co-sketching (and the all important element of time)

not like this

Recently I sat down with the marvelous chris gaul for a co-sketching session, the aim was to work through visually some of the key concepts in my research into participatory methods and social technologies. I’d worked closely with cg before and knew he had a great talent for taking ideas, concepts and my random scribbles and translating in them into a visual language. In doing so he would identify key aspects that had been missing from the existing representations, but were central to the telling of the story.

In under two hours and in less than 2 beers, we had developed 3 draft concept sketches that conveyed the main points of my thesis well beyond my initial sketches. The catalyst to the breakthrough was Chris immediately introducing the concept of time, exactly the type of shift I hoped to make through a collaborative sketching session.

All of these sketches are start points, their role was to make available, capture and reveal key aspects of the concepts being discussed. I’ll be drawing on these to develop the concepts as well as guide how they are articulated in my thesis. (Thanks Chris!). I share here some our  cafe sketches and very briefly outline the points they were capturing.

Designing a design research method

designing design research

This image denotes the steps we go through in designing a design research study. My empirical research focus has been on the design and evaluation of digital self-reporting studies, and this sketch provided a background and context to the indepth investigation in my thesis on the  “devise a methodology” step (longer post to come). Importantly it put my work in a bigger context/process and showed how I would need to break out certain bits and support some aspects with more detail.

Seeding social technologies early in design

seeding through early generative research

Figuratively, to seed something is to cause something to begin to develop or grow.  This image captured the important aspect of time in the seeding process, the connection between the tools we use early in the design process,  where they are located (real world/abstract design space) and their connection to the ‘final design’.  Early design methods like interviews and observation are generic.  Social technologies as early design tools (e.g through digital self-reporting) create a different and potentially more continuous connection between the activities of design research, design and use. Our design research methods (social technologies) have a contextual relationship the subject of your design (social technologies). We were trying to work out how to convey that greater connection between the initial seed and later use, as well as indicate that the ‘in context’ nature of self-reporting as a method importantly locates the “design research” in the real world.

Oscillating transitions of “ownership”


The metaphor of a ‘seed’ or seeding gives us a way to describe and strategise about engaging and moving between the abstract space of design and the concrete places where people live (Lee 2008). Seeding in the context of designing social technologies can describe a strategy for transitioning the project state from “abstract” to “concrete”; to transferring ownership from the designer to user community; to ingratiating the project with potential users; and to creating conditions and hooks for participation. This sketch was just trying to capture the way in which the transition of “ownership” doesn’t occur at one point in time, but rather oscillates back and forth at different times; though the ultimate goal in social and community projects is usually a complete handover eventually. You can see we had a few goes at this to get the emphasis right, and in one of them I’m going over chris’s big arrow with lots more little ones to emphasis that “handover” is never clean and continuous, rather there can be lots of stops and starts.

1.    Lee, Y.: Design participation tactics: the challenges and new roles for designers in the co-design process. CoDesign 4 (2008) 31 – 50


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