Our co-design process

angela morelli
Published in
7 min readMar 17, 2017


We have spent the last 15 years providing bespoke information design support to scientists, journalists, businesses, organisations and individuals, making scientific knowledge more effective and accessible to wider audiences across many platforms. Our mission is to use information design as a force for good. We aim to create a positive impact on our society and environment by building bridges between science, decision makers, the private sector and the public.

We believe that information is powerful only if can be understood; that understanding precedes action and change; and that information design can play a unique role in explaining complexity, facilitating understanding and democratising knowledge.

From climate change to social justice, from education to health, we work closely with our clients to co-create engaging, clear, accessible and user-friendly data-rich visualisations that empower audiences, specialists and non-specialists, to see patterns, think systematically and make informed decisions about the biggest challenges we face as a society.

The co-design process

InfoDesignLab’s design approach can be encapsulated by the word co-design. Through a human-centred, participatory and iterative process, we as designers build a deep and shared understanding with our clients of the nature of their data and the science that underpins it, as well as the assumptions, caveats, connections and challenges associated with it. Together, we explore and stress-test solutions, achieving a sense of joint ownership of the final product.

In a co-design and participatory design approach, the target audience is the starting point. Learning how our audience will decode the information and understanding the context in which the information will be processed are key insights that guide design. The rich and valuable information that we can gain through user involvement (eg. in-depth interviews with stakeholders and user testing) is the second essential building block in our design process.

From our extensive experience working closely with the science community, we have found the co-design and user-involvement approach is the only route to collective success when it comes to turning complex scientific data into effective visual tools for decision-making.

Leadership and dedicated support is important for making sure the co-design process is positively accepted by the stakeholders involved in the process and for ensuring its smooth running.

The legacy of such a way of working does not consist only in design deliverables and effective visualisations, but also in cultural changes and mind shifts within the organisations we collaborate with.

A human-centred way of working

To break this approach down further, the human-centred way we work at InfoDesignLab has its foundation in three disciplines: Information Design, Design Thinking, and System Thinking.

Information Design is the organisation and presentation of data in a way that transforms it into valuable, understandable information. Through Information Design, we can turn complex information into meaningful visuals, empower audiences and spark change. The tools we use range from color to typography, from cognitive science to universal design, from in-depth interviews to user testing, from static to interactive images.

Design Thinking is about creative problem solving. It is a path to innovation that puts human needs at the centre of all we do. Taking this mindset ensures we create something that resonates with people, is desirable, feasible to produce and makes good business sense.

Systems thinking focuses on how different parts of a system interrelate, how systems change over time and how they fit within the context of larger systems. Systems Thinking allows us to gain a deep understanding of the context and the actors, painting a complex and rich picture.

The iterative approach

Our co-design process is usually based on iterations, each with three cycles A, B, C (though the number is not set in stone). In each cycle, there is a sequence of design meetings and design work. The rhythm is defined in line with content experts’ availability and stakeholders’ needs involved in the design process, ensuring maximum flexibility to meet evolving needs of the projects we work on.

A co-design process based on iterations.

Cycle A: After an initial period of research during which we dig into the content at the heart of the project studying the science and the data, we begin with Design Meetings A with the scientists and internal project team. Here, we discuss the content and data, ask as many questions as possible and work with the scientists on the narrative structure. The period of Design Work A ends with a first iteration of sketches.

Cycle B: At Design Meetings B, we discuss the first iteration of sketches, gather feedback from scientists and the project team, gather new inputs and define action points. In Design Work B we make the changes and develop a new iteration of sketches.

Cycle C: Finally, Cycle C begins with another set of Design Meetings C to discuss the new versions and identify any remaining challenges and/or potential changes. In Design work C we make final changes, then we have the end product.

When we worked with the IPCC team on the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (2017–2018) we implemented three iterations.

We plan the design process to create maximum space for sharing, for conversations and feedback. Merging ideas across different parts of the globe, time-zones and schedules, over time we become one entity. One design team. We listen, we learn and we design. Then we do it all again, until we have co-designed something together that feels useful as well as scientifically rigorous.

The importance of mastering the content

You can only design information effectively if you master the content. As information designers, we achieve that by a constant dialogue with the content experts, by asking the right questions to identify the right challenges. Our experience in dealing with big data, our knowledge of scientific processes, our passion for numbers and statistics, our care for quantitative and qualitative information and, above all, an understanding of the barriers that can prevent users from making sense of complex information guide us our decisions during the design process. It is vital to design information not only in a way that is clear, but also in a way that strikes the right note in the mind of the viewer.

The technical know-how

Information design lies at the intersection of beauty and function, text and image, perception and cognition, logic and emotion, enabling us to reveal what hides behind our data and to address effective messages. The combination of analytical, technological and design skills is crucial to deliver innovative, beautiful and powerful solutions. Beauty and engagement are a fundamental component of designing understanding.

The type of projects we work on

InfoDesignLab is proud to have worked with a number of high-profile clients on a range of multi-disciplinary projects covering climate science, sustainable development and public health. Some of our clients are the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the European Environment Agency, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the Center for Climate Research in Norway and the World Meteorological Organization.

Our commissions can consist of:

  • turning complex scientific reports into experiences that enhance understanding and engagement;
  • visualising complex data by defining the appropriate visual narrative that meets the needs of an audience;
  • using information design and data visualisation to help clients identify effective solutions to complex challenges;
  • turning research papers into visual stories that become usable for the general public;
  • creating data visualisation for research proposals, with the goal of communicating with clarity and beauty the vision and goals behind a research application
  • working with communication teams within research projects to help them define content for dissemination through the use of articles, data-visualisations and messages crafted for social media
  • designing beautiful and engaging visual identities of scientific projects (including the brand identity in connection with the visual style guide for the data visualisations)



angela morelli

Co-founder, CEO, Information Designer, Info-Activist, Lecturer, Science Communicator, YGL-WEF| infodesignlab.com