Co-design is not new

Scandinavians have a reputation for good looking and functional design. But there is a gap in the story of an evolving design culture across society. Designers began involving users in their design processes in the 1970s. So co-design is not new and is not a fad, but it is absent from design history.

Maria Görandsdotter says there are two probable reasons why user-centred design has been left out. One is that history has favoured aesthetics, meanings and impact of design rather than the design process. The other is that little has been written about the way design methods have evolved. It’s all been about Scandinavian design and not designing.

… the design methods movement sought to understand and describe ‘the new design methods that have appeared in response to a worldwide dissatisfaction with traditional procedures’.

A desk has highlighter pens in different colours, working papers and a smart phone.

Görandsdotter traces different histories in her book chapter including collaboration with experts in other fields. In 1971 the idea that only professional designers should design was challenged at an international conference on design participation. This is where the lines began to blur between designer and user.

There could be two reasons…

Görandsdotter presents two design histories to open up thinking about what design has been and what it might be in the future. Ergonomic user-centred design methods expanded the role of designers in relation to users. This was linked to Swedish disability legislation and research funding. Participatory design came about as a result of designers’ and users’ co-development of computer-based work tools. It expanded ideas of what design was, how how it happens, and with what kinds of materials. 

For anyone interested in design, and particularly collaborative design, this is an interesting read. It puts co-design into an historical context. In doing so, it shows it is not the latest fashion or fad in designing.

The title of the chapter is, Designing Together: On Histories of Scandinavian User-Centred Design. It is published in the open access book, Nordic Design Cultures in Transformation,1960-1980.

From the abstract

This chapter focuses on the emergence of user-centred and participatory Scandinavian design ideas and practices in 1970s Sweden. Many of the concepts and methods still highly present – supported as well as contested – in contemporary design stem from the turn towards collaborative designing through the late 1960s and early 1990s.

However, in Nordic design history, these radical changes in design practice have been more or less invisible. A shift in perspective is required to address this historical gap.

The two examples: The first highlights how ergonomic user-centred design methods expanded the role of designers and designing in relation to users. The second discusses the challenges of designers’ and users’ co-development expanded ideas of what design was, how and with whom designing took place, and with what kinds of materials.

Co-designing public buildings

An Australian article looks at co-design processes specifically for people with disability. The researchers explored stakeholder perceptions and experiences. The findings support participation of people with disability in architectural design processes.

The title of the article is, Co-design in the context of universal design: An Australian case study exploring the role of people with disabilities in the design of public buildings. You will need institutional access for a free read. Or, ask for a copy from the author, Valerie Watchorn on ResearchGate.

A graphic of a group of people including a wheelchair user.

From the abstract

This study aimed to explore stakeholder perceptions and experiences on co-design processes. Twenty six people with disability, advocates, and design professionals participated in workshops. Four major themes emerged: there are challenges to practicing co-design; co-design is inclusive, accessible, and genuine; co-design is planned and embedded in all design stages; and co-design delivers positive outcomes. 

Findings strongly support participation of people with disabilities in architectural design, highlight challenges and limitations to current practice, and provide insight into factors that optimise outcomes and the experiences of those involved.

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