Design, Monitoring and Evaluation for Peacebuilding

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Co-creation and the New Landscapes of Design

Author, Copyright Holder: 
Elizabeth Sanders & Pieter Jan Stappers
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Over the past six decades, designers have been moving increasingly closer to the future users of what they design. Especially in areas where technologies mature, and the next new feature is no longer of value, manufacturing companies have been increasingly open to approaches that define the product based on what people need. The first advances, well consolidated now in industrial practice and education, practiced user-centred design from an ‘expert perspective’ in which trained researchers observe and/or interview largely passive users, whose contribution is to perform instructed tasks and/or to give their opinions about product concepts that were generated by others. The user-centred design approach (i.e. ‘user as subject’) has been primarily a US-driven phenomenon.


Increasingly, since the 1970s, people have been given more influence and room for initiative in roles where they provide expertise and participate in the informing, ideating, and conceptualising activities in the early design phases. The participatory approach (i.e. ‘user as partner’) has been led by Northern Europeans. The two approaches are now beginning to influence one another.


Within this landscape, in the area of participatory design, the notions of co-creation and co-design have been growing. The terms co-design and co-creation are today often confused and/or treated synonymously with one another. Opinions about who should be involved in these collective acts of creativity, when, and in what role vary widely. Online dictionaries do not yet have entries for co-creation, cocreation, codesign or co-design. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, has only preliminary entries on co-creation and co-design. The authors take co-creation to refer to any act of collective creativity, i.e. creativity that is shared by two or more people. Co-creation is a very broad term with applications ranging from the physical to the metaphysical and from the material to the spiritual, as can be seen by the output of search engines. By co-design we indicate collective creativity as it is applied across the whole span of a design process, as was intended by the name of this journal. Thus, co-design is a specific instance of co-creation. Co-design refers, for some people, to the collective creativity of collaborating designers. We use co-design in a broader sense to refer to the creativity of designers and people not trained in design working together in the design development process.