Co-creation:
UX Secret Sauce

AMA with Andy Vitale, Sr Interaction Designer at 3M Healthcare

Its been a month since I joined this UX Community on Slack and every bit of it has been an enriching experience. Jake started this great community where people discuss topics like portfolios, books, tools, research, agile, etc; and Slack makes it really easy. (Slack in itself is wonderful but that is not the point here. I will talk about it a bit in one of my future post)
Jake invited Andy Vitale of 3M, for AMA hangout session yesterday who talked about the process of collaboration between producers and users to generate value for customers.
If you are a Product Manager or a UXer, this conversation with Andy will make a lot of sense to you. I have extracted and formatted the entire conversation for you and other UXers out there.

Andy:
Hello everyone. I’m really excited to talk co-creation with you guys. Even though this is an AMA, it’s all about the community so feel free to jump in at anytime because we all learn from each other. Before we open up discussions, for those who are unsure about co-creation let me tell the backstory.

Co-creation is defined by Professor Thorsten and his colleagues at London Research and Consulting as “an active, creative and social process, based on collaboration between producers and users, that is initiated by the firm to generate value for customers.” This experience of co-creation becomes the basis of value, and that value creation process is centered on individuals and their experiences.

The concept of customer participation in production, or co-production dates back to 1979. John Czepiel suggested in 1990 that customer participation may lead to greater customer satisfaction. The term began gaining traction in 2000 in a Harvard Business Review article by Prahalad and Ramaswamy, who went on to write about co-creation in detail in their book, The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers.

Originally coined as a management and business term, companies began using co-creation as a tool to engage customers in product design.

Nike was an early adopter, who through Nike ID allowed customers to create their own sneakers. In the mid 2000s, co-creation really caught on due to the rise in social media and began to drive marketing techniques. This led to co-creation morphing into what it is today. You can read a detailed history on Wikipedia

Feel free to ask away along the way but in the meantime, I can dive into how co-creation works.

Traditionally, before co-creation quality was based on what the business had to offer. Co-creation exposes the disconnect between company think and consumer think at the point of interaction which spans across multiple channels, options and transactions.

Audience:
Very interesting stuff. So, we’re talking about custom creation of products to fit user’s preferences?

Andy:
Yes it’s all about solving problems together to produce the most useful end result to the user.

Co-creation begins by recognizing that the role of the user has changed from isolated to connected, from unaware to informed, from passive to active. This is manifest in many ways

Audience:
Sounds right up my alley as a UX Designer. Though this sounds a little more hands on with the user

Andy:
Users today are definitely more connected and informed thanks to social media and the internet than they ever were.

Audience:
Absolutely. You can get near real time feedback about ideas and concepts, as opposed to what it once was.

Andy:
Users are no longer constrained by location — they have access to products that are available anywhere in the world. Yes, that real-time feedback is one of the most important things us as designers can take advantage of.

Audience:
Yeah, we are no longer constrained by location or even language, which gives us a truly global audience, again with near real time feedback. Really cool stuff

Andy:
Users can experiment with things before deciding to purchase. Those things can be prototypes or demos of software or products.

How many people go into the Apple Store and play with a device before deciding to buy it?

Audience:
All the time

Andy:
This is true of software too, there are tons of great software that allow you to try before buying.

Audience:
Plus, in the role of designer, we can see what works before we invest too much time/energy in it. Is this something our user would actually use.
I don’t want to hog the conversation, but thanks for shedding some light on co-creation. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Andy:
Yes that is the key to selling co-creation and even the agile methodology to stakeholders. We can find out how to make things better before spending tons of time and money to ship something that the users don’t want.

Audience:
Practically, in the work place or outside, how would co-creation manifest itself?

Audience:
Do you think that line of thinking can stifle innovation though? The old Henry Ford quote comes to mind, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”

Andy:
So co-creation is all about finding partners that share your mission and have a shared interest in technologies and desired experiences that they are trying to create

The key is transparency. Of course people always want things that may not be feasible at the time. However, even as far back as MacWorld 2007, HP admitted that they were no longer able to design products and services alone. They learned that customer co-creation was to be a big part of their future.

Attendee:
Even co-creating with users, designers still have a key role as the in-between person. They make sure what the user wants is brought through from vision to creation in the best way possible

Attendee:
So is co-creation in your mind ideally led in partnership with Product Management and UX?

Andy:
Co-creation, and co-design is about designers working with designers to translate user insights within the context of the company capabilities and interests.

The biggest piece of the puzzle is the user. It’s great to collaborate with stakeholders and involve them but to ultimately co-create you need to involve the users throughout the process as well.

Attendee:
What lessons have you learned about gathering and processing feedback in a co-creation model? Looking for tips, tricks, tools, processes, etc.

Andy:
Some things I’ve learned are the importance of understanding the need of the many vs. the need of the individual.

It’s great to personalize products when possible but ultimately if you keep trying to design functionality for each users desires, you will never ship a product.

Attendee:
What’s your viewpoint on dealing with companies that are not interested in creating a co-creation methodology for how products are designed and developed? is there an effective way to convince a company that this type of practice is beneficial?

Andy:
Always be an advocate for the user but for an optimal experience to be created, urge stakeholders to involve users throughout the whole process and every iteration of it. Just as you continue to evangelize UX, explain the benefits of co-creation as well. It will allow you to create a better experience. Showcase the value of co-creation and measure the outcomes in ways the business and users understand. Sometimes these metrics are productivity, reduction of errors, overall satisfaction and sometimes you can put a dollar amount to them. It’s hard to argue with success.

Attendee:
So, how does this differ from an agile methodology in UX? Just wanted to clarify

Andy:
Agile is similar in many ways but you can still get away without involving the user. Just like any type of collaboration, we may work with other groups, stakeholders, developers but whether waterfall or agile, often times the users are not a continual part of the process. Sure the users are brought in for VOC sessions or observed in their environment as part of design research but often times their needs, challenges and pain points are recorded but they are not involved in the decision making process. Sometimes at the end of the process, users can be part of testing but a lot of times that happens after the QA team tested the product and it is live. Co-creation is about working with the users to determine necessary features and allowing them to be part of every iteration of the product to make sure the product that ships is the product that the users want.

Attendee:
How would you suggest understanding the needs of many and still keep from loosing track?

Andy:
As you filter feedback you will see an overlap. Set a timeline and deliver an MVP. From there you can add things to a backlog for later releases and gather insights as you go.

Andy:
It is said that after interviewing or observing six users you will experience a majority of their needs and will start to see an overlap. Attack the overlap. Determine the most important things and ship it while continuing to add features. That is where being agile will help with co-creation.

Keep a feature list and spreadsheet and go over it with users and stakeholders to help prioritize based on resources.

Attendee:
Is there a tool you like for visualizing that data and finding those overlaps? We’re in the position of having a lot of data right now and trying to sift it. Trello, Evernote, Zendesk, etc.

Andy:
Sometimes a simple spreadsheet will help with features if you organize them in a parent-child relationship. Also I like to lay things out visually using omnigraffle or a similar tool and create a data model so I better understand all of the points of data and how they are related.

Attendee:
What is the difference between collaboration and co-creation?

Andy:
While they are not that different, collaboration is defined as working with other to complete a task and achieve a shared goal. Collaboration doesn’t necessarily focus on the user. Co-creation involves the user in the process. I like to think of it as an additional layer of collaboration.

Attendee:
A lot of those approaches makes sense and showing success is hard to argue with, the hard obstacle to get over in my case would be the fact that stakeholders don’t want to invest time or budget into the tools needed to get the job done. sometimes i feel like i need to go rogue to do my own user feedback tests and analysis outside of work hours and funding.

Andy:
Sometimes as designers we have to go rogue to prove a point. I’m not recommending doing anything that you shouldn’t but spending a little extra time to create a case study or prove a point will pay off in the long run.

Attendee:
How exactly do you connect with or recruit users? Any specific tools/software? And do you compensate them for their contributions?

Andy:
Recruiting users can be it’s own topic. Depending on time or budget and company I have recruited users many ways. Some online tools like usertesting.com or userzoom.com offer a pool of users that you have access to. Other times I have worked with a recruiting company and they have paid users to take part in testing. Sometimes companies have their own users that have been recruited.

Attendee:
What’s the favorite thing you’ve ever created / co-created? in-house or personally

Andy:
There are many things from scented business cards that smelled like Pancake syrup, to an enterprise system solution for 3M that involved co-creating with medical professionals.

Attendee:
What’s your typical workflow for interaction prototyping?

Andy:
My typical workflow is probably the same as yours. I involve the users to gather as much research as possible. I wireframe in Omnigraffle or Axure and share work early to make sure the direction is right. I make low-fidelity prototypes and put them in the hands of the user as early as possible.

I stay on the project working with designers and developers and users to continue to build and test until we are ready to release and I will QA too so that I know the interactions end up as intended. From there it’s all about gathering feedback and continually improving the product.

Designers have to do more than advocate for the users and assume they know the business before really understanding it. Rely on the users and stakeholders as they know what they want. On the flip side, when it comes to our process, they don’t know what they don’t know. We have to explain our process to them.

Attendee:
Do you work with Prod. Managers in your current role? I’m not sure they’re a part of every company, sometimes user needs are left to marketing. :/

Andy:
That depends on the project, I work on integrated teams that expand technical, marketing, research/insights, etc. Sometimes they have the title product manager and sometimes not.

Attendee:
How LO is a lo-fi prototype usually? I’ve found hard to express some features in a paperlike prototype so I’ve done some things in sketch to explain better. Do you have a threshold for that? or it depends on the project?

Andy:
I’m a big fan of low-fidelity prototypes being as ugly as possible. It’s all about the function at that time and I try to not allow design decisions to interfere with the discussion of functionality. Paper prototypes work great for really fast prototyping — link while in a meeting. I try to prototype in software so the users can click though on the device it was intended to be used on. It helps them see things more clearly. But it does depend on the time and the project.

Attendee:
Do you give users paper prototypes, or just go straight to simple lo-fi prototypes in Axure to see how users interact with it?

Andy
I use paper prototypes to stakeholders but I try to give users something clickable, even if it’s scans of sketches so that they get a better feel for the environment.

Attendee:
I often have to jump to hi fidelity mockups because my superiors don’t understand lo fidelity :( is that a common issue?

Andy:
Stakeholders often have varying degrees of understanding of prototypes and wireframes. It’s best to educate them to understand the best deliverable for what they need to focus on. Of course things make sense to them when they look prettier and more thought out but you can’t always waste resources on undeveloped ideas.

Attendee:
Is there any difference between co-creation and participatory design?

Andy:
Participatory design, or co-design, and co-creation are pretty much the same thing. The terminology varied in it’s early days.

Attendee:
How do you run an initial meeting? I have a habit of taking a pen and paper to sketch out some early ideas. Do you have other suggestions?
And how can we “include” the user in this initial meeting?

Andy:
I usually try to understand the business objectives and user needs separately in the beginning so that I can understand each group’s needs and desired results. That allows me to bridge the gap and maintain transparent in the process. For stakeholders, I plan a workshop. Explain the importance of the meeting and how important it is for everyone to set aside the time. Send out invitations and an agenda early. Create an environment suitable for focusing on the workshop without distractions. Explain the mission and explain how important each person and their ideas and knowledge are to the success of the project. Work towards alignment in direction and expectations of outcome.

Attendee:
Can you walk us through the co-creation process? What is the user’s involvement in the process?

Andy:
I answered that a little earlier but just to sum it up — co-creation is about involving the user in the design process. It’s about understanding their needs and challenges and providing an optimal solution for them. They know what they want better than anyone else. We need to listen to them and continue to involve them, not just take what we’ve learned and hope to deliver a product they want.

Attendee:
If the project is confidential, say employer don’t want to get that info out of the org, how a designer can approach that kind of project.

Andy:
I work on a lot of confidential projects. We have our participants under NDA. So a non-disclosure agreement or confidentiality agreement between users and a company restricts access of the information disclosed to third parties.

Attendee:
Are there specific co-creation techniques that you’ve had success with when working directly with users?

Andy:
If you apply the building blocks of co-creation (DART — dialogue, access, risk assessment and transparency) to co-creation you can’t go wrong. Be transparent to users and stakeholders. Let them know what is feasible and what isn’t.

So the title of this is about the secret sauce but I have to be honest. The secret sauce isn’t really a secret. Co-creating with users and stakeholders to help create a great experience is something we should all be doing.

_________________________________________________________________

Thanks to Andy. He was kind kind to spare some time for the community inspite of his wife’s birthday yesterday.

Thanks to Jake for building this awesome community. You might want send him a request to join the community