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What is Co-Design?

At the core of Huddle's approach is a process called co-design. In this overview we delve into its history, methods, and principles.

What is design?

Humans have been ‘designing’ for millennia. Beginning with early hunting tools, the process of purposefully creating new technologies eventually expanded to include architecture, furniture, graphic design and typography, and most recently, product and service design. Service design applies both new and traditional design methods and tools to programs, policies, and services. Design-based methods offer several advantages over traditional, linear approaches to problem solving, and advance an iterative process of observation, collaboration, fast learning, visualization, and prototyping.

What is Co-design?

Collaborative design, or co-design, is a specific approach to design which emerged from Scandinavian participatory design approaches developed in the 1970s and early 1980s. These participatory approaches emphasize productive tension over immediate consensus, and are rooted in the idea that those affected by a decision should have a say in its making. Co-design is believed to offer several advantages, including improved idea generation, and more democratic forms decision-making. It also offers are more structured alternative to more traditional forms of collaboration and engagement.

Co-Design VERSUS Action Research

Those familiar with social sciences research might draw parallels between co-design and action research – both of which emphasize learning by doing and can support community development. While co-design can be particularly useful at the ‘do’ phase of action research, it does not always involve research ambitions (though it can), and is therefore more outcomes focused. As a design process, its roots are in design theory, and it therefore employs abductive design-based methods. 

When is Co-Design Appropriate?

When engaging in policy, program, or service development or innovation, and particularly when addressing issues of equity or access, co-design can be a useful approach. In general, co-design works best when:

•    Your problem isn’t yet clearly defined or is contested
•    Your solution or approach isn’t working and you don’t know why
•    Many stakeholders or teams are involved
•    Different groups have different ideas about the best way forward

Co-Design & Equity

Who gets to participate in design activities can depend on who has access to the designers and institutions organizing the events, which is largely determined by social factors. Huddle’s framework explicitly takes these factors into account, in a process of co-designing the co-design event. As such, no two co-design projects will look the same, and while toolkits are useful for introducing co-design concepts, each approach is adapted to its local context.

Want to learn more about co-design? Contact us.