What is Participatory Design?

Participatory design is what the name suggests, participation in design (Benyon 2010; Binder and Malmborg 2009). Through participatory design, the end users are involved in the design of a new artifact as they are more aware of what the designs should contain. It has been influenced by the Scandinavian work tradition, whereby workers are delegated managerial tasks. Examples of participatory design methods include future workshops, interviews, observations in the workplace, and experimenting with low-fidelity prototypes (prototypes with very little functionality).

Apart from the main advantage that Participatory Design does involve the end user, it has several other key advantages (Binder and Malmborg 2009). It forces designers to look at things from another’s point of view; it’s very important to respect another’s opinion. In addition, it helps designers gather several other facts about certain design situations they may not have been aware of. I shall demonstrate these key advantages by describing a participatory design approach a group and I conducted in 2011: exploring design concepts through design games.

What are Design Games and what did my project involve?

Design games is an approach to gather ideas from end users through games (Binder and Malmborg 2009). It can be any kind of non-competitive game, which main purpose is to gather design ideas from end users.

Our design game was based around the theme “How will video affect architecture 2040?”. We gathered 3 students: two with a video background and one with architecture. In our game, each participant had to roll a dice and pick up a card. The number that appeared on the dice represented the amount of keywords the participant had to use to describe the picture. Once all the participants gathered keywords, they began playing with other objects such as lego, 3D glasses, colouring pencils, brochures and markers.

It was astonishing to see how participants from different backgrounds had different, yet interesting approaches to the idea. For example,  the student with a background in architecture envisioned a great possibility of architecture being augmented by projections whereas the students with video background focused on a phone application for augmented reality after the first round. The abundance of ideas helped us envision in a new light how video might augment architecture in 2040. It came to our advantage as we could combine some of their ideas to create a very low-fidelity prototype on how glasses (4D) may help us design in the future.

Overall, I believe participatory design methods are a great research approach. Upon completing the design game method, I believe the more fun and relaxed the atmosphere is, the better!


Benyon, D. (2010) Designing Interactive Systems: A comprehensive guide to HCI and interaction design, 2nd ed., London: Addison Wesley.

Binder, T. Lowgren, J. and Malmborg, L. (2009) (Re)Searching the Digital Bauhaus, London: Springer.