In this final post of our three part series on bringing your audiences into the design process we’re focusing on useful, actionable tips on how you can design with your users through this method. If you missed our previous articles, you can read part one and part two here.

Working with groups

Meetings and workshops usually make up the bulk of time spent when working with small teams using co-design. This is because it’s a key way to build and deepen collaboration, rather than just consulting with clients and their customers. Who attends these sessions will depend on the focus of the project. For example, you might have a mix of client stakeholders and end users of the product or service.

Decide on a facilitator for the group and keep this person in the role over the course of the project for consistency.

Tip 1: Decide on a facilitator for the group and keep this person in the role over the course of the project for consistency. You might like to have two people as co-facilitators, one being the designer, and the other being a core person from the client group.

Tip 2: Build in time for the group to establish itself. Bringing individuals together who don’t usually work with each other requires taking steps for the group to feel comfortable, and to develop rapport and trust. This might involve 10-15 minutes of ‘checking in’ with each other at the beginning of sessions. For example, asking how each member is today and how they’re feeling about the session is a good way to build empathy and connection.

Generating ideas

Sometimes brainstorming ideas in a group works well. Other times, you need tools to bring in different ideas that are slightly left of field. This way you create the opportunity for the unexpected to bubble up, generating new ways of thinking about old problems.

Tip 3: Introduce issue cards (sometimes called experience design cards) to the group to break through old or stuck patterns of thinking. These can be cards with diagrams, description, drawings, or other illustrations. They’re physical, so people can easily move them around to introduce new connections. You can create your own or download them from designers who have readymade sets.

Viewpoint

Standing in someone else’s shoes is key to co-design. This is not easy because we often get caught up in our own viewpoint.

Tip 4: Use role play as a tool to shift people’s viewpoint. For example, you could use role play to act out a desired service scenario or to explore the current state of play. Allocate roles to individuals who don’t have that role in real life. Create time for them to research and take on the view of the role. Watch how empathy develops.

Making decisions

Keeping the group focussed and on target requires skilled facilitation. This also applies to keeping the momentum going and making decisions. Helping a group through difficult phases in the design-making process is a skill that can be developed over time. For example, it might be difficult for the group to decide what they want to design and test to address the design problem because there can be multiple ways to go about this. This is where facilitation is really key.

It might be difficult for the group to decide what they want to design and test because there can be multiple ways to go about this.

Tip 5: Ensure that facilitators develop a repertoire of strategies to support a group through decision-making moments. This may include letting the group know well ahead of time about the overall process and when key decisions will need to be made. Make sure to address the ‘why’ factor: i.e. “we will need to make decisions at these points so that we can design the new system and test the ideas with users on [this] date”.

Feedback

Providing feedback to groups involved in the co-design of a new service or product is a fundamental part of the design process, and can be handled in a number of ways. Facilitators might like to experiment to find the feedback strategies that work best for them.

Visualisation helps to navigate ambiguity between human and non-human elements of design scenarios.

Tip 6: Consider using visualisation to provide feedback on work-in-progress. These researchers argue that visualisation helps to navigate ambiguity between human and non-human elements of design scenarios. This might mean simply drawing what you see rather than trying to say everything verbally.

The tips we’ve shared here will help you start to bring your particular user(s) into the design process in a way that will hopefully create a better end result. Need more inspiration? You can find a suite of co-design tools and activities here. Observe, listen, and experiment to find what works best in different contexts. But most of all don’t be afraid: bring people into the design process. That’s what co-design is all about.

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