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User Experience vs Co-design for Health Care Industries: Twins, Lovers or Enemies?

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

Authentic co-design is a tool that works with an endless number of industries and builds on existing wisdom from lived experience rather than trying to dictate solutions based on theories or best practices. Recently, we’ve been working more in the field of health, an area that impacts everyone and most people will experience the system from a number of different roles (staff, patient, visitor, carer and others).

It’s no secret that our healthcare and community service industries are in a period of substantial change and reinvention, with the Covid-19 pandemic highlighting a shift towards digital care and other new models for service delivery. From our work, we’ve seen a shift towards patient-led care and stronger user engagement, collaboration and retention in programs and other health interventions.

But how do we facilitate this change and try our best to get it right? The health industry appears to be embracing two key approaches: User Experience (UX) and Co-design. But we all know that when there are trendy approaches, it can be hard to know if they are competitors, whether they should be used together or whether there are certain situations that better suit each.

UX is often (but not always), more concerned with the product side of healthcare and can assist with the entire process of designing, implementing and integrating a new product into existing systems. Authentic Co-design on the other hand is better placed when looking at the systems themselves or complex problems where trade-offs are required to be made. For example, we have previously worked to develop new learning curriculums with the Royal Australian College of Surgeons.

Our practice of authentic codesign clearly embodies many features and principles of UX. Authentic co-design is aligned more with Participatory Co-design, than User-Centred Design or Design Thinking (take a look at the TACSI link). However, it is possible to embrace UX, and then the ‘experts’ design a solution, which is not consistent with co-design. With authentic co-design the users are involved in co-designing solutions or strategies while rubbing shoulders with technical experts.

Both UX and Co-design will be around for a while, despite the terms being thrown around more than they are genuinely practiced. We believe they really work well together rather than separate approaches, in particular working on complex projects that are substantial in what they are trying to achieve and by being collaborative, inclusive and safe for all involved.

One of the important benefits of Authentic Co-design is that the participants grow in confidence and capability. It is not just what they co-design or co-create; it is how people grow, learn new things, and see issues, themselves and the world differently by being an active participant. Magic happens; and despite years of experience and being an optimistic advocate for co-design, I still seem to underestimate how clever a curious collective can be.

To our question as to whether UX and Co-design are twins, lovers or enemies, I would say, that they work as team-mates. What do you think?

If this article made you curious to learn more about co-design, we recommend getting started with our introduction to authentic co-design course for just $127 AUD, available here:

Some references:

By Max Hardy and Prue Blake


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