What is Co-Design?

In a social and political climate, overpowered by challenges, complexities, and controversies, the ability to collaborate is more pressing than ever. As part of the design community and the creative sector, Buttercrumble believes it is our duty to explore and innovate new ways of solving our current problems. And we have. There was green design, holistic design — now we have co-design.

Developed by our beloved Scandinavian associates in the 70s, co-design is a well-established (and currently trending) design discipline. It’s under the same umbrella as participatory, co-creation, or open design. Going above and beyond traditional consultation and collaborative methods, co-design not only reflects a fundamental development in traditional designer-client relations, but also exemplifies how design can enforce social good. The challenged we currently face are too large to be tackled be a single person or discipline — by forming a collective, we can confront problems, (discover hidden ones), and create solutions together. Co-design recruits the skills, experiences, and knowledge of stakeholders and directly applies them to the creative process. By involving clients, customers, and consumers in the creative process, these individuals recognise their expertise and become active co-designers.

At Buttercrumble, we’re passionate about participatory design.

At Buttercrumble, we’re passionate about participatory design.


As a creative, you must facilitate and encourage ways for your new team of co-designers to express their creativity, communicate insights, and test ideas. There are several tools and methods to support this:

  1. LEGO Serious Play
    This is a fun and easy way for participants to visually communicate their individual thoughts and develop these ideas as a team. This is both an experiential and nurturing process for your co-designers; the use of LEGO blocks allows participants to freely explore their creativity and discover new possibilities. It is important to develop this trust early in the creative process.

  2. Group Sketching
    Similar to LEGO Serious Play, this is a fun, quick and easy way for participant to visually communicate their thoughts and develop ideas. This is also an experiential and nurturing process for co-designers; the use of simple drawings allows participants to freely explore their creativity and discover new possibilities, within an equal and safe environment.

  3. Issue Cards
    This a great tool to encourage innovation and interactivity within your team of co-designers. Each participant is presented with a card. On this card may be an image or a description, suggesting a different perspective to their current problem, goal or solution. The participants will then think of a new way to resolve this, in doing so will identify possible problems and opportunities.

  4. Rough Prototyping
    This is a stimulating method to encourage innovation, interactivity, and teamwork. Participants are asked to build a prototype using surrounding materials available at that time. Participants must manipulate their creativity to develop a solution, whilst also staying in accordance to the brief.

  5. Affinity Diagram
    This is a clever visual tool to gather and organise ideas within a team. The process starts with identifying a problem or goal. Each participant is then given a small piece of paper (like a sticky note or a card) to write down their ideas. These papers are then collected, discussed and displayed, acting as tools to develop ideas and identify connections.

  6. Motivation Matrix
    This is essentially a means of investigating the success of a solution through different perspectives. Each participant explains what they want, need, or expect from a product or service. This is then presented within a matrix.

  7. Mind Maps
    Ah, mind maps! This trusty tool is great way to visually-communicate ideas and identify correlations. The problem or goal is placed at the centre. From there, lines and words are drawn, essentially creating a hub of thoughts.

  8. Storytelling
    Sometimes simply explaining is not good enough. You need to create a story to engage your fellow co-designers and excite them! This will allow them to draw inspiration and create new suggestions and ideas, as well as prepare for first sketches of the storyboard.

  9. Character Profiles
    Similar to storytelling, personifying shared knowledge within your team is a great method of visualisation. The profile consists of a significant fictitious character with an image and a description. This presents a clear visual of the several co-designers working within the process.


There is no given time to include co-design in the creative process, however we recommend including co-design early and often. This will ensure its affectivity in building trust with your team, identifying problems and discovering opportunities. In short, make the most of its advantages.

Although this is an incredibly beneficial disciplines, cooking in a kitchen with too many chefs can be a challenge. Therefore, it is crucial to apply a clear guided process, from concept creation to the final result, to ensure you stick to schedule and provide some guidance.


There are several immediate (and long-term!) benefits to incorporating co-design into your creative process…


  • Original and highly valued idea generation

  • Improved knowledge of client needs

  • Immediate approval of ideas

  • Lower development costs

  • Less development times

  • Better relations between people, organisations and disciplines

Over time:

  • Satisfaction and loyalty from clients

  • Increased support

  • Increased enthusiasm for innovation and development

  • Better relations between client and customer

Co-design is a thriving discipline in studios and agencies across the design community. Its basis as a common ground to work together, exemplifies the significance design can have across the world, in different industries, businesses and communities, co-design will enable you to connect and create for the better.

Continue learning about this topic by visiting the links at the end of this post.

Did you enjoy this Buttercrumble—read? Let us know in the comments or tag us on social media. We’re on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook! Alternatively, sign up to the Buttercrumble grapevine and always stay up-to-date on the latest news in design and business.