How to get past the co-design buzz and put it into practice

Kristen Vang has some tips for bringing together the right people, making group dynamics work and boosting efficiency to get the best results from co-design processes.

Kristen VangThe term ‘co-design’ is thrown around a lot these days, yet it is surrounded by misconceptions and many organisations struggle to put the theory into practice. Simply put, co-design attempts to actively involve all stakeholders in the design process to achieve the best results.

For many companies, this is still a completely new way of thinking and they don’t understand the value in the extra process and effort involved. There certainly are challenges, but done well it ensures everyone comes out of the process happy with the end product.

 

Bringing together the right people

For starters, you have to involve a lot of people in co-design. And not only that, it needs to be quite a diverse group. It can be challenging to get the commitment to participate from all the necessary teams and levels within an organisation, as they might not see the need for their input if they don’t fully understand co-design and its benefits. It can feel like herding cats.

Once you get everyone to agree to participate, the challenge becomes actually bringing them together. This not only entails some serious calendar juggling, there’s also the need to secure an appropriately sized space with just the right set up (read: no big conference table that everyone plops down around).

Don’t settle for a sub-par room, the environment is a critical success factor.

 

Making the group dynamics work

Given the diversity of the group, there’s usually a smorgasbord of introverts, extraverts, agitators and agree-ers in the room together, so the facilitator will need to be ready with some tricks and techniques to get everyone to engage and contribute. It’s also critical to push past hierarchy and team dynamics and create an environment where people from the top of the organisation to the bottom feel comfortable speaking openly and honestly with one another.  

Co-design workshops can be uncomfortable, particularly at the start, as everyone gains an appreciation for the process and builds confidence in how to participate. This is a totally natural step in the journey, so find a way to not only tolerate the awkwardness, but actually relish it.

 

Working with, not working for

Dated views of what the client-agency relationship should look like can sometimes linger. But there can be no smoke and mirrors – both parties need to show their true selves – warts and all. At Hatchd, this has meant getting comfortable sharing work that isn’t quite right and our clients being at ease divulging their budgets with us. We can’t work together effectively without total honesty and transparency.

This helps build a ‘same team’ mentality, where we view each other as partners, and everyone is invested in delivering mutually successful outcomes.

Some tactics to consider to break down the client-agency barriers include:

  • Co-working: spend a full-day working from each other’s offices.
  • Co-design sessions: run a working session with a variety of stakeholders to collaboratively consider a problem and solution.
  • Daily stand-ups (in person, or on the phone): hold quick check-ins that strengthen a relationship and quickly overcome roadblocks.

So what are the benefits?

 

Greater alignment

Workshopping solutions together with our clients means we’re on the same page during the whole process, and any issues or concerns can be resolved as we go. There’s no ‘ta-da’ at the end, but that’s a small price to pay for the shared vision everyone holds.

Co-design eliminates many of the confusions, misconceptions and misunderstandings that can arise and brings greater clarity to everyone involved in a project. Not only do we have greater alignment between us and our clients, it extends across their teams and ours – from IT to marketing and design to development.

 

Increased efficiency

While the planning component can feel (and sometimes be) lengthier, the process is almost always more efficient overall.

Co-design enables us to identify, address and resolve issues along the way, and gives everyone a greater understanding of why things have been done in a particular way. Because of this, there is never a big influx of feedback and amends toward the pointy end of a project as the solution begins to take shape.

Perhaps most importantly, co-design leads to empathy and consideration for all users. Involving a diverse cross-section of stakeholders helps deliver solutions that consider the needs of all users – internal and external.

 

So what?

It isn’t always easy – co-design takes work. We’ve learnt from our struggles as much as our successes. When deadlines are looming and budgets are tight, there’s sometimes a desire to just keep moving without input from certain users or client stakeholders, and we’ve had to learn to be strong and push back when these omissions will impact the result.

Co-design is so much more than a way of working. It’s a way of thinking, a culture even. And, it’s changing our industry. If you’re not doing it now, you should be asking why.

Kristen Vang is director at Australian experience design studio Hatchd.

 

 

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