Recipe: Co-designing with others during isolation

Many tasks design students have to do afford the interaction with others. If design students need to isolate at home, they might not know how to continue to engage in user research, creative sessions, co-design or design/user evaluation.

There are several alternatives you can suggest to your students that allow them to continue to engage with others during designing without endangering themselves or others. This recipe will cover some of these distance alternatives.

Serve to:
Students within self-isolating families, Individually self-isolating students

Variable, 1-2hours at least

Low to medium (if physical artefacts need to be sent to users, for example)

Easy to medium-difficult (depending on the level and intensity of engagement and co-design.)


  • Co-design a task within a design assignment or project
  • Computer or smartphone with internet access and mic/audio



  1. Ask the student to summarise their co-design or user engagement need prior to a synchronous meeting in which you discuss the specific distance user-engagement or co-design needs with the individual student or smaller groups (if the task is similar or students work in teams)
  2. Arrange a time for a 1-hour synchronous session using any video-conferencing tool (ideally with screen share function)

During the activity

  1. Your advice to students will differ depending on the project type, progress or stage the co-design activity is at.
  2. If a student is at an early stage (and if task appropriate) you can shift the project topic and scope so that the student can co-design with their family (if co-isolating with family) or can engage remotely with friends or peers.
    • Family members are a great source for inspiration collaborative ideation, prototyping sessions or evaluation, especially children. If students integrate their co-isolating family members into their design task, the focus on fear can also be purposefully refocused into more productive conversations and interactions.
    • Friends and peers are easier to engage with remotely than total strangers, so it might make sense to shift the topic to engage with known rather than unknown others.
    • Youtube can be used to substitute for some observational tasks.
  3. If the task cannot be changed to include known stakeholders, you can advise design students to seek contact to task-specific stakeholders from whom input or feedback is required. Topic-specific online fora, charities or institutions can be sourced for individuals who are willing to engage at the distance. General social media might also provide pointers to available sources online.
    • Depending on the intensity of engagement, different online media can be used, such as video conferencing for interviews and workshops, whiteboard applications for creative sessions, or currier services for sending co-design materials or prototype designs onwards to the stakeholders. If students do not have the tools or raw materials for prototyping at home, such as 3D printers, laser cutters etc, advise them to use services, such as Shapeways, to produce and send the prototypes onwards for testing and evaluation. Video conferencing can be used to observe use of designs by others.

Follow up

  1. Ask students to summarise progress in emails or instant messages at appropriate intervals (e.g. 2 days to a week) to check if the strategy is working and whether any further adjustments need to be discussed.

Notes and tips:
Be ready to share your screen and do a quick search for stakeholder sources together with your students.

Advise students against high levels of complexity of engagement if the stakeholders are unknown

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