By Deborah Shackleton, Associate Professor//
ABSTRACT// The boundaries between the conventional design disciplines are blurring (Rodgers, 2008). As such, new praxis spaces are emerging that present new opportunities for collaboration with clients and audiences.
Designers need insights beyond “product” function in order to develop meaningful and “purposeful” designs (Sanders and Stappers, 2008), ones that resonate contextually. Designers need to recognize that all people are creative and that as designers we can amplify this creativity using participatory methods that involve collective agency and discovery learning. Generative techniques such as co-creation and co-design can be powerful tools for innovation and social change when applied as a methodology across the whole span of a design process.
FOREGROUND// I am in favour of a design that is: user-centered, problem-focused, purpose-oriented, community activating, culturally sensitive, scientifically informed, interdisciplinary, and fundamentally, necessary and useful (Frascara, 2008).
Working on the assumption that technological and social change co-evolve, and often in non-linear and unpredictable ways, I understand that technologies (things and products) construct and configure users (uses, needs and expectations) just as much as users (uses, needs and expectations configure and construct technologies (things and products) (Galloway, 2007).
KEYWORDS //Co-creation, Co-design, Participatory Design, Design Research, Design Education
POST-DESIGN ERA// All disciplines go through stages of evolution. “Back in 1980, Alvin Toffler’s bestseller The Third Wave (Bantam) predicted a new type of ‘prosumer’, someone who is a mix of DIY (do-it-yourself) producer and consumer in offline marketplaces” (Shuen, 2008, p.1). Three decades later social media and muliti-modal platforms have made this a reality in both the offline and online worlds. As Business Weeks’ Nussbaum on Design likes to remind us, we are living in a time of unprecedented public awareness of design, where as Lupton (2005) has observed, “every designer is a citizen, and every citizen is, to some degree, a designer” (p. 12). In this context, the designer of 2015, to paraphrase the AIGA, will need to master new competencies that involve a “broad understanding of the issues related to the cognitive, social, cultural, technological and economic contexts for design” as well as possess an “ability to respond to audience contexts recognizing physical, cognitive, cultural and social human factors that shape design decisions” (2007, p. 1).
Research in or through design has been about the discourse and “viscourse” of making (Bonsiepe, 2007) and the combining of intuition and aesthetics with cognition and function. However, the size and complexity of challenges in areas such as energy, governance, food safety and healthcare requires a rethinking of design education as more than the partnership of intellect (noesis) and composition (poesis). If Sanders and Stappers (2008) are correct in their assertion that we are in the throws of a human-centred design revolution or a “post-design” era, then the stronger undergraduate programs will be those where “students bring content, methodology and philosophy of their world investigations into the design lab, yielding more ambitious and stronger investigations in design” (Poggenpohl, 2002, p. 1).
PARTICIPATORY DESIGN AND CO-CREATION// This is where qualitative and participatory research methods come into play. To educate is to foster the development of critical thinking, personal initiative and the conscious adoption of values. Co-creation is participatory design; all the stakeholders are direct participants in the design process. As a method, it opens up new learning spaces for understanding the cognitive, emotive and sensory dimensions of human experience. Co-creation activities act as mediating influences between identities and value systems within communities, companies, organizations, business partners, and between companies and the people they serve. Co-creation in its many applications and adaptations to disruptive technologies (YouTube, Creative Commons, Flickr, Facebook, Home Depot, Rona, DIY Design, Make, iPhone, Acumen Fund, Aid To Artisans) is an external force re-shaping design practice from the inside out. Whether the design proposition focuses on monetary, experience or social values (or all three simultaneously), “co-creation puts tools for communication and creativity in the hands of the people who will benefit” (Sanders and Simons, 2008, p.5). Co-design is co-creation applied to the whole design process.
Co-creation tools include: collages, journals, diaries, skits, role playing and play acting, scenario drafting, storytelling, mind and concept-mapping, and 3D prototyping using ambiguous and generic shapes as building blocks.
CO-CREATION AND DESIGN RESEARCH// Imagine that you’ve been commissioned to design an environmental wayfinding system for a small, regional hospital. As a pre-design phase you might invite representatives from the hospital’s stakeholders to a workshop where you ask them to create collages of their actual and ideal wayfinding scenarios. Each participant would be given a kit that might include a series of words, symbols, and images that describe different viewpoints of the hospital experience such as that of a patient, a nurse, and a visitor. The more simple and ambiguous the components, the easier it is for participants to express their memories, dreams, fears, and unmet needs. The kit would also include a glue stick, scissors, colourful paper shapes, coloured pens and markers, Velcro construction pieces, and large sheets of paper for visualizations.“ These collages are then used for inspiration by the design team and […] the respondents also present their collages to each other. By focusing on both social and material relations we “become responsible not only for ourselves but for others as well, and arguably that lies at the heart of social and cultural interaction as ‘belonging’ in and to the world (Galloway, 2007, p.7).
Broadly speaking, design affects contemporary culture in four domains: symbolic and visual communication (publications and computer interfaces); material objects (domestic items and tools); activities and organized services (integrated workflow and strategic planning), and systems or environments for living, learning, working, and playing. These domains are interconnected (Buchanan 2001, pp. 11-12). Co-creation activities, because they combine research, play and learning can assist the designer in broadening her perspective and in developing new insights.
“When one designs objects or communications one has to be aware that users do not come empty and naked. People use products in very many ways that are often unrelated to their intended purposes. People come to a product with guesses and expectations derived from their personal experiences and needs” (Frascara and Winkler, 2008, p. 6). Co-creation, because it often acts as a design intervention at the front end of the design process, is akin to action research in the social sciences. As a method for both inspiration and information gathering, it requires the designer to be skilled at facilitating, listening, and observing without imposing personal filters. “ To conceive the best strategy to confront a complex problem, we need to go beyond existing models and see the wider picture, working interdisciplinary and with intelligence” (Frascara and Winkler, 2008, p. 13).
Co-creation precedents can be seen in the work of MakeTools, IDEO, Philips Design, the ID-Studio Lab at the University of Delft, Copenhagen Co’ creation and the d’School at Stanford.
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