Co-design and Generative Tools

Lecture and workshop from Liz Sanders

If design is defined as an inquiry into the future situation of use. Then co-design is the collaborative exploration of future situations of use.

Today we had lecture from Liz Sanders, one of the pioneers in co-design. It is easy to say that you have a co-design process as long as you invite stakeholders into your process. Co-design could happen in any stage of design but the ways of impact are very different.

About Creativity

Co-design basically argues that collective creativity is better than individual creativity. But what is creativity? How to forge creativity for everyone? You will need to prepare participants to be creative before bring them in.

  • Ideas are the basic building blocks of creatvity.
  • Emotion drives cognition. Positive emotional states increase creativity.
  • Creativity takes place in time. Enactment and improvisation can facilitate creativity.
  • The materials present in the environment can also foster creativity.

About Experience

We also need to understand people’s expereince in order to design, but expereince is subjective. You can’t design experience but you could use generative tool to understand experience

Expereince is not just the moment but how the moment is impacted by past and future, We need people to share past/future in order to understand

Memory from the past, dream about the future.
Nightmares from the past, fears about the future

As a result, many co-design workshops ask people to collect their past before joining the event. Then we need to consider how much work could we ask? How to use people’s time wisely?

About Co-design

Engagement people in co-design process to know more about future. Let user tell about what they will do in the future.


  • 2D collages: Using visual and verbal triggers on backgrounds with timelines, circles, etc.
  • 2D mappings: using visual and verbal components on patterned backgrounds.
  • 3D mock-ups: using foam, clay, Legos or Velcro modeling
  • Protoypes and design artifacts from the future
  • 3D space models (small scale) such as the doll house toolkit
(Left) A idea round table which can fit all people and generative kit (Middle) Future Persona (Right) Past-Now-Future Mapping
(Left) Hospital tool kit, don’t use Lego! It consumes too much time
(Left) Hand hygiene practice in hospital (Right) Let people create their creative space


  • Props and black boxes
  • 3D space models (full scale)
  • Scenario-making in the space models or through sandplay
  • Participatory envisioning and enactment by sedng users in future situations
  • Improvisation
  • Acting out, skits and play acting
  • Role playing with actors, pretenders, puppets, dolls, etc.
  • Bodystorming and informative performance


  • Stories and storyboarding through writing, drawing, blogs, wikis, photos, video, etc.
  • Diaries and daily logs through writing, drawing, blogs, photos, video, etc.
  • Self observation through photos, video, blogs, writing, drawing, etc.
  • Documentaries and movie-making
  • Experience timelines or maps
  • Paper spaces to collect, organize, categorize, reframe, chart and/or make decisions about ideas or concepts.
  • Cards to organize, categorize and prioritize ideas
  • Voting dots to prioritize ideas.

Time for workshop

After introduction, it is time for workshop. Liz showed us many toolkit she brings in and ask us to design a generative toolkit for our project.

Our team focuses on using AI in medical education. We have already gain many insights and identified paint points from med students but we are not sure how to leverage AI in their hospital rotation period.

As a result, we use Liz’s hospital tool kit and small dolls to represent the learning context including classroom, surgical room, hallway, lab and patient’s room. We try to use colorful wire to represent intangible thoughs or communication. Then we will ask participants think about AI intervention in each areas and they could place or remove robot-like objects in different setting.


As Liz mentioned today, Co-design is a mindset that every designer should keep in mind. A co-designer is a good facilitator that could lead stakeholders together toward a desirable future.

If you are interested in co-design, please check her website.