cruickshank and Gemma Coupe facilitated a group-brainstorm and discussion between 20 experienced co-design practitioners. One of the first questions was: What is Co-design? There are many definitions, but most of us agreed that co-design is a collective name for all kinds of collaborative projects, from participatory design to multidisciplinary teams.
Tools and Methods
What makes a true co-design project, is not just the fact that the design process is a collaboration between designers, users and/or other experts, but lies in the use of a clear, communicated method and the use of co-design tools. The designer has the task of guiding that process, and enabling the participants to deliver useful output. Without tools and methods, it is easy for co-design projects to become unoriginal or misguided.
“The designer needs to put up ‘scaffolding’, to guide and help the participants to build their own structure, and to define boundaries. Some projects start with the scaffolding ready and up in a certain shape, some projects build the scaffolding together with the participants. Scaffolding is there to guide and inspire” – Leon Cruickshank
Because most people in the co-design practice recognize the need for good tools and methods, toolkits and manuals are being developed left and right. There are currently over 400 different co-design methods. I believe the need is not for more or better tools, but for a cultural shift that makes more people and companies realize the value and benefits of co-design.
‘Calm Waters’ for Designers
It is best when a co-design project, or any creative process really, can gestate in relative calm, shielded from the world of politics and logistics. Eventually, of course the ‘real world’ must be addressed, but in the initial stages of the project the quality of the work will be enhanced when this is managed by someone without a creative stake.
You can not walk up to any person and ask them: what do you think we should do with this project? Most people are not trained in thinking about concepts and non-existing products and events. They might think their opinion does not matter. They may believe a certain new concept is ‘not for them’.
In a co-design project, it is important to educate the people you work with, so that they feel empowered and ‘expert’ enough to give their honest input. Sometimes it can be a very intimate process, for example with the Co-Constructing Stories technique, the designer teaches the participant to think in terms of experiences and stories, within the hour.
In one of Gemma Coupe’s project, she worked together with young people. At a certain point they needed a graphic designer, so the young people were trained to specify the job and interview candidates, so they could help pick the best one. In another project, the client was not fully on board with making it a co-design project, and was scared of the inevitable iterative cycles needed, so the designer had to really sell the process to them and show them the benefits, before the real project could start.
Describing the added value or return on investment (ROI) of co-design in currency is very hard to do. Most of the benefits are not tangible and measurable, and translating them into a direct monetary value is almost never possible. Since in almost all the examples discussed in the masterclass were with clients of a non-profit or government nature, these ‘soft’ benefits may still make a good value proposition.
With commercial companies it is harder to sell a co-design process, be it when they hire a designer who wants to work that way, or when you try to convince them to adopt this process themselves. A few points that may help:
- Co-design can help create social support within a community, as it effectively makes participants more active stakeholders, part of the solution
- Solutions designed through co-design are more sustainable because an iterative process and multiple perspectives can help prevent superficial solutions
- A co-design process delivers not only an end solution, but also stories and brand activities, that can be used to build a brand image.
Perhaps it is similar to trying to explain the ROI of social media. Today, most companies know they have to be present and put out a consistent brand image, and it will help their company in general. Even though it is difficult to capture it in hard numbers, companies can not deny the added value of social media. We have to try to get the same revolution over co-design; change the paradigm!