Codesign

Your constantly-updated definition of Codesign and collection of videos and articles
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What is Codesign?

Codesign is a collaborative approach where designers work together with non-designers to create solutions. Designers act as facilitators and guide the participants through the design process. Codesign aims to harness the collective wisdom and insights of everyone involved, especially the end-users, to innovate and solve problems effectively.

Traditional design, on the other hand, typically involves designers working independently or within a team, making decisions based on their expertise, user research and best practices. Users might be involved through research or testing but are not usually part of the creative process or decision-making. This approach relies heavily on the designer's skills, knowledge, and interpretation of user needs.

In this video, UX design pioneer Don Norman talks about the importance of collaboration between design and other fields.

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This method is particularly powerful as it combines diverse perspectives and leads to more inclusive, creative and user-centered outcomes. Codesign can take many forms, such as workshops, brainstorming sessions or continuous collaboration.

Why Is Codesign Important?

Codesign is an approach to design that leads to more effective, sustainable and ethical solutions through active user and stakeholder involvement.

Here are some key benefits of the codesign approach:

Enhances User Satisfaction and Ownership

Codesign guarantees that the end products or services meet actual user needs, preferences, and contexts through the direct involvement of end-users in the design process. This method ensures solutions truly reflect what users want and need. Additionally, when users contribute to the creation process, they often develop a sense of ownership and commitment to the resulting solutions, which typically results in greater adoption and advocacy of the final product or service. This approach not only tailors outcomes to specific user requirements but also fosters a deeper connection between the user and the end product.

Fosters Innovation and Creativity

Codesign brings together individuals from various backgrounds and facilitates creative solutions that might not surface in a more homogenous setting. This diversity enriches the problem-solving process and often leads to more innovative outcomes. The collaborative nature of codesign fosters an environment where participants can exchange ideas freely, paving the way for innovative and occasionally surprising solutions. This cross-pollination of ideas from different fields and experiences is a cornerstone of the codesign methodology, driving forward thinking and unique solutions.

Improves Efficiency and Effectiveness

Codesign can reduce rework by identifying issues and gathering feedback early in the design process, which helps minimize the need for subsequent revisions. Better resource allocation results from an initial clear understanding of user needs and priorities. This approach streamlines the development process and ensures that the final product closely aligns with user expectations and requirements.

Builds Better Relationships and Trust

Codesign promotes positive relationships between organizations and users or customers, demonstrating a commitment to listen and respond. It fosters trust and transparency and allows users to witness the direct impact of their contributions while organizations obtain a more precise grasp of user needs. This approach bridges gaps between stakeholders and ensures that the design process is an open, shared journey toward a common goal.

In this video, Don Norman talks about why it is important to work with the community in humanity-centered design.

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Encourages Empathy and Ethical Design

Codesign advocates for a user-centered approach and champions ethical design, ensuring that every participant's contribution is valuable and that outcomes are inclusive and accessible. This method emphasizes empathy and ethics, ensuring that the design respects and reflects the needs and rights of all involved.

Adaptable Across Contexts

Codesign can work in various contexts, from product and service design to community planning and policy development. It ensures solutions are culturally sensitive and appropriate and reflects various cultural insights and considerations. This approach broadens the applicability of design solutions and respects and incorporates the cultural nuances vital for success in a global context.

In this video, Don Norman explains why designers can act as facilitators and help solve complex problems.

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The Codesign Process: A Step-by-Step Guide

The codesign process typically unfolds through the following sequential steps:

Step 1: Assemble the Team

  • Identify Stakeholders: Designers should first identify who needs to be involved in the codesign process. This typically includes end users, fellow designers, and key stakeholders.

  • Ensure Diversity: Designers must ensure the team is diverse and represents all aspects of the user base and stakeholders.

Step 2: Define Goals and Objectives

  • Establish a Shared Vision: Designers should collaborate with the entire team to define what success looks like and ensure that everyone is aligned on the main objectives.

  • Set SMART Goals: Designers should guide the team to set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals to steer the project clearly.

Step 3: Engage in Collaborative Workshops

  • Prepare the Space: Designers should arrange a conducive space for creativity and collaboration and ensure it's equipped with the necessary materials.

  • Facilitate Discussions: Employ techniques like brainstorming or mind mapping to generate ideas and discuss needs. Designers should encourage every participant to contribute and ensure all voices are heard; create an inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing.

Step 4: Prototype and Test

  • Create Prototypes: Designers should turn ideas into tangible prototypes, from simple paper models to sophisticated digital versions.

  • User Testing: Involve users in testing these prototypes and observe their interactions and feedback.

  • Iterate: Designers should use the feedback to make improvements and iterate the design until it meets the predefined objectives.

Step 5: Implement and Reflect

  • Finalize Design: Once the prototype meets the project goals and user needs, designers should finalize the design.

  • Reflect on the Process: Designers should lead a discussion on what worked well and what could be improved in future codesign projects.

Step 6: Documentation and Follow-Up

  • Document Everything: Maintain detailed records of the process, decisions made, and feedback received.

  • Communicate Outcomes: Designers should share the outcomes with all participants and stakeholders, being transparent about how their input was incorporated.

When Should Designers Use Codesign?

Codesign is most beneficial for complex problems involving multiple stakeholders, such as in community development or innovative product creation. It's most effective when the project outcome directly impacts these individuals or when innovative, user-centered solutions are needed. Codesign fosters innovation and ensures adaptable, resilient solutions to evolving needs and environments. 

Moreover, codesign is valuable in scenarios that require strong buy-in and ownership, like organizational changes or community initiatives. It is essential for sensitive or highly personalized areas, particularly in healthcare, where user experience significantly affects design effectiveness. While not every project may need the intense collaboration of codesign, for those that do, it provides a route to more innovative, empathetic, and user-aligned solutions, leading to higher success and satisfaction for everyone involved.

When Should Designers Not Use Codesign?

Codesign might not be the most appropriate approach in scenarios that require deep technical expertise or specialized knowledge beyond the typical user's scope. In projects where the development hinges on highly technical solutions or niche expertise, traditional methods led by specialized professionals might be more effective. 

Similarly, codesign may not suit tight timelines or resource constraints due to its inherently collaborative and time-consuming nature. Projects with strict deadlines or limited flexibility might benefit from more direct and decisive approaches.

Furthermore, when project goals are very clear, or if the project involves minor updates with minimal impact, the extensive engagement and iterative nature of codesign might not add significant value. It's also less suitable in environments characterized by conflict or high competition, where the necessary trust and openness for collaborative design are lacking. 

Codesign vs. Participatory Design: What’s the Difference?

Codesign and participatory design are often used interchangeably in the design world, but they have nuances that set them apart. Both are collaborative approaches that involve stakeholders in the design process, yet the emphasis and origin of each term vary slightly.

Participatory Design

Participatory design originated in Scandinavia in the 1960s and 1970s as a product of workplace democracy movements. It aimed to empower workers, ensuring systems and processes they encounter daily reflected their input and met their needs, granting them a substantial role in decision-making. Traditionally, experts apply participatory design in organizational transformation and development, especially within IT systems and workplace settings.

In this video, Victor Udoewa, Service Design Lead at NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Research (SBIR/STTR) Program, discusses participatory design's origins. Victor makes the case that, in many ways, participatory design is how humans naturally go about solutions. In one way or another, it has been around as long as humans have.

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Codesign

Codesign, though with a less defined history, is a broader term that has gained popularity more recently. It emphasizes collaboration between designers and stakeholders, including users, at all stages of the design process. Rather than stemming from a political movement, it represents an inclusive approach to innovation and creativity. Its application spans various fields, extending beyond workplace environments to product development, urban planning, healthcare, and more.

In practice, the differences can blur, and the terms may be used somewhat interchangeably depending on the context. Both aim to democratize the design process, ensuring that those affected by design decisions have a hand in shaping them. However, participatory design has a stronger emphasis on the political and ethical aspects of involving users, mainly focusing on empowering marginalized or less technical users, while codesign is broadly about collaborative creativity and could be applied in more varied contexts.

Codesign: Successful Case Studies

Codesign has been successfully implemented in various fields. Here are a few case studies:

Healthcare—The Mayo Clinic's Innovation in Patient Experience

Photography of the Mayo clinic.

© Mayo Clinic, Fair Use

The Mayo Clinic employed codesign principles to improve patient care and experience. Patients, medical staff, and designers collaborated to redesign the patient experience from the ground up. They focused on everything from the physical layout of hospital rooms to the communication processes between staff and patients. The result was a more patient-centered care model, leading to higher patient satisfaction and improved health outcomes.

Urban Planning—The High Line in New York City

Photography of people walking on the High Line, in New York

The High Line, a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above Manhattan's West Side, is a prominent example of codesign in urban planning. The project involved community members, architects, landscape architects, and city officials. The community's input helped transform the unused rail line into a public space that reflected the needs and character of the neighborhood. Today, the High Line is a celebrated urban park and community space.

Technology—Microsoft's Inclusive Design Initiative

©Microsoft, Fair Use

Microsoft's inclusive design initiative is a technology-driven example of codesign. The company involves people with disabilities in the design process for its products and services. By doing so, Microsoft ensures that its technology is accessible and useful for people with a wide range of abilities. This approach not only benefits users with disabilities but also leads to innovations that improve usability for all customers.

Education—IDEO's Design Thinking for Educators

© IDEO, Fair Use

IDEO's Design Thinking for Educators toolkit is an example of codesign in the education sector. Teachers, students, and designers co-create solutions to improve educational experiences and outcomes. The toolkit guides them through the design process, helping to identify opportunities, prototype ideas, and implement solutions in the school environment. This approach has led to innovative classroom layouts, educational tools, and teaching methods.

These case studies illustrate the diverse applications of codesign across industries and the significant impact it can have on developing innovative, inclusive solutions that are deeply aligned with user needs. 

Where to Learn More About Codesign

Read Co-creation and the New Landscapes of Design and A Social Vision for Value Co-creation in Design to learn more about codesign.

Watch the Master Class Radical Participatory Design: Insights From NASA’s Service Design Lead by Victor Udoewa.

If you’d like to learn more about codesign for healthcare projects, read A generative codesign framework for healthcare innovation: development and application of an end-user engagement framework.

Learn more about the design of the High Line in the Friends of the High Line website.

Learn more about Microsoft Inclusive Design.

Learn more about IDEO's Design Thinking for Educators toolkit.

Questions about Codesign

How does codesign differ from traditional design approaches?

Co-design differs from traditional design approaches by actively involving users and stakeholders in the design process from the start, ensuring the final product closely aligns with their needs. Unlike traditional methods, where designers create solutions on their own, based on research or assumptions, co-design involves direct collaboration and shared creativity. This method leads to more innovative, inclusive, and user-centric solutions, breaking from top-down, designer-centric approaches. It shifts the role of designers to facilitators and integrates user feedback continuously, ensuring the design evolves with real input and validation.

Read Co-creation and the New Landscapes of Design and A Social Vision for Value Co-creation in Design to learn more about co-design.

Watch the Master Class Radical Participatory Design: Insights From NASA’s Service Design Lead by Victor Udoewa.


How do you effectively facilitate a codesign session?

To effectively facilitate a co-design session, clearly define goals and establish a collaborative environment. Invite a diverse group of stakeholders, ensuring end user representation. Use a structured process with clear stages but allow flexibility for creativity and discussion. Equip participants with tools and methods for idea generation and decision-making. Act as a neutral guide, encourage all voices, especially quieter members, and ensure discussions stay on track. Finally, document feedback, ideas, and decisions, and plan for follow-up actions to implement insights gathered during the session.

Read Co-creation and the New Landscapes of Design to learn more about co-design.



What roles do participants play in a codesign process?

In a co-design process, participants play various roles:

  • Users: Provide insights and feedback from personal experience, guiding the design to meet actual needs.

  • Designers: Facilitate sessions, introduce design thinking tools, and translate user feedback into design concepts.

  • Stakeholders: Offer perspective on business or organizational needs, constraints, and goals to align the design with broader objectives.

  • Experts: Bring specialized knowledge, whether in technology, subject matter, or methodology, to inform the design process and solutions.

  • Facilitators: Manage the dynamics of the session, ensuring productive, inclusive, and focused collaboration.

  • Each participant contributes unique value, ensuring the design reflects a comprehensive understanding of the problem, context, and possible solutions.

Read Co-creation and the New Landscapes of Design and A Social Vision for Value Co-creation in Design to learn more about co-design.


What are some common tools and techniques used in codesign?

In co-design, standard tools and techniques include:

  • Workshops: Engage participants in hands-on activities and discussions.

  • Personas: Represent user types to guide design decisions.

  • Journey Maps: Visualize user experiences to identify pain points and opportunities.

  • Brainstorming: Generate ideas freely in a group setting.

  • Prototypes: Create early, tangible versions of products for testing and feedback.

  • Storyboards: Illustrate scenarios and solutions in a narrative form.

  • Sketching: Quickly capture and communicate ideas visually.

  • Feedback Sessions: Collect and discuss user reactions to prototypes or concepts.

These tools and techniques facilitate collaboration, creativity, and user involvement, which are essential to the co-design process.

Read Co-creation and the New Landscapes of Design and A Social Vision for Value Co-creation in Design to learn more about co-design.



How does one handle conflicting ideas during codesign sessions?

To handle conflicting ideas during co-design sessions, one should:

  • Acknowledge: Recognize and validate all viewpoints to ensure participants feel heard.

  • Clarify: Ask questions to understand the root of the conflict and the needs behind each idea.

  • Reframe: Use the conflict to explore the problem from different angles and find common ground.

  • Prioritize: Help the group focus on shared goals and how different ideas might address them.

  • Vote or Consensus: Use democratic methods to decide on the best path forward if consensus isn't possible.

  • Document: Keep track of all ideas, as discarded ones might be useful later or in different contexts.

  • Follow-up: Address unresolved issues in subsequent sessions or through smaller, focused discussions.

By managing conflicts constructively, facilitators can harness diverse perspectives to enrich the co-design process and outcomes.

To learn more about how to promote effective collaboration read Effective Collaboration: How to Design Work Sessions that Work.


How is codesign implemented in different stages of the design process?

Co-design is implemented in different stages of the design process by involving users and stakeholders from the outset. Initially, it includes them in problem identification, ensuring the challenge addressed is relevant and well-defined. As the process advances, participants collaborate in ideation sessions to brainstorm solutions. During prototyping, users help create and refine concepts, offering feedback that shapes the design. Finally, in the evaluation stage, they test and validate the solution, ensuring it meets their needs effectively. This continuous involvement ensures the design remains user-centered, practical, and innovative at every stage.

Read Co-creation and the New Landscapes of Design to learn more about co-design.

Watch the Master Class Radical Participatory Design: Insights From NASA’s Service Design Lead by Victor Udoewa.


How do you select participants for a codesign process?

To select participants for a co-design process, identify a diverse group that represents the end users' spectrum. Look for individuals who directly interact with the product or service, including those with unique insights or experiences. Ensure inclusion of various ages, backgrounds, and abilities to cover various perspectives. Seek out typical users and those with extreme conditions or special needs to challenge and enrich the design. Lastly, consider stakeholders affected by the design outcomes, including community members or organizational employees, to ensure the design meets broader needs and gains necessary support.

Read Co-creation and the New Landscapes of Design and A Social Vision for Value Co-creation in Design to learn more about co-design.


How can one learn and practice codesign skills?

To learn and practice co-design skills, start by studying its principles and methodologies through courses or literature on participatory design. Engage in workshops or training sessions that focus on collaborative techniques and empathy-building. Practice active listening and facilitation by organizing group sessions or participating in design sprints that emphasize user involvement. Seek feedback and reflect on your methods regularly. Join a community of practice or find a mentor experienced in co-design for guidance and support. Finally, apply these skills in real projects, starting small if necessary and gradually take on more complex co-design challenges.

Watch the Master Class Radical Participatory Design: Insights From NASA’s Service Design Lead by Victor Udoewa.


What are the emerging trends in codesign?

Emerging trends in co-design include digital collaboration tools that facilitate remote and asynchronous participation, broadening access and diversity of input. There's a growing emphasis on inclusivity, ensuring designs cater to a broader range of abilities and backgrounds. Sustainability is becoming a key focus, integrating environmental and social considerations into the co-design process. Additionally, co-design is expanding into public services and policy-making, influencing more sectors than ever. Lastly, there's an increased integration of data and user insights, using advanced analytics to inform and enhance the co-design process.

Read Co-creation and the New Landscapes of Design and A Social Vision for Value Co-creation in Design to learn more about co-design.

Watch the Master Class Radical Participatory Design: Insights From NASA’s Service Design Lead by Victor Udoewa.


How can codesign be adapted to different cultural contexts?

To adapt co-design to different cultural contexts, first research and understand the participants' cultural norms, values, and communication styles. Customize facilitation techniques to respect these differences and encourage inclusive participation. Use local languages or translators if necessary to ensure clear communication. Modify activities and tools to be culturally relevant and sensitive. Engage local stakeholders or cultural liaisons who can guide the process and help navigate cultural nuances. Finally, be flexible and open to changing the co-design process based on feedback and observations to ensure it remains respectful and effective in each unique cultural setting.

Read Co-creation and the New Landscapes of Design and A Social Vision for Value Co-creation in Design to learn more about co-design.

Watch the Master Class Radical Participatory Design: Insights From NASA’s Service Design Lead by Victor Udoewa.


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Literature on Codesign

Here’s the entire UX literature on Codesign by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Codesign

Take a deep dive into Codesign with our course Design for a Better World with Don Norman .

“Because everyone designs, we are all designers, so it is up to all of us to change the world. However, those of us who are professional designers have an even greater responsibility, for professional designers have the training and the knowledge to have a major impact on the lives of people and therefore on the earth.”

— Don Norman, Design for a Better World

Our world is full of complex socio-technical problems:

  • Unsustainable and wasteful practices that cause extreme climate changes such as floods and droughts.

  • Wars that worsen hunger and poverty.

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  • Widespread misinformation that undermines education.

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Design for a Better World with Don Norman is taught by cognitive psychologist and computer scientist Don Norman. Widely regarded as the father (and even the grandfather) of user experience, he is the former VP of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple and co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group.

Don Norman has constantly advocated the role of design. His book “The Design of Everyday Things” is a masterful introduction to the importance of design in everyday objects. Over the years, his conviction in the larger role of design and designers to solve complex socio-technical problems has only increased.

This course is based on his latest book “Design for a Better World,” released in March 2023. Don Norman urges designers to think about the whole of humanity, not just individual people or small groups.

In lesson 1, you'll learn about the importance of meaningful measurements. Everything around us is artificial, and so are the metrics we use. Don Norman challenges traditional numerical metrics since they do not capture the complexity of human life and the environment. He advocates for alternative measurements alongside traditional ones to truly understand the complete picture.

In lesson 2, you'll learn about and explore multiple examples of sustainability and circular design in practice. In lesson 3, you'll dive into humanity-centered design and learn how to apply incremental modular design to large and complex socio-technical problems.

In lesson 4, you'll discover how designers can facilitate behavior-change, which is crucial to address the world's most significant issues. Finally, in the last lesson, you'll learn how designers can contribute to designing a better world on a practical level and the role of artificial intelligence in the future of design.

Throughout the course, you'll get practical tips to apply in real-life projects. In the "Build Your Case Study" project, you'll step into the field and seek examples of organizations and people who already practice the philosophy and methods you’ll learn in this course.

You'll get step-by-step guidelines to help you identify which organizations and projects genuinely change the world and which are superficial. Most importantly, you'll understand what gaps currently exist and will be able to recommend better ways to implement projects. You will build on your case study in each lesson, so once you have completed the course, you will have an in-depth piece for your portfolio.

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