Co-Designing with Communities

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Ohio State University. Office of Outreach and Engagement

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The presenters will share how the practice of co-design has empowered community members to become involved in the creation and development of innovative concepts and solutions for complex challenges that their communities face. The presentation will include case studies in which the co-design approach has been used to tackle complex problems in health care connected to aging, autism and diabetes.


Co-design refers to the collective creativity of designers and people not trained in design working together in the design development process (Sanders & Stappers, 2008). The co-design process recognizes that when it comes to issues of health, wellness, and community, the people involved as patients, family, caregivers and health care providers are the experts of their own experiences. Their expertise can provide invaluable firsthand insights about and ideas regarding wicked problems.The co-design approach has proven to help identify and shape innovative solutions as well as empower stakeholders to participate in the solutions that would directly impact them (Sanders & Stappers, 2012). We will present three case studies wherein the co-design approach has been used to tackle complex problems in health care connected to aging, autism and diabetes. Aging: This Co-Design Studio, led by Professor Sanders, provided an interdisciplinary mix of graduate students the opportunity to co-design with the residents at the Westminster-Thurber retirement community. The co-design teams explored a wide range of issues such as decisions about retirement living, clothing and finding the right footwear, and how to start the conversation about giving up driving. Autism: In her Design MFA thesis, Erika Braun investigated a co-design approach for tackling the wicked problem of transitions for adolescents with autism through an exploratory autism case study. She convened a diverse group of stakeholders, including adults with autism, as co-designers in an iterative process to frame the transition problem and explore new resolutions for the Center for Autism Services and Transition (C.A.S.T.), a clinic for adults with autism connected to OSUWMC. This exploration has led to an ongoing funded project focused on developing a better transitional care experience for patients with autism and their caregivers. Diabetes: This Co-Design Studio led by Professor Sanders facilitated the collaboration between multidisciplinary graduate student teams, patients and health care professionals to identify problems and challenges facing those living with Type 1 diabetes. The graduate students invited patients, their families, doctors, nurses, diabetes educators, and medical device company representatives to co-design solutions for issues at multiple levels of the current health care system. Intended audience: This presentation is beneficial to anyone who is interested in bettering health care experiences. Expertise of presenter(s): Elizabeth (Liz) Sanders is an associate professor in the Department of Design. Her academic research focuses on co-design for innovation and transdisciplinary collaboration. Erika Braun is a design researcher and product designer. She is collaborating on two autism projects and a solar light project for third world countries. Sapna Singh is a design researcher, strategist and educator. She teaches courses in design thinking, human factors and design history.
AUTHOR AFFILIATION: Elizabeth B.-N. Sanders, Associate Professor, The Ohio State University, (Corresponding Author); Sapna Singh, Lecturer, Design Researcher Strategist, The Ohio State University; Erika Braun, Design Researcher, Product Designer, Collective Design Initiative.


co-design, participatory design, aging, autism, diabetes


Engaged Scholars, v. 6 (2018).