Participatory design

From Active8-planet Wiki

Participatory design (PD) is an approach to design that aims to involve all stakeholders in active design decision making. The approach has different roots in different parts of the world. The Scandinavian approach to PD has its roots in the 1970's political and civil rights movements [1]  . The approach was a response to the expansion of digital technology in the workplace, and experiences of that technology having a negative effect on the work environment [2]  . The values that were important then are still emphasised today, though in different contexts. 

Some underlying values of PD include: 

  1. Participation is considered a right. All stakeholders who are to be affected by the digital service ought to be involved in the design process in a meaningful way. 
  2. The users is the expert. While not an expert of design or development, the user is considered the expert of their use situation and is therefore of vital importance to involve in the design process. 
  3. Design should enhance. The aim of design should be to improve a situation, and not to introduce technology that negatively affects the users. 
  4. Design is situated. Design emerges from use, and therefore design activities should be conducted in use-like settings. Therefore, PD works a lot with prototyping, and a lot of the research on PD is centered around tools and techniques for carrying out PD.

As digital technology is being designed for new contexts, PD is recognised in a wide range of disciplines. There are examples where PD is carried out in research on education (see e.g. [3]  and [4]  ) and health science (see e.g. [5]   and [6] ), as well as many other fields. The many strengths of PD are increasingly becoming acknowledged. 

While PD has a lot of similarities with other approaches, it differs in some aspects, such as the setting it is usually conducted in, or the mindset towards users. The two images below illustrate how PD relates to other approaches in different ways. 

Source: Sanders (2008)

Image 1: Source: Sanders (2008) [7]

PD in relation to other similar approaches

Image 2: Source: Almirall et al. (2012) [8]


  1. Bødker, S., Grønbæk, K., & Kyng, M. (1993). Cooperative design: techniques and experiences from the Scandinavian scene. In D. Schuler & A. Namioka (Eds.), Participatory design: Principles and practices (pp. 157-175). Hillsdale, NJ, USA: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
  2. Robertson, T., & Simonsen, J. (2012). Participatory Design: an Introduction. In J. Simonsen & T. Robertson (Eds.), Routledge international handbook of participatory design (pp. 1-17). New York, NY, USA: Routledge International Handbooks.
  3. Casanova, D., Di Napoli, R., & Leijon, M. (2017). Which space? Whose space? An experience in involving students and teachers in space design. Teaching in Higher Education, 1-16. doi:10.1080/13562517.2017.1414785
  4. Könings, K. D., & McKenney, S. (2017). Participatory design of (built) learning environments. European Journal of Education, 52(3), 247-252.
  5. Al-Itejawi, H. H. M., van Uden-Kraan, C. F., Vis, A. N., Nieuwenhuijzen, J. A., Hofstee, M. J. A., van Moorselaar, R. J. A., & Verdonck-de Leeuw, I. M. (2016). Development of a patient decision aid for the treatment of localised prostate cancer: a participatory design approach. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 25(7-8), 1131-1144.
  6. Noergaard, B., Sandvei, M., Rottmann, N., Johannessen, H., Wiil, U., Schmidt, T., & Pedersen, S. S. (2017). Development of a Web-Based Health Care Intervention for Patients With Heart Disease: Lessons Learned From a Participatory Design Study. JMIR Research Protocols, 6(5), e75. doi:10.2196/resprot.7084
  7. Sanders, L. (2008). An evolving map of design practice and design research. interactions, 15(6), 13-17.
  8. Almirall, E., Lee, M., & Wareham, J. (2012). Mapping living labs in the landscape of innovation methodologies. Technology innovation management review, 2(9).