In the 1970's, the introduction of computer technology in the Norwegian iron and metal working industry resulted in an unexpected outcome for the world: the development of a new and improved way of designing systems, services, products and buildings.
It was founded on the principle that the people most likely to be affected by change should be deeply involved in its development. At the time the process was called ‘participatory design’. Now it’s commonly known as ‘co-design’.
Since then, the concept has been used worldwide across sectors and industries from education to software design to healthcare services and building construction.
Co-design is not just consultation where advice and views are exchanged, it’s about close involvement in design and participation in decision making.
Co-design asks service providers and service users to walk in the shoes of each other and to use these experiences as the basis of designing change.
It also provides insight into how individuals will respond to new services or buildings and helps shape them, so they are more effective, and any unintended consequences are identified.
Collaborating with end-users to clarify problems and developing solutions can be the difference between making something that works – and something that doesn’t.
Co-design is a mindset and should be part of routine business practice. However, general acceptance of the concept will take time because it involves significant cultural change.
People often feel they’ve ticked the box on co-design if they involve people at the beginning of planning, even if they aren’t participating in the rest of the process.
Co-design is not about tokenistic consultation. People need to be involved as active participants with meaningful input throughout the planning and development stages.
Praise for City of Bunbury
I want to publicly acknowledge and congratulate the City of Bunbury for taking the initiative last year in establishing a Co-Design Access Panel.
The panel assists with the design of buildings, facilities and open spaces to ensure that the City of Bunbury is exceeding community expectations in relation to disability access and inclusion.
Different types of participants with different kinds of knowledge - disability, access and inclusion experience, professional and specialist expertise - are involved in the process.
It’s a relationship where professionals and community representatives share power to plan and deliver support together, recognising that both have vital contributions to make in order to improve the quality of life for the wider community.
The same principles can be used by any business such as retailers, restaurants, cafes and other shops.
I often advise business owners who want their commercial operations to be accessible and inclusive to utilise the resources they already have and simply ask the question of their customers: “How can I make your experience easier or better?”
Businesses who take up this challenge usually find their customer loyalty and patronage increases, because customers with any form of disability come to realise their views and opinions are being taken seriously and they become champions of the business and recommend it others.
It is about designing with people, not merely for people.