Creating Technology for Social Change

Help us make a visual map of CoDesign

This term, I plan to develop a visual map of the field of CoDesign. And I need your suggestions for what it should include.

CoDesign is a process in which the designer makes a commitment to a community of use, involving them in all stages of the design proces. Here at the Center for Civic Media, we’re developing a CoDesign toolkit, led by Sasha Costanza-Chock. My visual map is one small part of this larger project.


Help me make a visual map of CoDesign

CoDesign is a new area for me. I come from the world of technology startups, where commitment to products and scalability prevents us from making strong commitments to any single community. Likewise, my previous charities have always kept at least a corner eye on replicability. Scalability is not my religion, as it seems to be for the MIT professor who told us to leave MIT unless our project could impact a billion people or more, but I find the moral urgency of such claims to be persuasive.

At first glance, I think CoDesign has significant weaknesses. It’s costly and slow compared to designer-centered approaches. I look at reports like the Grattan Institute’s study of Melbourne housing and worry about a community’s inability to appreciate the tradeoffs inherent in design decisions. I worry that CoDesign would tend towards an inefficient number of high cost local implementations of similar technologies rather than more efficient general solutions. I doubt that fundamental innovation can occur in the context of CoDesign, and that communities will get stuck endlessly re-inventing old technologies.

On the other hand, continuous re-invention is the positive vision of the Mass Customisation movement and Maker culture. CoDesign invests in people and communities. Given the natural limitations of individual organisations, perhaps the net effect of a CoDesign movement would be to vastly extend broad social capabilities in the area of design. More concretely, the Awesome Foundation has shown me that small-scale local funding can achieve amazing things which I never could have imagined. Projects such as FrontlineSMS show that locally-focused designs can become high impact, scalable projects. Furthermore, the community design which most inspires me has been carried out by designers embedding themselves in a social context and developing ideas with the communities they serve.

To answer some of these questions, I’m going to work with Sasha, Molly Sauter, and Rogelio Alejandro Lopez to develop a visual map of the field of CoDesign. Molly and Rogelio are doing a major lit and field review, which I expect to assist in small ways. As we take material from that list and present it visually, we hope to refine our understanding of the common principles and key nuances within CoDesign.

We would love your input. We’re actively searching for examples, published research, practitioners, books, diagrams, visual metaphors, talks, notable blog posts, and toolkits in this area. Any design-related domain is appropriate, from software to architecture, planning and product design.

Our toplevel list includes Human Centered Design, Collaborative Design, Participatory Design, Appropriate Technology, Universal Design, Community-design, Community based design, Radical design, Co-research, and work within ICT4D.

In typical gradschool fashion, I have a just over a month to produce the first draft. Email me at with your suggestions. Thanks!