User centred design (UCD) is an approach that considers the user as the central point of any design process. UCD projects traditionally implied a preliminary study of users to collect their needs and requirements: a lot of efforts were made to understand users’ expectations, behaviours, frustrations, problems and generally the research approaches involved interviews, ethnographic studies, questionnaires, surveys, or focus groups.
Collected data would then be analysed by experts who would eventually come up with user requirements: a list of issues that designers should take into consideration during their design and implementation phase.
Designers and developers are not always happy to get these lists, which they feel as a constraint to their creativity and ideas.
There used not to be a direct contact between users and designers and there was therefore no way to get a direct understanding of the reason whys.
User requirements are generally gathered by social scientist whose role is about interpreting users.
This poses an additional layer between users, designers, and developers, in a time consuming and expansive process that will be performed iteratively until the project gets to the end and to the delivery phase.
Although the overall principle of understanding the user is correct, the process in place is not effective, efficient, and reliable: too much depends on experts’ understanding and interpretation of the data, and designers being left outside the process don’t really get an understanding of what users really feel and think, since their understanding is mediated and already pre-digested.
In an iterative process then, after designers and developers have prepared a prototype, someone will perform the tests with users to understand if the requirement were properly implemented and how users feel about the product or the service. Another time consuming process, where users meet someone who is a user expert, but where designers do not speak with users and ignore what really happened in the room, having to live with the interpreted data and the information third party will provide them.
But there’s something odd in this process: the key actors of a new service or product, the users and the designers never meet, never talk, have no chance to understand each other’s point of view. And the stakeholders are left out of the whole process.
Recently new practices are emerging offering new opportunities to users, stakeholders, and designers to talk, understand each others’ points and collaborate together to develop something that is a win-win solution. This opportunity is offered by co-creation – a way to bring around the table all actors involved in the development, concept and future use of the service and product to be.
The user requirements gathering and formalisation phase can be effectively replaced by a social, collaborative and constructive experience where designers, users, stakeholders co-create together the product and service in a time effective manner.
A co-creation experience is a workshop where participants experience different points of view, confront their perspectives and gain a mutual understanding of what are the key values that users are looking for that will bring value for the stakeholders.
A co-creation process is iterative and involves a direct dialogue, meaning making and negotiation process where all participants, co-create, co-construct and co-define the values and priorities that have to be included in the new product or service.
Co-creation simplifies and fasten the user requirement phase, making it forward and enhancing a direct dialogue between all parts involved in the development phase and optimise resources, making sure all key actors agree on the principles and concepts.
Co-creation is reiterative: it requires stakeholders, users, developers to work on the initial concepts, then to work together through all stages of the process, making sure all needs, values and meaning are properly implemented and that the product or service experience in the making goes in the direction that satisfies all actors.
It’s an Agile approach that focuses on individuals and interaction over processes and tools, on collaboration and on quick responses to changes.
Improving UCD and designing meaningful User Experiences with the users in a reliable and time effective manner, today requires the adoption of Agile processes, and co-creation fits the new paradigm, so that it enhance the delivery of products and services that result from a constructive, iterative, and mutual experience of all actors involved.