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How to co-design digital technologies

Dr Victoria Betton


26 July 2017

Involving end users – patients, citizens and practitioners - in the process of design and development means that digital technologies are more likely to be feasible, engaging and underpinned by evidence of what works.

The mHabitat team helps the NHS, wider public sector and technology innovators design, develop, deploy and evaluate digital technologies. Here are a few things we’ve learnt about co-design:

  1. Should we even do it? Rather than start with ‘can it be built?’ begin the conversation with ‘should it be built?’ The answer to the first is usually yes and the answer to the latter is often no.
  2. What don’t we know? Be honest about what you do and don’t know – test your hypotheses and ask questions as you go.
  3. Find your fans Start with prospective users from the get-go and create a fan base – a community of people who are really up for collaborating with you.
  4. It’s all about context Understand what tasks your prospective users are trying to accomplish in their context (not just who they are) so your innovation is useable in everyday situations. This is especially important in complex healthcare systems.
  5. What are the limitations? Pay attention to constraints: What limitations are there in this context which will impact on your innovation? How do they compete with the things your users desire? What are the trade-offs?
  6. We’re on a journey. Take your users with you throughout the journey and explain the process as you go to keep them engaged. 
  7. Make it! Do lots of paper prototyping before you go anywhere near code. You need to design the right thing in order to design the thing right.
  8. Make use of great tools Use service design tools to engage people in your workshop.
  9. Leave the building Get out and about and connect with your users where they are as early on as possible; being on their turf can give you a fresh perspective and great insights that you won’t get when you bring them to you.
  10. Make the unaware aware Avoid designing just for your fan base. What about people who aren’t even aware of your innovation, how will you tempt them to get on board? This question helps you focus on the absolute basics.
  11. Less is more Build less and focus on your core offer so you can change quickly and easily if you need to. It’s so much harder to pivot when you’ve committed to something large and complicated.
  12. Play Be playful, have fun, and make workshops enjoyable and engaging – everyone will get more out of them. 
  13. What about when the workshop ends? When people leave your workshop they may have brilliant reflections or insights. Find a way of making it easy for them to share in between sessions.
  14. The best way to keep users at the centre Remember this rule of thumb – if every member of the development team is exposed to primary user research for two hours every six weeks then that is enough to keep users at the centre.
  15. Don’t stop Keep co-design at the heart of deploying, iterating and evaluating your innovation. It’s a continuous cycle that will help keep you focused on what matters.

Dr Victoria Betton, director, mHabitat, @wearemhabitat

Dr Betton’s slide presentation used at the TSA 2017 Summer Forum are available here

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