Listen, understand, create | An insight into co-design

My entry into co-design has only happened in the last 8 months. While I have been in the design space for a few years now, before Curative I hadn’t had the opportunity to truly co-design something from start to finish.

The learning process has been wonderful! Filled with lots of learning curves, beautiful people and new feelings. I hope to share some of my learnings here. This isn’t a comprehensive description of the entire process of co-design, but rather the learnings told from my perspective and experience.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term (as I was, before joining the Curative team), co-design is about capturing lots of different perspectives, insights and experiences, of those using your services, and working together to provide information/solutions in ways that can lead to high levels of engagement and use.

Basically what this means, is that we try and remove as many of our own assumptions as possible about what we think is right for the people and communities we are creating for by involving them and allowing them to steer the project through gathering insights and being open to feedback.

This is how I interpret it:

We listen,

We understand,

We create

These three actions are continuous, cyclical and all depend on each other. We cannot understand without listening, and we cannot create without understanding.

There are so many beneficial reasons to use a co-design approach in creative projects. In my limited experience of having been part of co-designing around four different projects, I really think it has made me a better designer and human.

There are a bunch of tools we use throughout the co-design process to gain different insights from the group. These includes things like moodboards, personas, journey maps and much more.

Each of these are designed to reveal thoughts and perspectives from the group without them having to explicitly verbalise them in front of the room. These are incredibly useful and it takes a lot of listening and creating the right “space” in the room for these insights to flow.

The concept ‘listening to understand’ has become very important in forming a good brief for me to design from. Actively listening by clarifying, paraphrasing, reflecting and summarising has been some of the most valuable ways to garner hidden insights to guide our projects.

In using these techniques, more and more emphasis is put on the kind of questions you are asking that really shape the answer you are getting.

This is something I am still very much practicing and navigating, but I have seen such value in taking the time to craft a better question to gain a deeper, more meaningful answer. Sometimes I think we underestimate how much we can steer a conversation with the kind of questions we ask.

So, in the spirit of creating more meaningful design solutions for the world, here are some quick insights that I have gained by designing through co-design.

  1. Negative feedback is just as valuable as positive feedback.
    Listening for negative feedback is something I intentionally do when hearing insights from a group. These have often been the main signposts I use to create a brand/design.

  2. Hold your work lightly, understanding that it doesn’t actually belong to you.
    When designing in a co-design setting, you have to be aware that the work you are creating belongs to everyone in that group. Therefore when criticism happens, it’s not actually about you and your design ability, but rather the critique lies in the design itself. In the end, this kind of criticism makes for the absolute best pruning of an idea and ensures that it will serve the purpose it is supposed to in the community.

  3. Diversity of thought is extremely valuable.
    Getting to meet so many different people, from different walks of life, you are quickly exposed to your own mindsets and assumptions about how things work.  
    It’s not a bad thing to hold your own set of assumptions, but when designing for communities, you need to be able to step out of your worldview and into the shoes of theirs for a while. There’s a lovely quote by Aristotle that I always come back to.

    “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Jade & Eddy often speak about how they wished designers fought for better briefs. This process of co-designing not only embraces new insights and learnings but gives me a very real, human brief to design from. I hope that co-design becomes the ‘new normal’ for design and that we recognise the importance of the voices of those who will be affected by our designs.

You can read more about our Curative approach here.
Thanks for reading!

Jess Holdaway

Jess Holdaway