Co-Creation and the New Landscapes of Design

Citation Sanders, E. B. .-N., & Stappers, P. J. (2008). Co-Creation and the New Landscapes of Design. Co-design, 4(1), 5–18. Taylor & Francis. Sidewiki
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author = {Sanders, Elizabeth B.-N. and Stappers, Pieter Jan},
date-added = {2013-10-07 10:59:01 -0400},
date-modified = {2013-10-07 11:53:20 -0400},
date-read = {2013-10-07 11:53:20 -0400},
journal = {Co-design},
keywords = {co-design; participatory design; design research; user-centred design},
number = {1},
pages = {5–18},
publisher = {Taylor & Francis},
read = {1},
title = {Co-Creation and the New Landscapes of Design},
volume = {4},
year = {2008},


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The evolution in design research from a user-centred approach to co-designing is changing the roles of the designer, the researcher and the person formerly known as the ‘user’ p. 3

The evolution in design research from a user-centred approach to codesigning is changing the landscape of design practice as well, creating new domains of collective creativity p. 3

1. Introduction p. 3

The terms co-design and co-creation are today often confused and/or treated synonymously with one another p. 4

Opinions about who should be involved in these collective acts of creativity, when, and in what role vary widely p. 4

The authors take co-creation to refer to any act of collective creativity, i.e. creativity that is shared by two or more people p. 4

By co-design we indicate collective creativity as it is applied across the whole span of a design process p. 4

Thus, co-design is a specific instance of co-creation. Co-design refers, for some people, to the collective creativity of collaborating designers. p. 4

We use co-design in a broader sense to refer to the creativity of designers and people not trained in design working together in the design development process. p. 4

Figure 2 shows a simple representation of the design process today. p. 4

Of note is the large and growing emphasis on the front end. Formerly called ‘pre-design’, the front end describes the many activities that take place in order to inform and inspire the exploration p. 4

The front end is often referred to as ‘fuzzy’ because of the ambiguity and chaotic nature that characterise it. In the fuzzy front end, it is often not known whether the deliverable of the design process will be a product, a service, an interface, a building, etc. p. 5

The goal of the explorations in the front end is to determine what is to be designed and sometimes what should not be designed and manufactured p. 5

The fuzzy front end is followed by the traditional design process where the resulting ideas for product, service, interface, etc., are developed first into concepts, and then into prototypes that are refined on the basis of the feedback of future users. p. 5

2. A quick glance at history p. 5

Actually, the practice of collective creativity in design has been around for nearly 40 years, going under the name participatory design. p. 5

Research projects on user participation in systems development date back to the 1970s p. 5

participation at the moment of idea generation p. 6

It is of interest to note that the best known proponents of co-design originate from business or marketing and not from design practice. p. 6

C. K. Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy are usually given credit for bringing cocreation to the minds of those in the business community with the 2004 publication of their book, The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers p. 6

Informed, networked, empowered and active consumers are increasingly co-creating value with the firm. (Prahalad and Ramaswamy 2004) p. 6

Frank Piller also writes extensively about the co-creation of value between companies and customers. p. 6

Co-creation is by now being touted at all points along the product development process, particularly in the later stages. Websites such as allow people to customise their own shoes, for example, by choosing colors and detailing. p. 6

For many, co-creation is the latest trend in marketing and brand development. p. 6

In our experience as researchers and practitioners we have seen that co-creation practiced at the early front end of the design development process can have an impact with positive, long-range consequences p. 7

This mirrors Jungk’s observation that ‘participation at the moment of idea generation’ is an important place to be practicing participatory design. p. 7

However, ‘participation at the moment of decision’ is gaining in interest as well. The application of participatory design practices (both at the moment of idea generation and continuing throughout the design process at all key moments of decision) to very largescale problems will change design and may change the world p. 7

2.1. Why has it taken so long? p. 7

First, to embrace co-creativity requires that one believes that all people are creative. This is not a commonly accepted belief p. 7

Secondly, participatory thinking is antithetical to consumerism, in which personal happiness is equated with purchasing and consuming material goods p. 7

In our studies over the last 10 years we encounter that, increasingly, people want a balance between passive consumption and the ability to actively choose what kinds of more creative experiences to engage in and how (see Sanders 2006b) p. 7

Unfortunately, it will still take years for the culture to shift away from consumerism towards the consumptive/creative balance that people seek. The renewed interest in sustainable practices is also helping to fuel that fire. p. 7

A third reason that it has taken co-creation so long to have an impact is that participatory design has been seen as academic endeavour with little or no relevance for the competitive marketplace p. 8

Last but not least, the relationships between new technologies and future human experiences have just recently become very complex and integrated p. 8

For example, as car manufacturers find it hard to compete on technical quality and price, they are forced to look outside the product to the user and his/her context. p. 8

2.2. What is going on in design practice? p. 8

The user-centred design approach, which began in the 1970s and became widespread by the 1990s, proved to be most useful in the design and development of consumer products (Sanders 1992). But it is now becoming apparent that the user-centred design approach cannot address the scale or the complexity of the challenges we face today. p. 8

We are no longer simply designing products for users. We are designing for the future experiences of people, communities and cultures who now are connected and informed in ways that were unimaginable even 10 years ago. p. 8

‘Interaction design’ was first introduced in the late 1980s by Bill Moggridge and Bill Verplank (Moggridge 2007). p. 8

Consequently, new disciplines of design have begun to emerge p. 8

‘Service design’ started to receive attention in 2006 with the advent of the first service design conference, Emergence 2006, that was put on by Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design p. 8

‘Transformation design’ was introduced in 2006 in a White Paper by that name published by the UK’s Design Council p. 8

service design integrates visual communication design, information design and interaction design p. 8

Transformation design, the newest of the emergent design disciplines, is based on participatory practices in combination with user-centred methods. It ‘builds on traditional design skills to address social and economic issues. It uses the design process as a means to enable a wide range of disciplines and stakeholders to collaborate’ (Burns et al. 2006). p. 8

we are moving from the design of categories of ‘products’ to designing for people’s purposes. p. 8

The emerging design practices, on the right, centre around people’s needs or societal needs, and require a different approach in that they need to take longer views and address larger scopes of inquiry. p. 8

The emerging design practices will change what we design, how we design, and who designs. The impact upon the education of designers will be immense. p. 9

The patterns of change taking place in the transition from a product perspective to the purpose perspective are described more fully in the following sections. p. 9

3. The roles in the design process are changing p. 9

In a caricature of the classical user-centred design process, the user is a passive object of study, and the researcher brings knowledge from theories and develops more knowledge through observation and interviews. The designer then passively p. 9

receives this knowledge in the form of a report and adds an understanding of technology and the creative thinking needed to generate ideas, concepts, etc. p. 10

co-design p. 10

In co-design, on the other hand, the roles get mixed up: the person who will eventually be served through the design process is given the position of ‘expert of his/her experience’, and plays a large role in knowledge development, idea generation and concept development. p. 10

In generating insights, the researcher supports the ‘expert of his/her experience’ by providing tools for ideation and expression p. 10

The designer and the researcher collaborate on the tools for ideation because design skills are very important in the development of the tools. The designer and researcher may, in fact, be the same person. p. 10

The designer still plays a critical role in giving form to the ideas (more on the changing roles of the key players in the co-design process is discussed in Sleeswijk Visser et al. 2005). p. 10

3.1. The role of the user: co-designer? p. 10

Sometimes ‘users’ can play co-creating roles throughout the design process, i.e. become codesigners, but not always. It depends on level of expertise, passion, and creativity of the ‘user’. p. 10

Four levels of creativity can be seen in people’s lives: doing, adapting, making and creating (see Table 2, and Sanders 2006b) These four levels vary in terms of the amount of expertise and interest needed. p. 10

Expertise, interest/passion, effort, and returns grow with each level. p. 10

People live simultaneously at all levels of creativity in different parts of their daily lives. p. 10

People with a high level of passion and knowledge in a certain domain who are invited to participate directly in the design process can certainly become co-designers. p. 10

He proposes a continuum ranging from passive consumer, to active consumer, to end user, to user, to power user, to domain designers, all the way to meta-designer. p. 10

Users can become part of the design team as ‘expert of their experiences’ (Sleeswijk Visser et al. 2005), but in order for them to take on this role, they must be given appropriate tools for expressing themselves p. 10

3.2. The role of the researcher: from translator to facilitator p. 11

In co-designing, the researcher (who may be a designer) takes on the role p. 11

When we acknowledge that different levels of creativity exist, it becomes evident that we need to learn how to offer relevant experiences to facilitate people’s expressions of creativity at all levels p. 12

of a facilitator p. 12

This means leading, guiding, and providing scaffolds, as well as clean slates to encourage people at all levels of creativity. p. 12

Different approaches to inviting and involving future users into the design development process will be needed for the different levels of creativity. p. 12

As researchers we will need to learn how to: . lead people who are on the ‘doing’ level of creativity, . guide those who are at the ‘adapting’ level, . provide scaffolds that support and serve peoples’ need for creative expression at the ‘making’ level, and . offer a clean slate for those at the ‘creating’ level. p. 12

In addition to bringing people into the design process in the ways most conducive to their ability to participate, researchers will need to bring in applicable domain theories in a way that can be handled by the co-design team. p. 12

3.3. The role of the professional designer p. 12

Design skills will become even more important in the future as the new landscapes of design emerge. p. 12

Designers will be in demand as the usefulness of design thinking is acknowledged in mankind’s drive to address the challenges of global, systemic issues. p. 12

By selection and training, most designers are good at visual thinking, conducting creative processes, finding missing information, and being able to make necessary decisions in the absence of complete information p. 13

In the near future, designers will find themselves involved not only in the design of stand-alone products but in the design of environments and systems for delivering healthcare, for example. p. 13

As the scope and complexity of design problems increases, we will need the special skills and abilities of designers to help in the way ahead. p. 13

The use of generative design tools lets one look forward into the possible futures of the people who will be living, working and playing there. The onus is on designers to explore the potential of generative tools and to bring the languages of co-designing into their practice. p. 13

We will be using generative design thinking to address change in the future p. 13

Third, designers will need to play a role on the co-designing teams because they provide expert knowledge that the other stakeholders do not have. Designers professionally keep track of existing, new and emerging technologies, and have an overview of production processes and business contexts. p. 13

Fourth, even in the design profession there is considerable specialisation. The skills, knowledge and methods of the interior designer, the interaction designer, the graphic designer, etc., are quite different. These professions will not disappear overnight as ‘users’ become co-designers (Buxton 2005). p. 13

4. What does co-creation suggest for changing design practice and education? p. 13

Bringing co-creation into design practice will cause a number of changes to occur. It will change how we design, what we design, and who designs. It will also affect the tools and methods that the new teams of co-designers will use. p. 13

At the front end, design will become synonymous with design research, creating new landscapes of opportunity for designers and researchers. p. 13

The fuzzy front end will become populated with hybrid design researchers and research designers. p. 13

The design/research blur will be disruptive at first, with arguments going back and forth about who is best suited to do what, which tools and methods belong to whom and how to analyse the data. This is where we are now. p. 13

As the disruption gains momentum, p. 13

however, new disciplines will spin out and people will begin to explore the new design spaces on the emerging landscape p. 14

From the blur will come new types of designers and researchers with specialties based more on the purpose of designing as opposed to the products of designing (see Table 1) p. 14

Co-designing teams will be far more diverse than they are today. Future co-designing will be a close collaboration between all the stakeholders in the design development process together with a variety of professionals having hybrid design/research skills. p. 14

These team players will vary across many types of culture simultaneously: disciplinary culture, company culture, ethnic culture, worldview, mindset, etc. p. 14

In the future, the new co-design languages that support and facilitate the many varieties of cross-cultural communication will become highly valued. p. 14

What is being designed will change. Larger views across space and time will be needed. New tools and methods for design research will be needed to address increasing scope, scale and complexity. p. 14

Design for sustainability has been the first of the new design spaces to impact architecture and planning, followed by design for experiencing. p. 14

The opportunity to bring the practice of co-design tools and methods to the design of educational environments and to the corporate workplace is now beginning as well. p. 14

4.1. New domains of collective creativity p. 14

We will see the emergence of new domains of collective creativity that will require new tools and methods for researching and designing. p. 14

We will need to provide alternative learning experiences and curricula for those who are designing and building scaffolds to support the collective creativity of others p. 14

In the future, we will be designing in virtual and hybrid domains. We are heading into a world where experience often trumps reality p. 15

The new landscapes of design and research will be infinite in space and time and continually changing. p. 15