Participatory design includes several methods such as cultural probes, photo studies, collages and workshops. They all share the unifying philosophy of active consultation and participation from others. A great way to think about participatory is designing with people, not for them. Sometimes participatory design is also called cooperative design, co-design or co-creation.
Participatory design helps to provide inspiration for the design. It helps to communicate with people and discover insights about people’s feelings and knowledge. Participatory design can help build empathy as it is all about understanding other people’s perspective. Furthermore, it allows designers to extract knowledge that is not easily explained through words.
Sanders, Brandt and Binder proposed the following framework to structure participatory design research. Since participatory design is a broad term for various tools, this framework can help to determine which specific method to use to carry out the research.
- Start with considering the form. What is the kind of action that is taking place between the participants? They propose three main forms:
- Decide on the purpose. Why are the tools and techniques being used? They propose four dimensions:
- For probing participants
- Priming participants to a particular topic
- Getting a better understanding of their current experience
- Generating ideas or design concepts
- Determine the context. Where and how are the tools being used? They describe this in four dimensions.
Advantages: encourages designers to consider different point of view and build empathy; helps gather knowledge that designers may not initially be aware of or that cannot be expressed in words; people feel a sense of ownership when they are actively involved in co-design
Disadvantages: difficult and time-consuming to get a representative group of participants; diverse opinions and perspectives from participants can be overwhelming and difficult to consolidate; maintaining the balance between the input from participants and the designer’s expertise - the user is not always right.
Hussain, Sanders, Steinert. Participatory Design with Marginalized People in Developing Countries: Challenges and Opportunities Experienced in a Field Study in Cambodia.
This is a field study to demonstrate the use of participatory design in Cambodia to develop ideas for a device that enables children who use prosthetic legs to walk in the mud. This research shows that using participatory design with marginalized communities can help to develop products that use the user’s needs as well as the psychological empowerment of the participants.
The Story of Co-design
A blog with examples and videos about participatory design and co-design projects done by UK service design firms Think Pubic and Engine.
Sanders, Brandt, Binder. A framework for organizing the tools and techniques of participatory design. 2010.
Frog. Bringing users into your process through participatory design. 2014. Download.
Interactive explorations. Participatory Design: what is it and why is it important? Donwload