“Co-design” means different things to different people. To me, it’s about the clients, the end-users, the designers, and the developers all collaborating on a design project. Sounds easy, right?
Getting all these different people to input into a design should feel natural, but there are many pitfalls. For example, many people simply don’t have time. And if it’s not done in a structured way it can be difficult to get value from the outputs. There are a lot of reasons not to do it, but the main reason to DO co-design is more compelling: you’ll save time and money in the long run by seeking feedback on the designs up-front.
So how do you make sure you’re getting bang for your buck? Here are a few tips…
1. Clearly define your design problem
Co-design activities are often structured to encourage ‘out of the box’ thinking, but at some point you probably need real, practical solutions. Clearly defining the problem you’re trying to solve will help keep people on track.
2. Carefully consider your participants
Think wide! When planning your guest list, consider who will have a vested interest in a high quality design. Clearly the end-user does, but who else may have a unique perspective on the product? Another benefit of co-design is that it is a great way to achieve buy-in from less engaged stakeholders – is there someone whose buy-in you really need, but aren’t sure you have? And, always consider including the customer-facing roles in your organisation (sales, support, etc.)
3. Plan the day, and stick to your plan
You’ll be asking people to leave their familiar jobs, get out of the office, pick up some markers and pens, and start sketching out unformed ideas. Even for people comfortable with ambiguity, this can feel very unstructured! It helps to have a clear agenda. At times your workshop may feel like herding cats; in those cases, your plan is your best friend. You’ll need a facilitator who can keep people engaged and everything moving along nicely.
4. RECORD EVERYTHING
You may be facilitating, you may be participating, or you may be the one fetching the coffee – but you’re not going to be doing detailed analysis during the workshop. Make sure you record the things people say about their designs, photograph the sketches, and take good notes. Even the most exciting designs and ideas become obscure a few days later, so you need to have an excellent record of the co-design activity.
5. Hand back to the designer
Some of the participants may be really vocal, or have some great ideas. If they’re happy to keep on participating in the project once the workshop is done that’s great – but ultimately, the design is still owned by the designer. Co-design is not design by committee, so you still need to filter your sketches and ideas through a designer to get a good outcome.
6. Don’t look for the answer; it’s all just more data
Don’t expect to find the answer in the pile of sketches that result from the co-design workshop. It probably won’t be there. But what you DO have is a huge, rich stack of ideas, perspectives, requirements or constraints that you hadn’t considered before. Done right, you’ll have a whole stash of product and design research, after only one day’s effort!
7. Follow through! Stay in touch. Stay engaged.
I mentioned before that one of the benefits of co-design is buy-in. Don’t let that melt away after the workshop is over. Stay in touch with your participants and show them what came out of the workshop. Consider soliciting their feedback in a casual way (a quick email for example) further down the path. Stay engaged with them, and it will help them stay engaged with you and with the project. In the case of end-users or customers, this can really transform a customer into an evangelist!
If asking users what they think of your product or service is great (and it is), then getting them to pitch in to the design is even better. You’ll hear perspectives and ideas you may not have expected, and your design will be better for it. Give it a try!