At the age of five I remember following my parents to the local library of the small village where I grew up. At the entrance of the library, an impressive landscape prototype of an upcoming development project where on display, containing miniature buildings, cars, trees and even dogs.
The local municipality council had gathered local residents, including my parents, to get their feedback, thoughts and ideas on an upcoming development project. As for me, I was fully occupied in trying to figure out how to create miniature asphalt as realistic as in the landscape prototype, unaware of that I was attending my first participatory design event.
According to David and Tom Kelly (“Creative Confidence” 2013), there is no division between creative and non-creative people. To make something innovative, you need to choose to be creative, and in doing so, not being afraid to make mistakes. It is through experimentation and learning that we nurture our creative capacities. Through our literature studies and insights from Katja Tschimmels lectures, we make the conclusion “Homo partum” — Latin for “creative human”, is a very important driver of any innovation process.
The ability to harness this creativity that resides within everyone is a powerful tool to drive innovation. Research done by company Braineet shows, that 58% of worldwide businesses are piloting co-creation/participatory design projects to help drive internal innovation. Companies like Unilever, IKEA, DeWalt are using co-creation as a strategy to get both employees and customers to join forces in order to build better products, services and experiences.
Creativity by Participatory design – in urban development
It´s not just global food or furniture making companies that has seen the advantages of harnessing the creativity of the workforce and end customers. Professor Henry Sanoff of University North Carolina have studied participatory design for over 50 years and in his publication “Community Participation Methods in Design and Planning”, Sanoff illustrates how the creativity of local communities can be unleashed by using participatory design.
When including residents of a community in the design phase of a new development project, the balance between viability (should we build it), feasibility (can we build it) and desirability (do the residents/customers want it), can be better aligned at an early stage, helping the project to be more anchored within the community and ensuring that the outcome of the project will be more inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. By using participatory design, the risk of having to redesign and/or redevelop urban spaces is significantly reduced.
Participatory design in urban development uses some elements recognized from the different design thinking approaches. Sanhoff gives examples of the most common stages:
- Collection and analysis of primary information where the urban development specialists inspect the area/facility and identifies of the development potential and the needs of the local residents, business owners and other stakeholders, using field observations and interviews as method.
- Informing the residents about the upcoming plans to create awareness and promote involvement in the development process. Usually done through newsletter send-outs, bulletin boards or townhall meetings.
- Invite residents to participatory design sessions in workshop format where the residents share ideas, create prototypes and proposals, which conveys their needs, wants, and desires. The proposals are presented and reviewed, and the best ideas are selected using voting mechanisms
- Celebration as an important part to recognize the community strength and the common achievement. Giving a sense of unity and appropriation for the upcoming project.
Why use participatory design?
In urban development projects, it is important to give meaning to public spaces, and who, if not people who live in, work in, or utilize these areas such as parks, squares, courtyards, city gardens, sports fields, and playgrounds, will be the ones that can provide the best input on what their needs are? Involving the “end user” in the design process ensures not only more refined ideas and the unleashing of the creativity within, but also a higher chance of a successful project.
My lasting memory from that out-of-the-ordinary visit to the library in my youth was that my parents from that day on mentioned the development project every time we drove by the area in our village and how excited they were that they had the chance to convey their thoughts and input.
Thinking of it now many years later after reflecting on the impressions from the first sessions at SID, I have come to understand the great value of involving the end user in all projects where innovation is needed.
/ Eleonora Prits & Johan Svensson
Kelley, D. & Kelley, T. (2013) Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All. Crown Business.
Sanoff, Henry (2000) Community Participation Methods in Design and Planning. John Whiley and Sons, Inc.
Solis, Brian (2021) This Is Marketing’s Ctrl-Alt-Del Moment: Leading CMOs Prioritize CX And Innovation In Business Transformation, Forbes
Mootee, Idris (2013) Design thinking for strategic innovation, Wiley
Project group 8, DOM.RF, Foundation for the Development of Single-Industry Towns (2018) Involvement of citizens in improvement projects. KB Strelka LLC
Snegireva, Nadezhda (2018) Organization of public discussions of territorial development projects. Project group 8, Program for the development of public spaces of the Republic of Tatarstan
Thank you, Eleonora and Johan, for sharing this subject with us.
Living in urban area, I personally find it tempting to participate in my community library landscape prototyping for upcoming development projects.
It is important to involve the community and other stakeholders in development projects because it will allow them to contribute their ideas and inputs in the development process. For example; The community need to be consulted comprehensively in public development projects, because they may have a significant physical impact in the community. i.e., the type of architecture, the size, roads, etc.
As I understand, the goal of participatory design is to include all stakeholders in each step of the design process. In Finland, the government and municipalities are collaborating with designers, clients, users, the community, and other actors in planning and building social and affordable design housing complex. (Smart City Platform for urban development)
Hello Eleonora and Johan! This was a very nicely written post that combined a personal touch with interesting takes on community participation. The opening and closing really tie the whole piece together.
The Kellys really do put it well when they say that you need to deliberately choose creativity. On reflection this brings to mind many occasions when one has felt blocked and unable to proceed and come up with something new or an interesting perspective on the familiar. Perseverance and a tolerance for ambiguity and mistakes come to the forefront in these times when forging ahead.
You’ve also listed some common stages of participatory design as outlined by Professor Henry Sanoff of the University of North Carolina. These offer more in-depth view of the process of involving communities in urban development. Especially that last stage of celebrating the common achievement feels to me like an often overlooked part. All in all your post was interesting, informative and has me considering taking part in the urban development projects near me through community participation efforts. Thank you!
Involving users is paramount in design. However, I think co-design and collaboration is often misunderstood and misapplied by turning design from something done in ivory towers by esteemed individuals to something done by voting and consensus. Pendulum swings from one extreme to the another. Neither extreme is good for design.
Collaboration and co-design are important for many reasons, some of which are,
1. Gaining buy-in from users, so that users are more willing to take new designs into use,
2. Understanding the distinct needs, goals, wants and requirements of users,
3. Getting multiple perspectives into the design and its potential solutions.
However, none of the above means users should actually design the solutions. Input, feedback, ideas, yes, but not final designs. Designers still have an important role in synthesizing all the understanding into relevant insights to come up with design that takes into account all the relevant stakeholders and the ecosystem at large. Design in real world is complex and asking users to handle all the complexity and understand how to tie everything together in few workshops is a lot to ask. Unfortunately, this is what often happens.
A better approach is to find a good balance between designer-led and user-led design, where all the relevant things have been identified and understood and users feel their voices have been heard and properly applied in design. There are really no shortcuts in design. Not in real world anyway.