Co-design, literally “making design with (others)”, is a design approach based on the idea that people using an artefact, fruit of the work of designers, must be called to express their opinion on how such artefact must be designed. Co-design offers the opportunity to collectively define the context and the problem, thus increasing the chances of a satisfying result.
Oliver Marlow is an interdisciplinary designer and an expert in easing the creation and transformation of spaces for work and innovation, through the application of a design approach that has its roots in Inclusive Design.
Since 2011 he is creative director of StudioTilt, London-based design studio that puts co-design at the centre of its work. Every project by StudioTilt tells about a community that, supported and accompanied by the work of the studio, co-designs its (future) workplace, or its own hospital, City Hall or office. StudioTilt combines tools such as qualitative and quantitative research, prototyping, blueprinting, collective learning and crowdsourcing design solutions, well-established tools aimed at inspiring participation and commitment and offering at the same time long-term tangible results.
Here sustainability lies in a design approach that facilitates the democratic engagement of people in orienting social changes. It may represent a very powerful tool for change, encouraging cooperation within the same organisation or community.
Oliver Marlow is creative director of StudioTilt, London. Expert in the relationships between space, cooperation, creativity and business models, Oliver is designer, artisan, academic and facilitator. He works at all levels of the design and creative process. As design manager of The Hub (today Impact Hub) he collaborated to the co-designing of dozens of new Hubs and highly flexible workspaces worldwide. He is promoter of a unique co-design methodology that helps turn spaces into an experience, a community and an identity. Oliver is founder of the Social Workplace Conference, co-founder of the Forest Café in Edinburgh and collaborated, among others, with Young Vic theatre, The Battersea Arts Centre, Aldeburgh Music, Southbank Centre, Edinburgh International Film Festival and Non-Pro t Incubator (NPI) in Shanghai, the first centre for social innovation in China.
What does it means being at the same time designer and facilitator?
I see them as very much integrated. Being a facilitator is about understanding people, their needs and desires. So being a human centred designer makes this critical anyway. I like to design towards something, to help solve a problem, make something better, to deliver impact. I am not the kind of designer that sits and daydreams in the abstract about objects or spaces, I need to be with people and hear their stories.
Considering your professional experience, in what sense can codesign inspire sustainable spaces, actions and ways of living?
For a long time design approaches have been separated from each other, for example someone designing a building before someone else then looks at designing how it is used and what impact the space needs to then create. We live in a complexity era, and understand now that everything is interconnected, not least through people themselves. The pervasiveness of technology has accelerated this (who would have thought you would listen to music or look at a map on your phone?) so now the ideas of convergence and hybridity are essential to solving anything. Regardless of the brief. Given this, we need ways to think systemically and to place people at the centre of any solution. For this to work we need to work inclusively and be willing to be challenged by insight and input from users and others. This is why codesign is so effective. It is collaborative and solution focused and as a methodology suits any brief. Spaces that are fit for purpose, that can be resilient and open. Actions that grow out off an understanding of how they may impact others, and overall developing a systemic view of ourselves in the world.
Can you tell us what's your favourite project (not necessarily made by StudioTilt) that best represent the importance of involving final users in the design of the space where they will be working or living?
I really like the growing movement of co-living projects for senior people around the world. Not a new idea (involving users in the design process is not a new idea either) the projects do what great design does: cohere multiple challenges (here it is loneliness, rising housing costs, inadequate alternatives for example) and delivers a solution that is positive for all.