Exploring Co-Design

One of the hallmarks of a service is that consumption occurs simultaneously with production. Customers can’t be separated from the process. In fact, they act as an integral co-producer of their individual service experience. While the concept of co-production is well established in service design literature (see Edvardsson), the concept of co-design hasn’t been explored quite as thoroughly. The “Journey to the Interface” paper I wrote about last week spends some time advocating for co-design as an alternative to mass customization but stops short of providing advice for how to go about it.

One avenue for exploration along these lines is the work of Liz Sanders. She’s devoted her practice to the evangelization of co-design methods; designing with users, not for them. Building on the Participatory Design canon from Scandinavia in the 70s and 80s, Ms Sanders has written more than a dozen papers over the past 15 years about the need for co-design and the development of convivial tools to help make it happen.

The premise is that a hierarchy of participant needs exists (re Maslow). Observable needs, explicit needs, tacit needs and latent needs. Only the first two can be put into words so it’s not enough to simply observe what people say and do, you’ve got to develop tools to get at what people “make” as a window into their tacit or latent needs. She also proposes an interesting framework for expanding the definition of creativity (doing, adapting, making, creating).

Ms Sanders did a workshop at Carnegie Mellon while I was a graduate student at the School of Design. Like others, I was incredulous at the time (mea culpa) and the interaction design community as a whole still seems reflexively hostile to the idea of co-creation, but for service design I’m finally starting to see the fit. Co-design is an obvious complement to co-production.

Probably the best paper to start with is Harnessing People’s Creativity [PDF 324K]. It provides a good overview of the methods and an introduction to the theory behind them.

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