What does Co-design mean? How does it work?

Two men look at a document. One is a doctor the other is a patient. The term co-design is being used more frequently, but what does co-design mean and how does it work? Well, that depends on the context. It could mean a design group working together. Nothing difficult about that concept. Or it could mean involving end users in the design process. This is where it gets more tricky and more questions arise.

At what point do you involve users? Which users do you involve? Will the users have the required knowledge and experience to contribute constructively? Will designers have the skills to be inclusive and listen to users? Participatory action research incorporates both designer and user learning. But these projects are necessarily long and usually have research funding attached. However, they usually produce knowledge and results useful in other settings. 

A related concept is co-design in quality improvement, for example, in a hospital setting. Both staff and patients have a role to play in advancing quality improvement. Differing levels of understanding between staff and patients can lead to tokenism. So how can we equalise knowledge so that everyone’s contribution is constructive? 

A research team in a Brisbane hospital grappled with this issue. Their research report is written in academic language and not easy to read. Nevertheless, they conclude that effective patient-staff partnerships require specific skills. Briefly, it means adapting to change, and generating new knowledge for continuous improvement.

A framework

The researches developed a framework that includes ten capabilities under three key headings. 

Diagram of the Co-design Framework.

 

    1. Personal attributes:
      • Dedicated to improving healthcare
      • Self-aware and reflective
      • Confident and flexible

2. Relationships and communication attributes:

      • Working and learning as a team
      • Collaborating and communicating
      • Advocating for everyone

3. Philosophies/Models:

      • Organisational systems & policy
      • Patient and public involvement best practice
      • Quality improvement principles.

These nine points are connected with the overarching theme of sharing power and leadership.

Title of the article is, “Co-produced capability framework for successful patient and staff partnerships in healthcare quality improvement: results of a scoping review”.

Other posts on co-design include The right to participate and co-design, and Co-design is another skill set

How might we design…

Howe might we.design. An abstract pattern of muted blue and orange squares of different sizes.The “How might we” design prompt is outdated. It might generate innovative ideas, but it leaves some design gaps. And who is the “we” in how might we? It’s the people in the room not the users or customers. Consequently, it risks making biases and assumptions invisible. The prompt tends to look inward instead of outward. This is the view of Tricia Wang in her blog post. 

Wang explains the prompt was originally meant to shift designers to think outside the box. But this open-minded problem-solving approach is no longer suited concepts of diversity and inclusion. This is particularly the case when the design team lacks diversity. 

Wang discusses how designs lack gender balance and how design reflects the needs of those in positions of power. When it comes to user-centred design, “sticking ‘how might we’ in front of a wicked problem is not useful”. The article has several examples that support her argument. 

A replacement for ‘how might we’ is ‘Who should we talk to?’  and ‘Why are we doing this?’ Wang explains:

WSW: Who should we talk to? This prompt explicitly recognizes that there are people outside the room who should be considered and consulted.

WAW: Why are we doing this? This prompt forces some level of introspection for team members. It is still somewhat internally focused, but makes designers examine their true motives.

The title of the FastCompany article is, The most popular design thinking strategy is BS

Cover of the book Inclusive design toolkitA different approach is to check out the statistics on how may people are potentially excluded from a design.

 

Inclusive Design Toolkit for designers

five members of the inclusive design group stand behind a table with the toolkit displayed. Each person is holding a card with a word. The words spell out 10 years inclusive design toolkit.
Left to right: Joy Goodman-Deane, Sam Waller, Mike Bradley, Ian Hosking, and John Clarkson.

The Inclusive Design Toolkit has proved to be an invaluable tool for designers since it’s inception in 2007. The updated version includes the exclusion calculator which shows how many potential users might be excluded. This makes it a great toolkit for designers in any field.

The news bulletin from the Engineering Design Centre that produces the Toolkit and other resources has information on:

    • The tenth anniversary of the Inclusive Design Toolkit and what has been achieved in that time.
    • New exclusion calculator for better assessment for vision and dexterity.
    • E-commerce image guidelines for mobile phone viewing.
    • Impairment simulator software for vision and hearing is now very handy for showing how vision impairments look and sound.

Cover of the book Inclusive design toolkitThe Engineering Design Centre has made great progress in inclusive design. It began by working with business to show the benefits of including as many people as possible in the design. The design team continue to break new ground keeping users at the centre of the process

An article in the Inclusive Design Toolkit Bulletin explains how a student redesigned the chip packet for easier opening. A beer and a packet of chips is a simple pleasure for most. But if you can’t open the chip packet then not so pleasurable. This is a problem for more people than you might think. 

Two gadgets to help designers, gloves and glasses, are available. Using a pack of Post-it Notes, Sam Waller demonstrates in the video below how many people will find it impossible to remove the cellophane wrapping. A good example of including people with low vision and/or arthritis is good for everyone and increases market size.

 

Accessibility with help from Standards

The ISO Guide 71 eleven goals of accessibility.
Slide showing the 11 accessibility goals.

Who wants to refer to the instruction manual if they can avoid it?  In the same way, standards documents get overlooked unless it’s mandatory to comply. But there is one standards document that is worth looking at. It can help us progress accessibility and universal design. On day two of UD2021 Conference, Emily Steel explained how the international accessibility standard works. 

Emily Steel pointing to the 11 Goals of the Guide on the presentation slide.
Emily Steel with the 11 Goals of the Guide.

The international standard has done all the thinking for us. The document guides standards committees as they write and update standards for their specific industry or profession. It is also useful for any committee developing guides or standards for accessibility and universal design. So, we don’t have to re-invent the wheel. 

The Guide’s use of the the term “accessibility” relates closely to universal design. “The extent to which products, systems, services, environments and facilities can be used by people from a population with the widest range of characteristics and capabilities to achieve a specified goal in a specified context of use”. 

The Guide has two main parts. The first describes user needs and 11 accessibility goals. These are similar to the 8 Goals of Universal Design. The second describes human characteristics and abilities, and design considerations. 

Guide 71 was adapted by the European standards authority and is titled, CEN-CENLEC Guide 6. It is basically the same information. You can see a previous post about this document. 

There is also an Accessibility Masterlist by Gregg Vanderheiden. It’s a collaborative resource for understanding access features in digital applications. Also worth a look.

All standards should ensure they meet the goals of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Guide 71 shows how to do this.

 

European universal design standard

Front cover of the Design for All standard.Universal design is a design thinking process so a universal design standard is a contradiction in terms. Standards are fixed where universal design is a continuous improvement process. However, where designers cannot grasp the concept of an inclusive thinking process, a set of design directions is needed. Hence a new European standard for products, goods and services.

The standard sets out requirements and recommendations for extending the customer base for products and services. Statutory regulations are also covered. It’s for organisations that design and manufacture products and/or provide services. The aim is to ensure products and services are available to the widest range of users possible.

The standard covers diverse user needs, characteristics, capabilities and preferences. It is based on processes of user involvement and building on accessibility knowledge. The standard can also be used for complying with legislation and to advance corporate social responsibility. 

The standard was developed by Ireland’s National Disability Authority that houses the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design. The document has the title “design for all” which is a recognised European term, but notes that universal design, barrier-free-design and transgenerational design are the same thing. 

Design for All – Accessibility following a Design for All approach in products, goods and services – Extending the range of users can be purchased from the standards authority

There is a media release explaining a little more. 

Personas for digital technology

12 Faces representing the 12 personas.There’s nothing like asking potential users what they think of a new product. Even better if you involve them in the design process. But sometimes it’s not possible and designers resort to personas. This is often the case in digital technology. The Inclusive Design Toolkit has a suite of 12 personas representing a broad view of potential users. Each one has a story to tell about their lifestyle and their connection to technology.

Many factors affect digital exclusion: prior experience, competence, motivation and general attitude about technology. The personas highlight these factors to make it easier for designers to be inclusive. Each persona has a description of their lifestyle, competency with technology, and physical and sensory capabilities. 

The online resource is part of the Inclusive Design Toolkit with the option to download a PDF. You can take a deeper dive into the personas as a family set. This takes personas one step further by introducing family interactions. The Inclusive Design Toolkit also has an exclusion calculator that estimates the number of people unable to use a product or service. 

Cover of the book Inclusive design toolkitThe Inclusive Design Toolkit is based on thorough research over more than ten years. The personas were produced as part of a project to improve the inclusivity of railway journeys. 

The team wrote a conference paper about using personas for product development. They assessed the task of carrying a tray of food across a cafe, taking into account how using mobility aids restricts hand use. The title of the paper is, Evaluating inclusivity using quantitative personas. The full paper is available by request from ResearchGate. 

 

Maps in shades of grey: Is that what you want?

A wheel of all the colours of the rainbowMap design usually relies on colour to convey information. But what if you can’t see all the colours?  You get maps in shades of grey. Colour Vison Deficiency (CVD) is more common than most people think, and it’s not just red and green.  Directional maps, such as street maps for example, use colour to indicate train stations and heritage sites. Geographical maps use colour to show height of land, temperature, and to separate land from water. And it’s not just maps – websites suffer the same issues.

Many of these are age-old conventions that designers follow. So how do you know what colours are best to use? The Colblinder website give examples of what geographic maps look like to people with CVD. It also has links to other references and a colour blindness simulation tool. Although this is about maps, it can also apply to websites and printed documents, such as guidelines, and manuals where pictures and graphics are used to inform and instruct.

For research on this topic Anne Kristin Kvitle’s article is worth a read. The article is titled, “Accessible maps for the color vision deficient observers: past and present knowledge and future possibilities”. 

Abstract

Color is part of the visual variables in map, serving an aesthetic part and as a guide of attention. Impaired color vision affects the ability to distinguish colors, which makes the task of decoding the map colors difficult. Map reading is reported as a challenging task for these observers, especially when the size of stimuli is small. The aim of this study is to review existing methods for map design for color vision deficient users. A systematic review of research literature and case studies of map design for CVD observers has been conducted in order to give an overview of current knowledge and future research challenges. In addition, relevant research on simulations of CVD and color image enhancement for these observers from other fields of industry is included. The study identified two main approaches: pre-processing by using accessible colors and post-processing by using enhancement methods. Some of the methods may be applied for maps, but requires tailoring of test images according to map types.

Architects and empathy: the key to inclusive design

A man wearing simulation gloves and glasses tries to open a sticky note padLoughborough University has a good track record for inclusive design research. The latest article reports on a study to find out if “empathetic modelling” could influence architects’ design thinking. Impaired vision and manual dexterity are the most common losses as people age. So these factors were used in the study to improve architects’ empathy and understanding of users.

The method involved using glasses and gloves that simulate loss of vision and loss of hand dexterity. Participants were given reading, writing and dexterity tasks while wearing the gloves and glasses.

The results show that the tasks challenged their traditional view of disability, seeing it more as a continuum and effecting a wider population. A summary of the key themes were:

• Inadequacy of the current building standard, Access to and Use of Buildings. It only recommends minimum access standards. Thee is no incentive for developers to go beyond minimum compliance.
• Developers often commission design briefs so the end user is often unknown.
• In the absence of knowing their end user, they tend to design for themselves.
• They feel there is a stigma associated with accessible designs and this reinforces the disability-centric concept of able bodied versus disability designs.
• It challenged their traditional view on disability and capability loss and the current polarised view within design, between ‘able-bodied’ and ‘disabled-users’.
• A lack of inclusive design training within their undergraduate and post graduate training and a desire to include more in their continuing professional development.
• Participants felt strongly that commercial, accessible design decisions, mainly addressed physical impairments.
• All participants reported an increased awareness of the psychological effects of the simulated capability loss, reporting frustration and fatigue.

The title of the article is, How ‘Empathetic modelling’ positively influences Architects’ empathy, informing their Inclusive Design-Thinking.  Arthritis is rarely recorded as a disability but it affects one in seven Australians. Opening packages, lifting the kettle and turning door knobs can be difficult and painful. 

Abstract

Empathy is described in the literature as being the first stage in the Design-Thinking cycle. Architects and Design professionals should ‘Empathise’ with their users to understand their needs and gain insight into the exclusion barriers that many users face within the Built Environment. This paper presents the results of a study conducted with a cohort of Architects, investigating whether an ‘Empathetic Modelling’ intervention could influence their intrapersonal state empathy levels and inform their inclusive Design-Thinking. A validated empathy scale was used to measure Architects empathy levels, pre and post intervention. Visual acuity and hand dexterity were the two capability losses simulated, with participants performing common Activities of Daily Living (ADL) and two design tasks. Results showed that all participants empathy scores increased, when comparing pre and posttest measures. This was supported with qualitative data, with results suggesting that all participants gained unique and useful insights into how they can incorporate more accessibility, adaptability and inclusivity into future designs, to reduce user exclusion within the built environment. This increased awareness of incorporating an inclusive design philosophy, has positive implications for design professionals understanding the diverse needs of the wider user population and especially for the increasing ageing population, who want to maintain their independence and enjoy barrier-free access to the built environment.

Videos more effective than policy

A brightly coloured film strip with the word Video on it.Policy is often seen as the way to make change. But when it comes to being inclusive it hasn’t worked very well. If policies, codes and papers are not accessible to all stakeholders, how can we create inclusion? Janice Rieger makes this point in her paper which will be the subject of her workshop at the UD Conference in Melbourne in May. She says videos make change more effectively than policy.

The title of her short paper and workshop is, Reframing Universal Design: Creating Short Videos for Inclusion. Her research provides insights on how videos travel and reach different audiences. This results in a significant impact and enacted change and informed policy. Dr Rieger concludes that “video impacts more than policies, codes and papers ever can”. 

Editor’s comment: I think this will be one of the highlights of the program. Janice works internationally and we are very pleased to have her contribution to the program.

Here is an extract from her paper:

“Video is a visceral medium, offering the opportunity to reframe universal design practice and education. It captures movements and can be co-created with people with disabilities. Videos co-created for inclusion encourage detailed and rich embodied knowledge and experiences because information is prompted by association with one’s surroundings. Significantly, videos have the capacity to excavate personalized knowledge of those with different abilities and uncover systems of exclusion that are often hidden or naturalized, and shamedly rendered invisible through policies, codes and papers.”

In a short video titled, Wandering on the Braille Trail, Sarah Boulton explains how she navigates the environment using her white can and tactile ground markers.

 

Designing for Diversity

A mosaic of many different faces and nationalities. Designing for diversity.Inclusive design is often confused with designing for people with disability. It is true that inclusive design, or universal design, is not just about disability. But it should also include people with disability. After all, it is about designing for as many people as possible. We should be designing for diversity.

Dan Jenkins makes an important point in his article – the number of excluded people is often underestimated and capability is frequently thought of in terms of “can do” and “can’t do”. However, this black and white approach doesn’t cater for those who “can do a bit” or “could do more” if the design was tweaked. But then there is the role of designers themselves.

The Role of Designers

A page from a report showing that more than 50% of designers are male, and 80% are white.How do we design for the full-spectrum of user experience, if the designers themselves do not present a variety of experience and perspectives? Inherent in their role, user experience designers, or UX designers, are required to design the overall experience of a person using the product.

Fabricio Teixeira and Caio Braga believe that diversity generates diversity. Touching on topics such as diversity in the design industry, inclusion, equality and equity and gender, this series of five articles explores design from within the industry to explore the impact that designers have on people’s lives.

There are five articles in the series, Design is diversity: it’s time to talk about our role as designers:

The benefits of a diverse team

Is diversity a problem in the design industry?

Celebrating our differences and showing you (truly) care about inclusion

The difference between Equality and Equity in design

Ladies That UX on women in design and diversity.