According to this article on Harvard Business Review website, “Design customer experience from the outside in“ was one of the five key lessons that helped to successful digital transformation initiatives. In order to succeed, besides the customers, all stakeholders need to be involved and their inputs built into the transformation.
During creation of a Digital product, its equally important to involve Stakeholders during Design process, be it the initial exploration phase, idea generation or evaluation of Design solutions. To achieve the involvement of stakeholders, methods like Participatory Design (also known as Co-Design or Collaborative Design) are used.
Participatory Design takes a preemptive / anticipatory approach allowing stakeholders to express from their perspective. Sometimes, it can also help to uncover some user needs which might have got missed in initial phases of user research.
While beginning a Participatory Design exercise use of stimuli that facilitates discussion and stir creative thinking is a great start - using Play-Doh might not be a bad idea! During the exercise, stakeholders can be asked to provide their feedback about how a Design should be done to meet their needs or, a design can be shared with users / customers purely for evaluative purposes. Designers, product managers, customer support, content marketers, application software developers and customers can all collaborate to provide you an optimum product design.
For in-person participatory design exercise, for Internet based products like mobile apps and websites, post-its notes are the most commonly used materials. Some Design teams also use different materials to facilitate expression of Design e.g. Lego blocks, wooden blocks, paper cut-outs, etc. The whiteboard and marker pens can also be used. Participants use and rearrange these materials in the way they prefer the Design to be, while explaining why they do so and how the design they propose, benefits them or helps meet their needs.
As more and more product teams start to become geographically distributed and the project timelines increasingly tight, involving Stakeholders for in-person meetings or in a synchronous manner remotely is hard yet a practical problem. Using remote/online Participatory Design could be compelling to include into your Design toolkit.
There has been some criticism of Participatory Design for Internet based products. Firstly, the impact of Participatory Design can appear to be more akin to adjustments than the scale of a product redesign. Secondly, there is a likelihood that people giving feedback miss the big picture and only focus on the screens provided.
Whether in-person or remote Participatory Design, this exercise is an opportunity for stakeholders (and users) to express themselves in the interest of product and help designers and researchers. Internal stakeholders, users, and customers get involved in the creative Design process which helps to minimize the natural bias of designers and internal decision makers.
The tools used for Participatory Design must be easy to use and straightforward. Your Stakeholders might not be designers. Therefore expecting them to be comfortable with standard design tools like InvisionApp, Sketch, Figma, etc. is actually wrong. They might deviate their thinking from the task at hand, thus affecting the quality of their feedback. For in-person Participatory Design sessions, proper facilitation is critical to the outcome. While soft aspects like introduction, time management, encouragement to participants are important, Design and technology jargon must be avoided by facilitator to get the best results.
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