Participatory Design

Participatory design is a method to co-create, co-operate, and co-design. Participatory design is an approach where all the stakeholders i.e. employees, customers, end-users, partners, designers, and researchers are actively involved in the design process. Participatory Design exercises are used in a variety of fields, such as software and product design, architecture, and graphic design, among other disciplines.

Quick details: Participatory Design

Structure: Structured, Semi-structured

Preparation: Participant recruitment, Design task, Recording tools

Deliverables: Recordings, Notes, Artefacts

More about Participatory design

Traditionally, customers have believed that design involves a very passive contribution from their end and the main actor that is the designer. Some design methods do allow the users to contribute extensively to research but the design is majorly left to the designers. Additionally, most design methods allow the designer or researcher to relocate to the user’s world, study it and design based on that understanding. Participatory design is a concept that aims to include the end users in the design process. Here, the end users relocate to the world of research and design.

We must note that even though the users act as an important source of information and ideas in participatory design, they are not the final decision makers. However, the users do perform exercises in which they create and design mock-ups of the products (soft or physical) that they would use in specific scenarios. The users also further explain why they designed or built the product a certain way. By examining this process from the beginning and listening intently to the participants, the researcher can gain valuable insights about what the users need. Participatory design also helps separate and validate what the users say they do versus what they actually do.

The fun thing about participatory design is that you can use absolutely anything as a tool for the users to design or build something from. Participants can draw something by using only a pen and paper or build something using lego blocks; the tools can be anything as long as they serve the purpose. By letting the participants show us what matters to them, as opposed to telling us, we are getting more specific and more honest data out of the session.

Think Design's recommendation

Participatory design could be much more expensive and time consuming compared to non-participatory design methods. However, the advantages far outweigh this disadvantage in certain contexts. 

As explained above, participatory design should be used when we want users to act instead of just speak… and by doing so, they would create prototypes, artefacts, mockups that capture what they would want in a product. Sometimes, what we cannot capture in language can be very well be captured in action; do invest in participatory design when that is what you intend.

Say for instance, you want to understand what would the next generation office space mean to its users. While there are a host of research methods to get this insight, participatory design may be much more interesting. In this case, you would call users to participate in the design exercise and as they develop their design, the researcher can probe and understand the fundamental thoughts behind users’ intent. 

The goal is to understand users’ needs through design workout; the goal of participatory design is not take participants’ design as is and implement them.

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