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Co-designing search on

The team working in the Sky room at Policy Lab

A few weeks ago I went to the new Design Museum to view the ‘California: designing freedom’ show. One section in particular that got me thinking. It was called ‘design thinking’ and the signage said

the most ardent believers in design thinking believe that everyone and everything is design

Thinking like a designer

I very much fall into this camp of design thinking. It was wonderful to see the Design Museum helping to fight the common misconception that design is only about aesthetics. It reminded me of a previous occasion when someone said to me, "Oh design, that’s just font and colour right?"

As I wandered round the museum I thought of these two experiences and how designers have a bit of a brand issue. Design is many things from graphic design, to policy design; the mindset of a designer can explore and solve hugely complex problems..

As an industry, design can be inward looking. It hasn't always taken people along on the journey of exploration that it has been through. Design has moved beyond makers and creators, to facilitators, researchers and, most importantly, translators. Translators of knowledge into insight, ideas and solutions.

Which brings me to the subject of co-design.

Co-design and what it means

Co-design is about using design to translate insights and knowledge into real solutions and actions. It’s related to design thinking because it considers not just aesthetics, but a wide range of different inputs. It brings together specialists and users, teachers and students, employers and employees, designers and researchers, engineers and, well, anyone with insight on a particular topic. Together everyone can tackle an issue through their combined knowledge and insights.

So when we started to work on a new search function on, we immediately looked to co-design.

We have a team that's working hard to improve the search on They want to make something that is so brilliant and intelligent it exceeds users' expectations. We’ve done some great work so far and we used co-design as a way of building a PDS-wide consensus of the search needs users have.

Co-design has given us the opportunity to use tools and techniques to channel views and knowledge. It also helped us to rapidly develop our understanding of the problem, the users, their needs and possible solutions.

Tools and techniques for generating ideas

Tools like an evidence safari helped our team explore existing insight and evidence, and to build empathy with users and their needs. It also helped to inspire us about the types of things search could and should do for the people using it.

Sketching ideas also worked well. By the end of our first co-design session we had close to 20 new ideas for the search function, as well as concepts for delivery and next steps. These weren’t just abstract ideas, they were well thought through and deliverable enough to start testing with real users.

The tools and techniques we used are available on places like the DIY toolkit and Open Policy Making toolkit.

We also owe a huge and special thank you to Policy Lab, who let us use their Sky Room on top of the Treasury building. It helped us be more creative by working in a new environment and really think about the challenge with a fresh pair of eyes.

For those interested in finding out more about co-design, you can get in touch with the design team at PDS or contact me on Twitter

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