lettering of key terms

Co-design’s many names

Co-design many names, influences and counterparts actually mean it’s much more mature than you may have thought.

Co-design (a.k.a co-operative design or participatory design) is not that new. Some parts of the world – eh hem, Scandinavia – have a rich history of collective problem-solving. Looking back and more broadly working with people for research and design is a trend that has been building for over 60 years now. It originated in social research and community development. Thus, there are many more tools out there and a lot more evidence around “co-designish” practices than you may think.

‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’? is a phrase that comes from Romeo and Juliet. It can be interpreted as what  really matters is what something is, not what it is called.

Here’s a small selection of labels I’ve seen:

  • Experience-based co-design (EBCD)
  • User-centred design
  • Human-centred design (HCD)
  • Empathic design
  • Cooperative design
  • Participatory design
  • Participatory action research (PAR)
  • Action research (AR)
  • Cogenerative research
  • Interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA)
  • Semiotic mediation
  • Hermeneutic phenomenology
  • Humanistic psychology
  • Co-creation (including co-design, co-production and co-futuring)
  • Critical design and design fiction if created with others
  • Applied ethnography and applied design research
  • Generative design research
  • Contextual design
  • Open design

And if you want to keep on looking, some of these disciplines also use co-design approaches but call it something else: meta design, slow design, social and inclusive design, transition design, usability testing or person-centred care. I am sure there are plenty more too.

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