In pursuit of meaningful insight: Post-covid remote collaboration methodology and design as a provocation

Paul Magee, Andree Woodcock, Peter Atkinson, Sanghamitra Datta, Katarzyna Gut, Felipe Moreira

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


For so long, we have championed the get-together, the group discussion, the post-it note club, the
informal chat as scene setting methods for concept design. Participatory methods have found personal insight, emotion, distress and joy; contact has allowed us to embrace difficult concepts and challenge pre-conceived ideas from within safe spaces.

Since the onset of the pandemic, life has been different. Designers using codesign activities have faced several difficulties which have restricted their practice. In some cases, systems have been adapted and stretched to support their work, e.g. surveys have been sent via facebook, images scraped off the internet to understand culture, teleconferencing systems (such as teams, zoom, web-ex) used to support discussions and share design concepts, During this time, many of the perceived barriers to technology usage have been overcome (as witnessed by the increased take up of technology by older age groups). Indeed, may have led to greater empathy among work colleagues as more insights are given into personal lives – we have inadvertently shared more of ourselves.

However, lockdown has also seen a significant drop of the willingness/capacity of people from vulnerable groups to engage ‘spontaneously’ with design activities. From a design perspective, this has included reduction of footfall in living labs, closure of informal meeting places, and lack of funding for support groups/unwillingness of gatekeepers to provide access to their members. Looking forward to the post pandemic, it may be hypothesized that a paradigm shift will have occurred in working practices with location independent working finally becoming a reality across a wide range of industries, including education.

The benefits of co and participatory design still remain. However, the challenge for designers is how to reach out, enquire, debate and reach conclusions in a virtual world, to develop design outcomes that are empathic, meaningful and effective.

The H2020 funded TInnGO project seeks to engage with multiple partners, in 10 national hubs, to demonstrate how design can be used to develop gender and diversity sensitive smart mobility solutions. Over 12 months, design sprints or provocations are being led by lecturers guiding undergraduate students in developing design concepts. When developing the proposal, it was expected that many of the codesign activities would take place in situ, at the hubs with cocreation of gender sensitive transport innovations. Context specific design challenges were expected from 10 national hubs, based on their work with local citizens. Current design challenges relate to ergonomics of seating in bus stop (German and Italian hubs), design of e-scooters (UK hub), removing barriers to use of buses by older people (French hub) and a covid – safe metro interior (Spanish hub). The novelty of our work is situated in the way that we engage creatively, from a distance with new or upcoming designers to embed this ‘new’ approach, as their new design-normal.

This paper addresses the steps that we have taken to fulfil the codesign expectations of the project during March – December 2020, the period of rolling lockdowns across all countries. We will discuss the insights/barriers we have had in relation to 1) communication with non-designers, 2) extent to which IT solutions can accommodate design activities, 3) development of empathy at a distance, 4) design skills gap 5) design as a provocation to encourage deeper thinking and engagement.

Using design to present concepts is widely understood. However, using design to induce a response, where that response can break down barriers to discussion; design has then transcended to a medium where its inherent empathy can be the driving force for decisions that result in better experience, greater fulfilment and that all important sense of embedded joy.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusSubmitted - 11 Nov 2020
EventInternational Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education
: E&PDE 2021
- Denmark, Herning, Denmark
Duration: 9 Sep 202110 Sep 2021
Conference number: 23


ConferenceInternational Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education
Internet address


  • Empathy
  • Design
  • Provocation
  • Remote
  • Collaboration

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