Reflections on a Co-Design Work-shop

01Mar12

As part of a recent work assignment I was asked to do some contextual enquiry (interviews with stake-holders with-in their work environments) and was able to talk my client into letting me run some group co-design workshops instead.

The project was to produce a high level design for an online portal for financial planners to manage their policies by a large financial organization.

I spent a few days in Victoria traveling around to different financial planners of different sizes. From large groups spanning over many floors in the centre of the city to beach side offices with around 7 staff.

I ran some basic collaborative exercises with these planners and was able to extract information about how the existing portal doesn’t work for them in their current work flow, as well as some interesting ways they have developed to work around their issues. This was a good illustration of the fact that as designers we need to understand the work-flows of the users of the systems we are designing i.e. how it fits into the bigger context of their work, as well as the fact that users may not use the systems in the way that we think they will. Understanding context is such an important part of technology design particularly within the work-place.

For this project I ran a collaborative wire-framing exercise where I supplied web widgets e.g. Text fields, panels, images, blocks of text etc as made out of post-it notes and let the users design their own pages. I love using 3d objects for these types of activities. We use a certain % of our brains to manipulate these prototyping objects which allows us to be more creative and less analytical. The tactile quality of this type of activity is also engaging as it’s fun!

It was really interesting to see the similarities between the different groups designs. What was most interesting was the fact that all the financial advisors seemed to have a consistent mental model about their work which was not supported by the current systems logic. Instead of basing the systems work-flow on distinct policies, the planners organized their information and thinking around people as the central and linking object ie the owners of the policies. This fundamental difference in thinking was the reason why their experience with the current system was so poor. Through this exercise I was able to communicate to my client an alternative way of presenting and linking the sites information and functionality. I also had some wire-frames made by the users of the system to support my own design concept.

There was another benefit to these workshops as well. A less tangible benefit but extremely important. Playing the audio back to my client in the final presentation was gold! The planners were so chuffed to be able to assist with this project and it reflected so positively on my clients brand.

One of my workshop attendees stated:

“The fact that they are consulting us before the fact rather than after the fact is so good. Usually they show us stuff after its built and it’ too late to change anything much.”

“This is a true business to business relationship it’s a partnership not a master-slave one like it usually is. We are partners. They help us grow our business and thier business grows too”

Co-design methods can facilitate an important benefit of buy-in. When you ask people to help you design a solution it becomes “our solution” rather than “your solution” i.e. the solution that you are going to enforce on me. Co-design comes from an emancipatory sentiment where it was introduced in Scandinavian countries in the work-place during the 70s when businesses began making staff utilize computer based systems within the work-place.

This ides of buy-in becomes even more important within the context of service design where the customer experience is delivered by each one of the staff. Isn’t it important that people feel connected to the service experience and brand promise that they are meant to deliver to your client through each and every interaction?

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2 Responses to “Reflections on a Co-Design Work-shop”

  1. Great info! I’m on a very similar project and this is exactly what I need to prompt that more research is needed. If you have more mental model patterns for Financial Planners – I would love to see them!

    • Hi Dennis,
      Thanks for leaving a note. The point of co-design activities is to facilitate a shared understanding between user and designer…it’s a learning process where you can learn from each other through “things” – users are able to explain themselves by showing you without a shared discourse. You can buy some kits that are pre-made UI components as post-it notes that you can users to create their own interfaces based on their tasks. There are so many resources on-line with interesting co-design methods you can find! Good-luck!


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