Co-Design and Collaboration @ the Global Design Forum 2014

Matt Myers

What is the role of designers in the brave new world of open innovation? This question was the basis of the Co-Design and Collaboration talk I recently went to as part of the Global Design Forum 2014.

Kicking off the talk was Cecilia Weckstrom, Senior Director and Head of and Consumer Experience at LEGO group. Cecilia has worked at the LEGO group for 13 years, joining as a product designer in the company’s innovation team.

Having designed many of Lego’s highly successful products, Cecilia set up experience design as a discipline in 2006 as well as the LEGO Learning Institute, home of academic research collaboration with the MIT Media Lab and other well-known institutions around the world.

Cecilia spoke passionately about consumers becoming more actively engaged with the design process, moving on from just simply consuming, but aiding the creative design process and way of thinking.

A few years ago LEGO had become complacenet and in order to turn this around they created a ‘shared vision’ strategy. The strategy was created by involving LEGO fans of all ages – the fans became part of the creative process and contributed to some of the companies most successful lines.

Explaining that the LEGO brick is a perfect medium for creative expression, Cecilia spoke about how creatively kids thought about things when asked for new toyline ideas. Though their actual ideas may have been a little extreme and surreal, listening to them tell the stories behind their ideas is where the real value lies for LEGO. It’s these stories that really help LEGO pursue an idea that could result in the next successful line.

For Cecilia, it’s about being part of the conversation, getting out into the public and speaking directly with the consumer, listening to what they want, as well as hearing their ideas.

Nathan Waterhouse, Managing Director and Co-founder of, was next to speak at the event. gives individuals, as well as teams, the ability to push their creative thinking, to be open, to communicate and to collaborate.

I really enjoyed how Nathan explained his thinking that within any agency or company there will of course be smart people working there, yet, there will always be smarter people out there in the community. His idea was to open up questions, problems or even briefs for those people to contribute to. Obviously, this may not be an option for many agencies that have to protect a client’s confidentiality, but consider that there are people outside of the boardroom who more than likely will have something valuable to say – at the end of the day, we are all consumers with opinions.

Collaboration is at the heart of improving services and creating truly impactful solutions, so listen to those ideas that come from the surprising corners of the organization – they can often be the ideas that, once refined, can be the most impactful.

Making a late but very welcomed entrance to the discussion was Gadi Amit. Gadi is a San Francisco-based designer and over the last decade or so has designed some of the most innovative technology devices including the FitBit tracker line, the Lytro Camera and Google’s modular phone, the Ara.

Founder of NewDealDesign, Gadi’s progression from industrial designer to technology designer has seen him craft objects that we use everyday. He has a passion for making them more human, connected, and above all, to make them easier to live with.

To help him develop these amazing product ideas, Gadi and his team brainstorm behind closed doors. There is no hierarchy of roles, everyone has a voice and there is no bad idea.

I particularly loved the “stupid hour” that they use to create “laughable” ideas. These ideas can be as crazy and ludicrous as you want them to be, but can be used as the foundations to build upon. It is these laughable ideas that in a serendipity kind-of-way can sometimes generate truly inspirational and powerful designs.

Finishing the talk, the four designers gave their concluding thoughts. Here, some time was spent discussing client’s intrinsic and extrinsic motivations and how these affect collaboration. There was also some time spent on ‘welcoming failure’. Being keen on iterating and failing, and be willing to fail in order to succeed. To me, this was all about learning from your mistakes in order to build the best outcome possible – something I completely agree with.

The final comment, which was my favourite, came from Oliver Marlow, another speaker at the session. “Don’t approach a brief telling a client ‘if we collaborate then this project will succeed’, but certainly tell them ‘if we don’t collaborate then this project will fail!’

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Matt Myers

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