Product/service design

How diversity can save design- a guide to co-design

A lot of what we experience throughout life is determined by who we are; in particular, our age, race, gender and religion.

For example,

  • People who grow up in Mumbai have experienced different things to those who grow up in London
  • People who grow up as baby boomers have experienced different things to millennial
  • People who grow up as Muslims have experienced different things to Christians
  • Women have experienced different things to men

Experiences shape the way we see the world. We’ve learnt to avoid the things that cause us pain, and learnt to seek the things that make us feel good. We all have our own unique view of the world because no two people experience exactly the same things. Even siblings, who typically grow up in the same environment with the same caregivers, see the world differently.

People often judge others on what they’ve experienced, which can lead to exclusion merely because someone is different. However, instead of limiting the diversity of experience we need to embrace it.

Far too often designers will receive a design challenge, lock themselves in their studio, and create solutions. They can go through the whole design process without involving anyone else. However, what they design is only going to be based on their narrow experience.

Steve Jobs once said;

“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem.”

“The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better outcome we will have.”

A diverse team of people who collaboratively design solutions are going to create much better results than a single person doing the same thing. All that’s needed is an effective method of leveraging these diverse experiences and turning them into solutions.


Co-design works by creating as many solutions as possible (diverging), then narrowing down on the best ones (converging).


It allows everyone to have their say, provide feedback on what works well and what can be improved, then vote on the best option.

Having a diverse team during co-design is critical because you want to have as many different options as possible. This is so team members can learn from, borrow, and improve each others ideas.

The result, at the end of a co-design, is the combination of the best parts of everyone’s experiences.

Before you co-design solutions, you need to identify the challenge, define the scope and come up with some inspiration.

Identify the challenge

It’s important to break your opportunities into small chunks that are easy to design.

For example, if your overall goal is to create an e-commerce website, you would want to run a co-design session for each area that makes up that website; homepage, category page, product page etc. You can also run co-design sessions for opportunities that cross multiple pages like ‘Increasing the amount of products per purchase’.

It’s important to consider who you’re designing for and what your overall goals are when creating solutions. You should stick these things on the wall so they’re easy to reference. You can learn about creating personas in this blog post and creating the right kind of goals in this one.


Begin by identifying what needs to be designed. Give the group five minutes to write any design features, on post-it notes, that could possibly solve your challenge.

Stick these post-its onto a wall and cluster similar features as they’re being stuck up. You’ll begin to see areas that need to be co-designed. For example, opportunities like ‘how might we increase customer engagement?’ may generate post-its like gamification, ease of use, and social media features. This will give you an indication of what to co-design.


Don’t get too detailed about how these features look or function. You just want to think about what could be co-designed.


No matter what you’re designing, there will be someone else in the world who has done something similar. This can provide inspiration for how you should design your solutions. Get each team member to look for something that may help achieve your outcomes. Print these examples out and present them before the co-design session. This will help create better designs.

Beginning co-design

Co-design sessions have two steps:

  • Diverge
  • Converge

Each opportunity will go through its own diverge and converge process.

Co-designs need to be a safe environment for ideas. Don’t judge or take down – ideas that you think have no value may spark ones that do. All ideas, no matter how crazy, are welcome.

Idea-killing phrases like “that never works,” “we don’t do that here,” or “we’ve tried that already” are common and can easily ruin idea-finding environments. Ideas will always be easier to find if they’re not shot down on sight.

There will be a lot of drawing during this phase. Some people shy away from this because they haven’t done it in a long time or think they aren’t creative. However, everyone has creativity in them. If you ask psychologists and creativity researchers, they’ll tell you that humans, young and old, are built for creative thinking. We’ve yet to find special creativity brain cells that die when you hit 35, or hidden organs only the gifted are born with. The difference between creatives and others is more attitude and experience, than nature.


Diverging is when you create as many ideas as possible that aim to achieve your opportunity. We don’t know what ideas have value until we explore them all – so the aim is to come up with as many as possible. Then you review each idea and narrow down to the best ones, but the goal is quantity, not quality.

Diverging starts with a ‘6-up’. A ‘6-up’ is an A-3 piece of paper that is divided into six boxes – one box for each idea.


Each team member draws as many solutions for the opportunity as possible. The group gets five minutes to do this.

Once time is up, all the 6-ups are stuck on a wall. Each team member describes their solutions to the group. While each team member presents their 6-up, the rest of the group writes feedback on post-it notes.

Feedback is formatted in two ways:

  • ‘I like’ –  things that you like about the solutions
  • ‘I wonder’ –  how you think solutions can be improved

The idea is to write as much feedback as possible –  one piece of feedback on each post-it note. The feedback is then stuck on the area of the 6-up that it relates to.

6-up done

A completed 6-up


A 6-up with feedback


Once everyone has presented their 6-ups, they look over the feedback and consolidate the best designs into one solution each.

Remember that no idea belongs to anyone. You’ll get to the best ideas if you steal and build on each other’s.

Give the group five minutes to draw their one best solution. Do this on a ‘1-up’. A 1-up  is an A-3 sized template of the device, or situation, you’re designing for.


After five minutes, stick the 1-ups on the wall next to the 6-ups.

Each team member then presents their 1-up back to the group.

Instead of giving feedback, the team votes. They can either vote for their favourite idea as a whole or features of an idea. Each team member has three votes that are represented by three sticky dots.

1-up done

If there is a unanimous winner, you can prototype that design and ‘user test’ it to make sure it achieves your goals.

If votes are split, you can combine features from various solutions into a prototype.
If competing solutions have a lot of votes, you can prototype both and A/B test them to discover what performs the best. An A/B test is when you prototype and ‘user test’ both solutions. This will allow you to weigh up the positives and negatives of each design and decide what one will solve your user’s needs the best.

Repeat this process of diverging and converging for the rest of your opportunities.

After co-designing; user testing

Now, you should ‘user test’ your solutions to identify if they will work for your users. Follow this blog post to learn how to do that.

Once you’ve tested, you’ll discover that there are a lot of things to change and improve. I’ve never tested designs for the first time and had less than 20 changes.

After testing, you can take your findings into another co-design session to make improvements.

Keep repeating this process until your users are giving you feedback like “When is this available?” and “Can I use this now?”.

Keeping the group focused

There are three typical points of conversation during co-design sessions; information, problems, and solutions. Controlling when and how these topics are discussed can increase the group’s efficiency by focusing their effort on collaboratively creating solutions.


Informing others or asking questions to get a better understanding should be done whenever someone has a question. It’s always better to inform people early because knowledge will produce better outcomes.


Problems only exist when there is evidence to back them up. They should always be based on facts, not assumptions. To do this, make sure everyone references examples from user testing or research when they discuss problems. All evidence-based problems should be written on post-it notes and stuck on a wall dedicated to research and user testing findings. This will help the group remember what problems have been identified and easily reference them when co-designing solutions.

All evidence-based problems should be written on post-it notes and stuck on a wall dedicated to research and user testing findings. This will help the group remember what problems have been identified and easily reference them when co-designing solutions.


Communicating solutions outside of the co-design format can be inefficient for multiple reasons;

  • It’s hard to communicate solutions verbally,
  • Not everyone will have a fair turn at communicating their solutions,
  • You’ll have little opportunity to give and receive constructive feedback,
  • It’s hard to decide on the best solution.

Making sure solutions are explored through the structure of a co-design will save time and produce better solutions.


Co-design is used to leverage a group’s diverse experience to create solutions. It does this in a progressive, democratic way by allowing everyone to learn from each other and vote on the best solution. Co-design works hand in hand with user testing. It will only be a matter of time before you create the perfect solution if you loop between the two with your diverse team.

[1] Source: 2014 EEO-1 job category titled “Executive/Senior Level Officials and Managers” for Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and Intel

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Don’t ask your users what they want – a guide to User Testing

The whole user centred design philosophy is based around involving users in the design process. So why do some of the ‘brightest minds’ say we shouldn’t ask our users what they want? Steve Jobs once said;

Why do we want to ask what our audience thinks? We don’t care what they think. How can people tell you what they want if they haven’t seen it before? If we ask them what they want, we’ll end up doing Swan Lake every year!”

Note: there is a lot of debate about this quote being true or not. There is a lot of evidence that supports both sides of this argument.

And Henry Ford also said;

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

Note: there is a lot of debate about this quote being true or not. There is a lot of evidence that supports both sides of this argument.

Steve and Henry are right, we shouldn’t ask people what they want because they simply can’t tell you.

Asking this can actually do harm. People’s responses are only guesses of what they think they want. Also, their thoughts are shaped around what they currently know, which is why people in the 1800’s would ask for a faster horse.

Instead, we need to show people what we think they want. Doing this allows them to react to real experiences, which gives us information that improves our designs.

Here’s an example;

Imagine that it’s 2004. You’ve never heard of the iPhone  before, let alone a smartphone. You’re called into a meeting at Apple and Steve Jobs puts the first iteration of the iPhone in your hands. Can you imagine what your reaction would be? You’re used to using a Nokia 2280 and now you’re seeing a product that will change the world.

Steve gives you a task – “Imagine you want to find the score for the latest Lakers game. How would you do that?”

You see an icon called internet. You tap on it. A web browser opens. You type in and see that the Lakers beat the Celtics 110-98.

This is exactly the type of process that could, or should, have been used to create the iPhone. Steve and his team of designers would have watched your every action and reaction as you completed your task. This information would have been used to refine their designs and create the iPhone we know today.

Steve and his team of designers could have used this information to make improvements to their design. For example, it may have taken you minutes to find the Laker’s score through the web browser. Steve could have thought, ‘there’s got to be an easier way!’ So they decide to test an easier idea with the next person. This could have been the way they created apps or push notifications.

In order to get this type of information you need to facilitate user testing sessions with the right way.

User Testing

User Testing is the moment of truth for your designs. Here you will discover how they perform in a realistic scenario. You’ll learn valuable lessons about how your users interact with your product or service and how you can improve it.

I’ve never had less than 20 key findings the first time I’ve tested a design, so prepare yourself for feedback.

User Testing allows you to evaluate the two things that create a great experience; how much value your product or service creates and how easy your product or service is to use.

This is the moment of truth for your designs. Here you will discover how they perform in a realistic scenario. You’ll recruit participants who are, or could be, the people who actually use your product or service. Then you’ll give your participants tasks that represent how your product or service will actually be used. You’ll be particularly interested in what people think about each part of your designs and why. This information is vital to make improvements.

For example, imagine your user testing one of the first versions of the iPhone. You notice that the participants arrange specific sets of apps on each screen. You ask, “Why have you arranged those apps in this way?” The participant says, “Because they’re all similar types of apps; I have my games on this screen, my productivity apps on the next screen, and all my social media ones on the last screen.”

You can now use this information to create an ‘app grouping’ feature for arranging apps into folders. If you didn’t ask why you may not have discovered that this feature was needed.

Who to test with

The most important part of testing is finding who to test with. You can easily get misleading data by testing with the wrong people. To avoid this, only talk to people who match your personas.

Personas are used to represent different groups of people who use your product or service. They aren’t separated by things like age, gender, or geographical location. Useful personas are always separated by behaviours.

For example, a group of people who exercise three times a week and eat low-carb diets could be considered a persona, even if they were different ages and genders.

This contrasts with the way marketing teams define customer segments. These are based on factors like age, gender, location, and income. Customer segments often find their way into design. However, it doesn’t matter what age you are, you can still be passionate about exercising three times a week and eating a low-carb diet.

Find where your personas hang out and ask them to talk to you about your product. This is called  ‘guerrilla’ testing. Guerrilla testing is when you don’t formally arrange any participants. Instead, you go to where people are and ask them for 5-10 minutes of their time. This can be a bit awkward, but it helps to be clear that you’re not trying to sell them anything. Instead, you’re offering them an incentive, like a chocolate bar or bottled drink, for their time.

Aim to talk to five participants from each persona group. The Nielsen Norman Group conducted a comprehensive study and found that “elaborate usability tests are a waste of resources” and “the best results come from testing no more than five users.”

nn-5 users

As the number of users tested with increases, the percentage of usability findings discovered decreases.


There are two roles for your team in a user testing session;


The facilitator is the person who gives the participant tasks and asks them questions. It’s the facilitator’s job is to uncover exactly what the participant is thinking while making the test feel realistic.

Note taker

The note taker is someone who records precise notes of what’s happening during the testing session. This role is very important – if you don’t document your findings well, you won’t remember what happened and why. This information is vital when iterating your designs.

It’s important for other members of the team to observe the testing sessions. This helps them understand what works and what doesn’t, which is more effective than being told what happened.

Team members can observe the sessions by watching video recordings of them. If what you’re testing is digital, then there are multiple apps that record all the interactions on an Android, iPhone, or laptop screen. An alternative is to use a smartphone, GoPro, or other type of camera to film the session.

If you want to live stream your session then use Google Hangouts, X-Split, Skype or something similar. However, this may be expensive when there’s no WiFi.

Get the team to view the sessions together. While watching they should write down their own findings on post-it notes:

  • Green for positive
  • Pink for negative,
  • Blue for observations.

Remember to number each finding so it’s easy to identify personas and trace findings back to the participant they came from.

Write findings with a thick-tipped sharpie so it’s easy to see. It also helps keep findings concise.

As you write these findings stick them on a wall – you’ll begin to see that there are similar findings from different participants. It’s a good idea to cluster these findings together. You’ll end up with something like this:


How to run a test

Begin with an introduction. Ask the participant a few questions about themselves in order to make sure they’re the right persona.


Next, remind them about the principles of user testing.


Start the session by setting the scenario. Give the participant a realistic story so they can imagine they’re doing this for real. For example, you could say:


They’re now ready for their first task. This could be:


Each task should cover an area of your product. Keep going until you’ve covered everything you want to test.

Finish up by asking closing questions that aim to discover what the participant thought of the product as a whole, for example:

  • “What was one thing you liked the most?”
  • “What was one thing that you like the least?”
  • “How would you describe this product to a friend?”

Get the most out of your participants

Throughout the session, prompt your participant to give you feedback by doing the following.

Continuously probe

Regularly ask:

  • “What are you thinking now?”
  • “What would you do now?”
  • “What would you do if you were doing this [in the situation you’d normally do this. For example, at home]?”

The echo

If the participant says something like:

“Oh, that’s weird.”

The facilitator should say:

“What’s weird?”

This helps you clearly figure out what the participant is talking about without making assumptions.

The boomerang

Participants will ask the facilitator questions or state something to themselves. It’s good to understand what the participant is thinking or would do if the facilitator wasn’t present. This is where you throw the question or statement back to them like a boomerang.

“Do I need to register?”

“What do you think?”

Ask why

If participants say or do something, ask why. It will help you understand exactly what’s going on which you can use to make design decisions. It’s also good to repeat the participant’s language to remove the possibility of biasing a participant’s response.

“That’s cool”

” Why is that cool?”

After talking to all your participants, analysing the sessions with the group and clustering post-it note findings, you should be ready to iterate your designs.

After testing

Once you’ve tested with at least five participants from each of your persona groups you will be ready to make design changes to your product or service.

After making changes be sure to User Test again. This is to validate that your changes work and to discover more things you can improve.

Keep iterating and testing your designs until your participants begin to ask questions like:

  • “When is this going to be released?”
  • “How much will it cost?”
  • “Can I have it now?”

When you reach this stage, you’ll know your designs are working well.

Show people, don’t ask them

In conclusion, Steve Jobs and Henry Ford were right when they said we shouldn’t ask people what they want.

We should instead show them through User Testing while asking vital questions, which will help us make improvements. We need to continue to do this until people are begging us to release our product or service.

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