Understanding participatory design
While many organizations are embracing design-led innovation, a design team’s interactions with customers are frequently limited to the early research and late evaluation phases of the design process.
Between these phases is where ideas are generated, a process that occurs internally with little to no external input.
When an organization adopts the mindset of designing with stakeholders and not for stakeholders, it tends to develop more innovative and customer-centric products and services. Participatory design also helps a business:
- Better understand how people think about a given problem, discipline, or technology.
- Determine if there is a contradiction between what an end-user says they will do and what they actually do.
- Determine if there is a cultural or political disconnect between itself and the end-user.
Participatory design strategies
How do businesses uncover unmet needs during product design? In truth, there are many ways:
Here, customers map out their current experiences on a journey map.
This includes frustrations, challenges, pain points, and areas for opportunity.
Some organizations find that extracting information within the context of the entire customer experience yields better results than focusing on standalone issues.
An activity that encourages customers to imagine their ideal experience.
In other words, what if they could get what they wanted, when they wanted it?
The magic button also helps customers focus on their “right-now” needs.
The goal of lensed brainstorming is to generate lots of ideas in a short time. Note that a lens is one or two words representing a key concept, brand attribute, or mindset that helps participants look at a scenario differently.
Three to five lenses per group with 2 minutes spent brainstorming on each will deliver the best results.
Benefits of participatory design
There are many benefits to the participatory design process. Some of the more significant benefits include:
Reduced risk of failure
With more stakeholders participating in the design process, the implication is that more people will check each step and uncover mistakes.
By its very nature, participatory design helps stakeholders feel a sense of pride and ownership over the product design process.
Empowered stakeholders are more likely to be invested in the final product and more broadly, organizational success.
The participation of more stakeholders also brings with it more expertise and a diverse range of perspectives.
End-users in particular help the design team consider fresh and original ideas that help them question their assumptions.
- Participatory design (PD) is an approach to product design involving the active participation of researchers, end-users, partners, citizens, designers, employees, and other stakeholders.
- Participatory design helps customers uncover unmet needs via journey mapping, the magic button, and lensed brainstorming, among other techniques. This inclusive approach to product development helps the organization understand, meet, and pre-empt stakeholder needs.
- Participatory design reduces the risk of failure and guarantees there is more expertise to uncover and rectify mistakes. Stakeholders who are engaged in the process are more likely to be invested in the success of the product. They also bring fresh perspectives to sometimes insular product design teams.
Participatory design examples
When Microsoft first introduced the ribbon interface for Office products, a team conducted usability tests with a PowerPoint slideshow used to prototype the concept.
To determine if users would be able to find tools or options under various situations, each slide featured a different ribbon tab.
Microsoft intended for users to click on each tab before a new slide would open.
However, one user decided to use the scroll wheel on the mouse to navigate through the tabs more quickly.
This previously unplanned feature later found its way into Microsoft Office, with one user in particular taking an active role in shaping the final product.
Participatory design was also used in Cambodia to develop floating vegetable gardens for low-income communities living on a lake.
The initiative, a collaboration between villagers, community organizations, CoDesign Studio, and the Agile Development Group, was split into three distinct phases: scoping, prototyping, and evaluation.
The scoping process involved meetings and creative consultation sessions. It was discovered that the locals had problems with insects eating their crops and, in any case, did not know much about agriculture because their ancestors had lived on the water for decades.
Participants were encouraged to draw their idea of a perfect garden and answer the following questions:
- Which plants would you like to grow?
- What are the optimal soil type and depths?
- Does the floating garden need to be able to support a person’s weight?
- What materials should be used, and why?
- What (if any) safeguards are there against pests such as rats?
A prototyping field trip was undertaken a few months later that was attended by Australian design consultants, volunteers, and local people.
These individuals were split into four teams and each was tasked with developing a floating garden prototype for $30 or less.
Creating a low-cost solution was important because it would empower poorer citizens and reduce their reliance on donor organizations.
In the final evaluation phase, activities and questionnaires were designed to encourage villagers to discuss their prototypes and any ideas for further improvements.
The effectiveness of several prototypes was compared to baseline data from various metrics such as improved nutrition and food sovereignty, increased knowledge of design and agriculture, and innovation in design.
A reflection session was also held to discuss what went well in the participatory design process and what did not.
It was noted that the participants had transitioned from designer-led to user-led design and, most importantly, had increased their food production levels.
Collaborative learning environments
In the mid-2000s, computer and software technology was mostly underutilized in U.S. classrooms.
Teachers found it difficult to incorporate these technologies into their curriculum or were simply unaware of their potential benefits.
Participatory design was used to design a collaborative, science-based learning environment where teachers and students took an active role in system analysis and design.
In a process that lasted for two and a half years, both user groups generated a majority of the claims, scenarios, and prototypes to improve the practicality and relevance of educational technology.
The process also increased the social and cognitive development of teachers.
Many felt more confident to apply and incorporate custom educational software into their lesson plans as they became more technologically savvy.
Others became empowered to participate in the design process itself and contribute to a system that comprised and/or impacted their day-to-day work lives.
Additional Case Studies
1. Google Search User Feedback:
- User Feedback Gathering: Google actively collects feedback from its users through various channels, including online surveys, user forums, and direct feedback mechanisms within its search engine.
- Usability Testing: Google conducts usability tests where users are asked to perform specific tasks on the search engine, providing insights into their interactions and preferences.
- Collaborative Feedback Analysis: User feedback is systematically analyzed, categorized, and prioritized to identify common pain points, feature requests, and usability issues.
- Iterative Improvements: Google’s search algorithm and user interface are iteratively improved based on user feedback, with frequent updates and A/B testing to assess the impact of changes.
2. Facebook Privacy Settings Redesign:
- User Surveys: Facebook conducts surveys to understand user preferences and concerns regarding privacy settings.
- Focus Groups: Focus groups consisting of Facebook users discuss and provide input on the design of privacy controls.
- Design Workshops: Users are invited to design workshops to ideate and sketch potential improvements to privacy settings.
- User Testing: Facebook involves users in testing redesigned privacy settings to evaluate their effectiveness and usability.
- Feedback Incorporation: User feedback directly influences the design and implementation of privacy settings, making them more user-friendly and transparent.
3. Apple Accessibility Features:
- Accessibility Workshops: Apple collaborates with organizations and individuals with disabilities to conduct workshops and gather insights on accessibility needs.
- User Testing: People with disabilities actively participate in user testing sessions to provide feedback on the usability of accessibility features.
- Accessibility Advocacy: Apple partners with advocacy groups to ensure that its products and features meet accessibility standards and user requirements.
- Feature Development: Insights from users with disabilities guide the development of accessibility features, resulting in improvements such as VoiceOver and Magnifier.
4. Amazon Echo’s Voice Recognition Improvement:
- Voice Sample Collection: Amazon encourages Echo users to submit voice samples and feedback to improve voice recognition.
- Feedback Channels: Users can report issues and provide feedback through the Amazon Echo app and online forums.
- Data Analysis: Collected voice samples and user feedback are analyzed to identify patterns, accents, and languages for voice recognition training.
- Machine Learning Refinement: Machine learning models powering voice recognition are continuously updated based on user input, leading to enhanced accuracy.
5. Airbnb Host Dashboard Redesign:
- Host Workshops: Airbnb hosts are invited to workshops where they participate in the design process of the host dashboard.
- Usability Testing: Hosts provide feedback on prototypes and usability, helping shape the layout and features of the dashboard.
- Iterative Design: Airbnb iteratively refines the design based on host feedback, ensuring that it aligns with their needs and preferences.
- Improved Host Experience: The participatory approach results in a host dashboard that is more intuitive and efficient for managing listings and bookings.
6. Tesla Autopilot User Experience Enhancement:
- Data Collection: Tesla owners contribute real-world driving data, including Autopilot usage, through their vehicles.
- User Feedback: Users report issues, provide feedback, and suggest improvements related to Autopilot functionality.
- Machine Learning Updates: Tesla uses the collected data and user feedback to train machine learning models, improving Autopilot behavior.
- Over-the-Air Updates: Regular over-the-air software updates incorporate improvements driven by user input, enhancing safety and user experience.
7. Twitter Algorithmic Feed Redesign:
- User Surveys: Twitter conducts surveys to understand user preferences regarding chronological vs. algorithmic timelines.
- Focus Group Discussions: Focus groups involving Twitter users explore user expectations and experiences with the timeline.
- Iterative Changes: Twitter iterates on its timeline design based on user feedback, striking a balance between user control and relevance.
8. Microsoft Windows Insider Program:
- Early Access: Windows Insider Program provides early access to preview builds, allowing users to test new features and provide feedback.
- Feedback Hub: Users submit feedback and bug reports through the Feedback Hub, allowing Microsoft to track and address issues.
- User-Driven Prioritization: User feedback influences the prioritization of bug fixes and feature development, ensuring user needs are addressed.
9. YouTube Content Policy Updates:
- Content Creator Feedback: YouTube engages content creators in discussions and surveys to gather input on content policies.
- Transparency: YouTube shares policy changes and updates with content creators to maintain transparency.
- Balanced Approach: YouTube seeks to strike a balance between content creator freedom and user safety based on user feedback and discussions.
10. Netflix Content Recommendation Algorithm:
- User Behavior Analysis: Netflix analyzes user viewing history, ratings, and interactions with the platform to personalize content recommendations.
- Continuous Learning: Machine learning models are continuously trained and updated based on user preferences and behavior.
- User Ratings and Feedback: Users can rate content and provide feedback, which informs the recommendation system’s improvements.
Key highlights of participatory design:
- Definition and Stakeholders: Participatory design (PD) is an approach to product design that involves active participation from various stakeholders such as researchers, end-users, partners, citizens, designers, employees, and more.
- Enhancing Design Process: While design-led innovation often involves limited customer interaction, PD invites stakeholders throughout the design process to understand and preempt their needs.
- Designing With, Not For: PD shifts from designing for stakeholders to designing with them, resulting in more customer-centric and innovative products/services.
- Benefits of PD:
- Gains insights into how stakeholders think and feel about a problem, discipline, or technology.
- Identifies any contradictions between what end-users say and do.
- Addresses cultural or political gaps between the organization and its users.
- Strategies of Participatory Design:
- Journey Mapping: Visualizes the customer experience, highlighting frustrations, challenges, and opportunities.
- Magic Button: Encourages stakeholders to imagine their ideal experiences and immediate needs.
- Lensed Brainstorming: Iterative idea generation using lenses to explore different angles.
- Benefits of Participatory Design:
- Reduced Risk of Failure: More stakeholders checking each step can uncover mistakes and enhance product quality.
- Engagement and Empowerment: Stakeholders’ active involvement fosters ownership and investment in the product’s success.
- Innovation: Diverse perspectives and expertise from stakeholders lead to fresh and innovative ideas.
- Examples of Participatory Design:
- Microsoft Office: Usability testing of the ribbon interface revealed unexpected interactions, resulting in improved features.
- Floating Gardens in Cambodia: Collaborative effort designing floating vegetable gardens empowered local communities, addressing agricultural challenges and needs.
- Collaborative Learning Environments: Participatory design transformed classrooms by involving teachers and students in designing science-based learning environments, enhancing educational technology integration.
- Value of User Involvement: Incorporating stakeholders into the design process ensures products are tailored to their actual needs and preferences.
- User Empowerment and Ownership: Engaging users fosters a sense of pride and involvement, leading to products that align better with their requirements.
- Enhanced Innovation: User input and diverse perspectives lead to more creative and original ideas, challenging conventional assumptions.
- Reduced Risk and Improved Quality: Multiple stakeholders contribute to error detection and rectification, minimizing the likelihood of failure.
- Transformative Process: Participatory design can shift from designer-led to user-led design, resulting in increased empowerment and success.
- Iterative and Collaborative: PD is not a one-time process; it involves continuous user involvement, adaptation, and improvement.
- Designing for Real Needs: PD helps organizations identify and address real-world issues, ensuring products truly cater to user requirements.
- Enhanced Learning and Development: Teachers and students benefit from the PD process by becoming more technologically adept and engaged.
- Collaborative Innovation: PD aligns well with collaborative approaches, capitalizing on diverse inputs for innovative outcomes.
- Inclusive Decision-Making: By involving all stakeholders, PD ensures a more comprehensive understanding of requirements and expectations.
- Conclusion: Participatory design represents a shift from designing in isolation to engaging stakeholders, leading to more relevant, innovative, and successful products/services. It empowers users, reduces risks, and fosters a culture of continuous improvement.
|Definition||Participatory Design (PD) is a collaborative approach to designing products, services, or systems, involving end-users, stakeholders, and design professionals in the design process. It emphasizes user involvement from the early stages of ideation to prototype development and decision-making.|
|Key Principles||– Inclusivity: Involving a diverse group of participants, including users, stakeholders, and designers. – User Empowerment: Empowering users to influence design decisions and outcomes. – Iterative Process: Iteratively refining designs based on continuous feedback. – Shared Ownership: Promoting a sense of ownership and co-creation among participants. – Contextual Understanding: Gaining insights into the user’s context, needs, and challenges. – User Expertise: Recognizing that users are experts in their own experiences. – Mutual Learning: Fostering mutual learning between users and designers. – Ethical Considerations: Ensuring respect for privacy, consent, and ethical research practices.|
|Benefits||– Improved User Experience: Designs better aligned with user needs and preferences. – Enhanced Innovation: Diverse perspectives lead to innovative solutions. – Higher User Satisfaction: Users feel valued and heard, resulting in greater satisfaction. – Reduced Costs: Identifying issues early minimizes costly design revisions. – Faster Time-to-Market: Efficient design iterations accelerate product development. – Stronger User Engagement: Users become advocates and champions of the product. – Better Problem Solving: Collective intelligence addresses complex challenges effectively.|
|Methods/Techniques||– User Interviews: Conducting interviews to gather user insights and needs. – Contextual Inquiry: Observing users in their natural environment. – Persona Development: Creating user personas to represent target users. – Brainstorming Sessions: Generating creative ideas collaboratively. – Prototyping: Building prototypes for user testing and feedback. – Usability Testing: Evaluating designs for usability and user satisfaction. – Co-Design Workshops: Facilitating workshops for co-creating solutions. – Card Sorting: Organizing information and content based on user input.|
|Challenges||– Time-Consuming: Participatory design can be time-intensive due to collaboration and feedback collection. – Resource-Intensive: It requires skilled facilitators, user recruitment, and tools. – Conflict Management: Balancing diverse opinions and resolving conflicts among participants. – Bias and Sampling: Ensuring a representative sample of users and stakeholders. – Resistance to Change: Some stakeholders may resist user-driven design approaches. – Scalability: Challenges in scaling participatory design for large projects.|
|Applications||– Product Design: Developing user-centric products and interfaces. – Service Design: Creating services that align with user expectations. – Urban Planning: Involving communities in shaping urban environments. – Healthcare: Designing patient-centric healthcare services and technologies. – Software Development: Integrating user feedback into software design. – Education: Engaging students and teachers in designing educational materials. – Community Development: Empowering communities to address local issues. – Nonprofits: Involving beneficiaries in program and service design.|
|Examples||– IDEO: Known for its human-centered design approach involving users in innovation. – Mozilla Firefox: Engaged users in developing features and add-ons. – LEGO Ideas: Allows users to propose and vote on new LEGO sets. – OpenStreetMap: A collaborative mapping project involving volunteers worldwide. – PatientsLikeMe: Enables patients to share experiences and data for medical research. – Local Community Projects: Initiatives involving residents in neighborhood improvements. – Design Thinking Workshops: Organized by various organizations to solve complex problems. – Government Initiatives: Involving citizens in policy-making and city planning.|
|Future Trends||– Digital Collaboration: Increasing use of online tools for remote participatory design. – AI and Analytics: Leveraging AI for analyzing user input and feedback. – Ethical Considerations: Greater emphasis on ethical user involvement practices. – Global Collaboration: Collaborating across borders and cultures for diverse perspectives. – Healthcare Innovation: PD driving innovations in patient care and medical technologies. – Education Transformation: Involving students in redesigning education models. – Sustainability: Applying PD to address environmental and sustainability challenges. – Human-Robot Interaction: Involving users in shaping AI and robot interactions.|
Connected Agile & Lean Frameworks
- Business Models
- Business Strategy
- Business Development
- Distribution Channels
- Marketing Strategy
- Platform Business Models
- Network Effects
Main Case Studies: