Help us make a visual map of CoDesign | MIT Center for Civic Media

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!



Excellent! I would love to learn more about what the CoDesign process itself would consist of, and to be able to use the toolkit, as the project I am trying to help implement is attempting to use participatory design in the structure of the platform it would create (never stagnant, ever changing, like open source software). However, what would the visual map look like specifically? Would it be interactive, or would it be a diagram to complement the tool kit? I would like to help in whatever way I can!


Nice. Maybe we should experiment with some web-based tools for creating diagrams? Like,,, . Here's one example using Gliffy (non-free).


One thought that came to mind was how you will work with the community to develop their design thinking. In addition to building a project or product together, I believe it's a great opportunity to learn about design thinking and empower the community to move ahead on their own ideas. There's an outreach program that I'm a fan of called Technovation Challenge. Industry women mentor young high school women in creating their own mobile apps through a series of workshops around design thinking, entrepreneurship, and programming. How could something like this be replicated for the entire community to participate in?


Btw, this comment was by me ricarose, in case you want to chat more about it! I forgot to sign on when I made the comment.


I think this paper would be of interest to you.
In some cases, even if a system is designed for a particular community, the community often delegates a group within to be the interface with that system. For example, if a computer or mobile based tool is designed for the community as a whole, it is usually the younger members of the community who use the tool on a day to day basis. Trying to identify this subgroup beforehand is sometimes a challenge, and it may be worthwhile to include this aspect in the visual map of co-design.


Practical examples? I think they have a lot, you could contact them, if it is what you're looking for:


Some things this makes me think of (apologies if I'm just repeating things said to you before):

  • Effective community engagement - you should get in touch with Chris Tomich ( at 7Sigma in Australia about their work using Dialogue Mapping during contentious, long-term urban planning with the community in Sterling over the past year and a bit.
  • Similarly, check out Anna DeLiddo's work at Open University KMI:
  • At the other end of the scale spectrum, check out the work of Simon Roberts at Arup's and his 4see model that tries to engage people in productive discussions about the whole UK economy (you may need a large-scale printer handy :) ):
    • Note that in my limited exchanges with Simon he has emphasised that this is a poster-based exchange intended to prove that people can engage with the visuals, use them to develop ideas and spread the method. Software-i-fying it is a non-priority. The importance of a paper-based component of these kinds of interactions seems a hard-earned lesson that is worth keeping in mind
  • Little known fact that might help in the lit review: there have been two different "CoDesign" journals in the last 2 years. Details and links to some archives here:

I realise these are map-based co-design, not maps of co-design, but hopefully the map vs. tangible and electronic vs. paper are good example dimensions. Speaking of which, might a qualitative rug-plot be a good way to compile the initial info? (roughly the idea here:

Good luck,
Nathan E.


These are really helpful resources. Thanks Nathan!