An Event Apart: Co-design, Not Re-design

by February 18, 2014

At An Event Apart in Atlanta GA 2014, Kevin Hoffman shared how co-designing can help teams lower risk and work more effectively. Here's my notes from his talk Co-design, Not Re-design:

  • Code repositories and file sharing are collaboration. They are just workflow tools.
  • Collaboration is when the sum is greater than the parts. The most successful teams assemble regularly and innovate together.
  • Real-time meetings are a kind of collaboration -when they work.
  • Design by committee is a result of not having clear roles on teams, not meetings.
  • The best work you can do exists between your users, team, and clients.
  • Anyone adding value is collaborating -this can include end users.
  • Value is shifting from a “black box” approach (unknown to end users) to co-design (where users are more involved).

Dialogue in Meetings

  • Get people collaborating in real-time. If conflicts arise, that’s a problem to solve.
  • Engineer the attendees and the agenda to reach a decision.
  • To you need to make a decision? No, you don’t need a meeting. Yes, then a meeting can help you.
  • Great meetings start with clear objectives. Plan meetings around decision points, not people. List all the decisions you need made, invite those people to the meeting. If there are people that can help inform the decision, invite them as well.
  • Tangents are where innovative ideas happen (divergent thinking), but we need to reel them in to with convergent thinking.
  • Divergent thinking: generate ideas, open discussion, no judging. Convergent thinking: sort and organize, summarize, agree.
  • People need to be heard before they can listen.

Access to Process

  • Opening up end users and stakeholders to the design and development of products can provide insights from a number different perspectives.
  • Have a neutral facilitator manage the process. Don’t judge ideas but ask questions and plan activities.
  • Facilitators need enough domain knowledge including technology issues, content, workflow & culture in order to have a position of authority in the meeting.
  • Stop using meetings to become an expert on the problem. Become an expert first, then have the meeting to facilitate a productive conversation.
  • Create visuals for understanding and agreement. Draw or write large enough for everyone to see summaries and the journey of the meeting.
  • Critical ideas will be lost if you don’t engage visually.
  • A successful core team needs to have the autonomy to make decisions. It’s cross disciplinary and kept at 7 people at most.
  • The core team can use a volunteer army to help them move a vision along.
  • Experiment-lead design may happen outside normal work.

Risk Assessment

  • Experiment-led design allows you manage risk more effectively through shorter, measurable experiments.
  • Lighter development with technologies like HTML can help you learn what matters before committing to more intensive development efforts like native mobile applications.
  • Create a hypothesize: we believe that [customer] has [problem] and this [solution] will solve it. We know we will succeed when [measure].
  • Ask what assumptions we hold that if proven wrong, would cause the project to fail?
  • Shorter and measurable experiments focus on the facts that matter.
  • Use an experiment-based approach to the design process. Document your assumptions openly -make them public from the beginning.


  • Observations and metrics are design signposts. Transparency makes these visible to everyone and provides an opportunity for everyone to collaborate.
  • Be transparent in a way that makes sense for your company. Many organizations assume with-holding information is power. The opposite is often true.
  • Not all of these approaches are right for all clients. But by introducing co-design into your process, you can work better.
  • You are an ambassador for design culture. Co-design unlocks that culture.