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The Co-creation Space:
User-Centered Design for Participatory Art tool

The goal of participatory art is to give community and professional participants an equitable voice.  As part of the TRACTION European Project (Horizon Grant 2020), I designed and tested the Co-Creation Space (CCS), an artistic co-creation tool that supports asynchronous and multifaceted discussion and reflection dynamics.

(Conceptual drawing of the tool)

The Challenge: To design a social network tool to support artistic opera co-creation dynamics that include discussion, media sharing, and feedback dynamics.  Three primary challenges of the design process were that 1) our participants had a wide range of experience with technology, and 2) spoke several different languages, 3) all engaged differently in the co-creation process. Further, our group included experts and non-expert artists, which further added complexity to the dynamics I was designing for. A further challenge was that due to the nature of the project, we had a design concept in place at the beginning of the project, and had to conduct discovery research as we built the initial prototype.

Users: Our stakeholders and users included expert opera makers (e.g. producers, art directors, creatives in 3 opera organizations) paired with non-expert 'community'  members including design school students, neighborhood community members, and prisoners. 

Goals: The goals of our expert stakeholders were to create 3 different opera co-creation experiences with community members.  Not only were the community goals difference (e.g. an immersive VR experience in Dublin vs. a huge neighbourhood opera written together with a neighborhood), but the dynamics of all three environments was unique, including participants' languages and experience with technology.

Hypothesis:  Our initial assumption was that an online platform that could support conversation dynamics about media would add value to the stakeholders and participants' experience, because it could both store media related to the co-created experience, and could hold space for online conversations about the process. 

Discovery process: Our user-centered process encompassed several design and research methods. In the first year of the project, I gathered requirements for the TRACTION tools through a series of focus groups. Then, I mapped user journeys by developing personas, use cases, storyboards, and designed the tool inferface by creating a set of wireframes. After developement of the initial tool, I evaluated them through a usability test paired with an in-depth interview with co-designers at the LICEU operahouse in Barcelona. Click here for detailed examples of each stage of the process.

In the second year, I went through another user-centered design process; I held co-design sessions to gather user requirements regarding privacy, smart upload and commenting/editing features, and a narrative summary tool, and tested the usability of the second iteration with choral participants from the open pilot carried out at the LICEU opera house.  In the second and third year, we also conducted two open-pilots of the tool with over 300 participants.

Focus Groups: Gathering Requirements

The goal of gathering user requirements was to build a common understanding of the project between team members and stakeholders,  identify potential users, and identify and refine a set of user requirements for toolset design.  I gathered tool requirements with co-creation stakeholders over 3 focus groups, and synthesized research findings using thematic analysis.


(Sample booklet probe filled out by stakeholders during requirement gathering process)

Findings: I identified 4 primary needs for the co-creation experience: 1) support divergent elements of co-creation (e.g. archiving workshop materials and supporting education goals) and uncertain timelines,  2) building dignified communication and relationships between professionals, participants, and friends and families (particularly in the prison context), 3) supporting technology ease, flexibility, and access to content in a variety of languages, 4) supporting high quality audio to maximize immersion. We also derived a set of functional and non-functional design requirements, including system constraints, and data and usability needs. I ranked these requirements with stakeholders and developers, and tracked them throught the project in a requirements spreadsheet.

Mapping User Journeys

I designed the intial version of the tool through a multi-step user journey, that included defining personas, scenarios, use-cases, storyboarding interactions, and developing wireframes.  To validate our assumptions, at each step of the process I gathered feedback from project leaders and updated our requirements documents based on our findings.

First, I developed user personas, and defined a set of scenarios and use cases with project leaders and developers. I brainstormed an initial set of personas with project leaders, gave them persona templates to further brainstorm, and met a second time to discuss their personas. I likewise defined scenarios and use cases, first integrating personas into a set of scenarios, then brainstorming a set of possible use-cases for how the CCS could support project goals. After receiving feedback on the use cases and adding corresponding requirements, I storyboarded a subset of these interactions, sketching use cases by hand and in Figma, and discussing these again with project leaders and developers. Finally, I created wireframes of the interface based on the storyboard interactions, received feedback from developers on the implementation of the tool, and feedback from project leaders on the clarity of the interfaces. In the second year, I also gathered a new set of requirements for the tool through online codesign sessions. Click here for detailed examples.

(Sample Personas)

(Sample storyboards)

(Sample wireframes)

Usability Studies 

In years 1 and 2 of the project, I evaluated the tool through usability tests paired with in-depth interviews.  The usability tests evaluated how easy the two systems were to use, while the in-depth interviews asked users to envision the usefulness of each tool in practice; for co-design, learning, and outreach.

(Images from first year usability study in Barcelona, Spain )

Insights: Participants described the tool was intuitive and well thought out, and helped us understand its value as an archival `black box’  to come back to solve disagreements.  Compared to existing platforms, participants saw the tool as a mixture of Google Drive and a chat, but one that was simpler and focused on co-creation.

Several new requirements also came from the usability studies. In the first year, we found that privacy was a huge concern for participants, and helped us reposition the tool as as a ‘private’ social network with limited access to content and different levels of permissions. Notably, while participants wanted privacy, they also wanted greater awareness of the other users in their network, and wanted more direct communication capabilities including a private chat and video calls.  In the second year, we focused on smart-editing and summary features, and received feedback on how media should be effectively uploaded, divided, marked, and edited.


Challenges:  One core challenge was balancing simplicity with features.  Participants asked for many chat and editing features, however we recognised that other tools already had sophisticated capacities, and that adding them would compromise the valued simplicity of the interface.  Another challenge was that participants were comparing our prototype to sophisticated social network tools like Facebook and Instagram, which affected their perception of its’ value.

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