What is co-design?

John Chisholm, Senior Research Associate in Design Management at Lancaster University has recently written in response to the question, “What is co-design?” on the Design for Europe website,

“Co-design reflects a fundamental change in the traditional designer-client relationship. The co-design approach enables a wide range of people to make a creative contribution in the formulation and solution of a problem.

This approach goes beyond consultation by building and deepening equal collaboration between citizens affected by, or attempting to, resolve a particular challenge. A key tenet of co-design is that users, as ‘experts’ of their own experience, become central to the design process.

The role of facilitation (usually undertaken or coordinated by designers) is an essential component of a successful co-design project. Facilitators provide ways for people to engage with each other as well as providing ways to communicate, be creative, share insights and test out new ideas.”

Co-creation is a central tenet of Landscape Interface Studio’s philosophy for design.  We have facilitated a number of workshops in a variety of locations to support the development of shared ideas.  One of many co-creation workshops…..

River Suir Cafe, South Tipperary, Ireland

river suir3

The River Suir in County Tipperary, Ireland passes through the towns of Cahir, Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir before reaching Waterford on the east coast of Ireland.  Landscape Interface Studio (LIS) developed and facilitated a series of workshops and community events on behalf of the South Tipperary County Council Heritage Office. The ‘The Lay of the Land’ project was a series of community participation workshops designed to reveal the potential of the River Suir and to engage with the wider community to map, reveal and celebrate the River Suir thus developing a ‘shared vision’ for the future.

These workshops were designed to:

  • Understand and present the wider community’s perceptions, experiences and memories of the River Suir.
  • Work with and introduce different community groups that share similar connections to the River.
  • Investigate specific local opportunities adjacent to the River.
  • Present and explore the history and time line of the River
  • Provide a platform for engagement and understanding between the local community and the authorities.
  • All data gathered collated and recorded to inform the planning process and act to support proposals for future funding

river suir4


  • The workshop invited people to connect with positive and personal experiences associated with the River Suir revealing that the river connects people to their families, and their own selves as well as others in the community.
  • Each visitor was asked to locate a specific place on the map that has some significance to them and to share their experience. This mapping process revealed the areas that were most important to people, places of interest, of concern, and creating a visible representation of possibilities.
  • A time line was pinned up on a wall in the workshop and a library and visitors were invited to add dates, photographs and records which indicated key moments in the history of the Suir. This historic representation of the river aimed to add another dimension – a representation of the Suir in time alongside the understanding of place on a map and in the experiences recounted through a story.


It became clear during the open workshops that the River Suir is a lifeline and access to the river forms a vital part of people’s sense of self and the workshop witnessed a sharing of knowledge and the revealing of personal stories of the River Suir.  These stories created connections between strangers, as well as between friends; reinforced the connections that create a community.

The community’s dreams and ambitions for the River Suir were revealed with many comments describing a positive ambition to regenerate the Suir – for it to once again form the centre of town activity for all ages – a place for people to engage and participate.

Concerns were clear in terms of the maintenance and care of the River Suir, and the community’s need to safeguard its connectivity, its habitats and historic heritage for generations to come.

Each event concluded with a presentation of all the documentation summarising the comments and feedback to the South Tipperary Heritage Office.  The LIS team developed a series of documents based on all the outputs from these events which were presented to South Tipperary Heritage Council and were included in a further presentation to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The documents can be viewed below:

river suir5

The outputs were  fed into development of a Tipperary Regional Action Plan.  The Suir River Café workshop concept was identified as an example of good practice by the European Regional Development Funded ‘Waterways Forward’ project.

The sharing and transfer of these good practices, in the form of posters and leaflets, supported the development  of a series of  EU Policy Recommendations which were presented to EU Commissioners Jean-Marc Venineaux, the EC’s Directorate General for Regional Policy at the European Commission and Cesare Bernabei (DG Energy and Transport) in Brussels in December 2012.  The recommendations were designed to assist the future promotion of multi-functional uses of Europe’s inland waterways.

Lucy Tauber designed and led the ‘Lay of the Land’ workshops to engage with the communities on The River Suir. Lucy teaches at Kingston University and is a practicing ARB registered Architect, maker and artist and specialises in art-based community engagement and consultation. Tom Ginnett and Tom Roberts supported the delivery of the workshops – both graduate students from Kingston University’s PG Diploma Landscape Architecture.






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