About Co-Design Disciplines and Workshops

How to make sense of the numerous co-design disciplines and choose the correct methods of design? And how to apply this methodology in a workshop environment?

An excellent Aalto University research group called INUSE has recently created a “Co-Design Journey Planner”, which I found to be very inspiring as well as useful.

This framework is grouping different approaches to co-design under four different dimensions, entitled “Inspiration”, “Investigation”, “Cooperation”, and “Community”.

The nine main co-design approaches are then listed as follows, starting from the designer-centered end, and ending in community-based practice:

  • User Inspiration
  • Developer Immersion in Use
  • User Experience
  • Human-Centered Design
  • Collaborative Design
  • Co-Creative Design
  • Firm-Hosted User Design
  • Hybrid User Innovator Community
  • Independent User Innovator Community

Of these methods, the first two, “User Inspiration” and “Developer Immersion in Use” are characterized as the most designer-centric methods. The purpose of the first method is to gain impressions in order for the designer to renew and re-envision old categories and models of thinking. The second method is about the designer’s experience in the user domain, mainly about the context of use of a product or a service. These are the methods that are most useful in the context of getting inspiration when creating something new.

In the opposite end of the spectrum, we find the community creation phase and methods, with two different main categories, or “User Innovator Communities”, characterized here as “Hybrid” or “Independent”. The “Hybrid” one is a partially independent community, empowered by a third party, whereas the latter, “Independent” one hands over the design and maintenance of products or services to the community of their users. To me, these seem like the most mature models of co-design.

In-between, “User Experience”, and “Human-Centered Design” come in handy in the investigation phase of creating a new product or service or improving the existing ones.

The co-operation, in turn, is emphasized in “Collaborative” and “Co-Creative” design.

You can see the nine disciplines listed here: http://codesign.inuse.fi/approaches

The role of designers and design in creating new products or services or improving on the existing ones is crucial, as well as getting the intended users involved in the design process. But choosing the correct methods of co-design can be challenging. The above framework can certainly come in handy in the process of getting the designers and users to converse deeply and create outstanding products and services.

In my current job last year, I facilitated strategy-based co-design workshops regarding digital service design.

Even if your organization only employs a few designers or planners, it can be useful to workshop and create an environment where co-design can happen. Looking for a concise list of the elements of a successful workshop, I found this one by Paula Wellings:


Of these pro tips, I found the most useful ones to be “establishing shared reference” and “evoking the mission”. Unless there seems to be a shared sense of purpose, the workshop results may not prove very useful for many reasons. When organizing a co-design workshop, creating a shared mission is paramount. Once the mission is established, the rest will follow, and different methodologies may be applied.