Participatory design methods (co-creation) have been around for a while, but it’s been a while since a co-creation story as practical as the one told by Liz Sanders has been told.
Her employers, architecture firm NBBJ talk of bringing a ‘human-centred approach to architecture and planning’. That’s relatively progressive coming from a firm of architects.
Liz describes how design is moving from outputs (plans, elevations, sections, renderings) based on the skills and competency of the designer to a much broader focus on holistic outcomes. Whereas ‘old design’ has traditionally delivered outputs based on a discipline of design, with a focus on visual communications, interior spaces, products, information design, architecture and planning. ‘New design’, she argues, increasingly pursues purposeful and holistic outcomes – design for experiencing, for emotion, for interacting, sustainability, for service and for transforming. If she has the buy-in of the NBBJ principals on all of this, then they’re on to something.
The tools she developed and applied to the design of a large scale hospital campus in post-Katrina New Orleans (personas, timelines and journeys, participatory modelling, experience models) are purely user-centric and participatory. They ensure a level of co-creation that dissolves the dogmatic distinction between professional architect/designer and client roles. The NBBJ team used puppets and scale models of patient rooms in the hands of nurses and clinicians to optimise the design of operating theatres and recovery rooms. Apparently, traditional architects and career nurses are on different planets when it comes to what they think is important in the design of a theatre or ward. The architects are prone to defer details that nurses think are of the utmost importance – where the hand sanitation stations or bathrooms are positioned, for example.
Co-creation, she concludes, eliminates the need for the designer to ‘sell’ designs to the client, because the designer and client co-own the design. She is slightly less convincing when she describes how the architects take the results of her participatory design sessions into account when laying down the hospital floor-plan. However her workshops may have shaped the New Orleans hospital, the approach is indicative of how workspace design should and will be done in the future.