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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Product/service design

Experience over everything

World-class organisations don’t compete on price, products, or features. They compete on experience. Great experiences are the ultimate drivers of preference, loyalty, and advocacy.

For example online streaming services, like Netflix, provide a great experience in more than one way. Having advertisement free, on demand, high-quality content for a micro-fraction of the price of cable has created a better experience. This has led to a preference for these services over cable TV, with a Pacific Crest analyst estimating that the top eight cable companies in the US lost 463,000 subscribers in the second quarter of 2015, compared to a decline of 141,000 for the second quarter of 2014.


People may argue that the increase in popularity of streaming services is predominantly affected by the dramatically lower price point which can be around $100 per month. However, Norwegian research body Ipsos MMI, have discovered that the piracy of TV shows and movies has decreased by about a 50% since the introduction of streaming services like Netflix.

The piracy of music has had an even more dramatic decrease of 82.5% since the introduction of streaming services, like Spotify.

I believe there’s no clearer indication of a great experience than people moving from free methods, like piracy, to paid ones, like Netflix.

Great experiences are created from the outside in. They begin with customers’ behaviour and influence business processes to make it happen.

Unfortunately, most businesses create experiences from the inside out (as shown below). This may be because it’s easier to make a decision around a table than it is to consult a bunch of users.

Inside out model

Taking an ‘outside in’ approach starts with understanding people’s behaviour – particularly in the context of the experience you’re designing for. This will give you a platform to design accurate and delightful solutions. You’ll then be able to mitigate risk by iterating on your solutions until your customers are begging you to release them. Before you know it, you’ll be disrupting an industry just how Netflix did.

A great experience has two elements to it;

  • The value it provides
  • How usable the solution is

In the next two blogs, I’ll discuss how to identify your product or services value and how to turn it into a delightfully usable solution.

Let me know what you think contributes to a great experience how you’ve created them in the past.



Next: Creating value >