• Eugene McGarrell

It's official, my love affair with co-design is over!


There is no substitute for expertise, experience, knowledge and wisdom.


The siren song of co-design distracted many leaders (myself included) and captains of industry from the course they had set. Co-design was sold as a tool for designing anything from apple peelers to aged care homes. The emergent process to stimulate ideas, bring those ideas to life and take to market was sold as a sure-fire way to solve all the problems we faced in business.

The emergent process to stimulate ideas, bring those ideas to life and take to market was sold as a sure-fire way to solve all the problems we faced in business.

But has it delivered?


Knowledge, experience and wisdom had no place in the process. The barrier to creativity was expertise. Co-design just needed ideas without the baggage of years of experience and learning. With cleared minds and the token engagement of the customer we could become world beaters!


I experienced the seduction of funky work spaces, post it notes and sharpies. On many occasions I have stayed in uncomfortable place of unknowing, I have let go of the desire to solve the problem too soon and I have allowed the ideas emerge. I have had fun building the prototypes, competing with other teams and generating new designs for service systems and ways of working.


And now I look back and I wonder, has anything emerged from these days and weeks of design?


Then it struck me, maybe we have been sold a dud? Co-design agencies don’t need to know the problem, they don’t need to have expertise in the industry, and they don’t need to pretend to have a solution in order to be engaged. They only need to understand a process, be reasonably good at facilitation and have an endless stock of post it notes and sharpies.

Co-design agencies don’t need to know the problem, they don’t need to have expertise in the industry, and they don’t need to pretend to have a solution in order to be engaged.

Is this the thinking that has led to the discounting of knowledge, experience and wisdom in the workplace. Who needs to rely on the older generation at work when all the problems we face can be sold through co-design? Why would we need mentors, someone with decades of experience to share their knowledge or leaders who have lived through significant transformation when all we need is a co-design workshop to solve all business problems?

Is this the thinking that has led to the discounting of knowledge, experience and wisdom in the workplace.

The Silicone Valley culture values youth, innovation and disruption over experience, expertise and wisdom. Maybe co-design was the Trojan horse that secreted those values into the workplace? Maybe that’s the reason experienced workers are feeling under valued and underutilised. As an “older” worker I have experienced my knowledge discounted and my advice ignored. Disruption and innovation are the new kings of the workplace.


To me co-design is a hollow process that creates a theatre of activity, provides a sugar rush for leaders and delivers nothing substantial except for maybe a funky toothbrush and stand up toothpaste holder. The resource invested in co-design to solve complex social issues seems to have been wasted. Co-design is no substitute for community or customer engagement.

To me co-design is a hollow process that creates a theatre of activity, provides a sugar rush for leaders and delivers nothing substantial except for maybe a funky toothbrush and stand up toothpaste holder.

Engagement requires human connection of experiences. It’s not an activity that can be ticked off in one workshop, it requires skillful expertise and understanding of human nature. That’s the understanding that people cannot be represented as personas stripped of the richness of context, place and culture.


Leaders are noticing the promise of co-design did not deliver. They are scratching their heads for a new way to solve their business problems. There are no shortcuts to understanding the customer, the consumer and the community. Put away the post it notes and the sharpies and go out and talk to people in place, in context and within their culture.

There are no shortcuts to understanding the customer, the consumer and the community.

This is the only way.


Eugene McGarrell coaches people, teams and organisations in transition.

6 views

+61(0)447313555

©2019 by Eugene McGarrell Consulting. Proudly created with Wix.com