Developing Software Through Participatory Design In The North East

Developing Software Through Participatory Design In The North East


Originally known as co-operative design or co-design, the phrase participatory design is still a relatively new term within the world of Software and Applications Development. 

It has been present in a number of other fields for some time e.g. urban design, architecture, product design and even medicine. Drawing from experiences and knowledge of a multitude of stakeholders can see the architect or designers produce a much more innovative proposal and ultimately end product.

Boxmodel are amongst some of the first to champion Participatory Design as a standard recommendation in their approach to complex software and web applications. 

The decision to make this step was born from partnership working with a leading Medical Academic to develop an application for self management of a complex medical condition. The results saw an application which addressed the needs first time within a much reduced budget with unprecedented user acceptance. 

This design process saw the participants engage with the commercial team, software teams and the User Experience (UX) designers. The face-to-face interaction throughout the innovation process really allowed for a unprecedented insight into the real needs of the application. 

Many describe Participatory Design as a methodology, Boxmodel certainly find a great fit with the other methodologies used, which includes their preferred  project delivery methodology of Agile Scrum. In fact they are almost made for each other. Both allow for considered innovation throughout the project lifecycle. 

There are a number of secondary benefits to this methodology. Originally born in the 1970-80’s to democratically empower workers. Promoting the participants ability to shape outcomes, can be seen as a benefit to this day. Allowing stakeholders an opportunity to be part of the design process in Bespoke Software Development promotes a similar cognitive cycle. Of course, this must be associated to a strict objective planning schedule. 

The historic feeling that users were being designed “at” rather than designed “for” can rapidly be overturned by this process. The feeling of the designed “at” saw many having to adopt principles and practices that were not intuitive to them, their user group and the core requirements of the perceived solution. Actively including the end or target user/ stakeholder, through participatory design, has seen this feeling extinguished with a much more useable solution adopted and embraced by the majority rather than a minority adopting it under protest. 

Boxmodel’s Managing Director- Paul Hutton said; “This really allows the end user to be involved in the development of a solution which they need and one they will use. We are software and web application specialists, we are not necessarily experts in their industry. The opportunity to extract some of their knowledge and experience is crucial to a successful project”. 

There are of course occasions when a client may feel that a participatory design program is what is required for the first step or indeed as a means to confirm a need prior to engaging on a costly software project. This is something that can be one of the best investments for any organisation considering a new system or web platform. 

Boxmodel have had a number of commissions from companies wanting them to run such programs, ranging from a 2 hour session to a six week program. The findings of one of the Participatory Design projects was that it was not a new web platform which was required but training on the existing platform. Some may say that this makes no commercial sense for a software house to persuade a client not to develop new software. The response from Boxmodel’s Technical Director- Mark Gent was; “Producing an outcome for a client which addresses their need is much more valuable in the long run than producing a project that achieves nothing but frustrations for the end user”. 

Boxmodel operate extensively through the UK from one of their three offices. They also have a presence in New Zealand, although unfortunately, at present they do not have the specific expertise in that location to be able to offer bespoke face-to-face Participatory Design programs to their Southern Hemisphere clients. 

For any advice on considering whether this process would benefit your project, be it bespoke software, native application development, web strategy or enterprise software integration, the team at Boxmodel are extremely approachable

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