Co-creation at work

Last night I experienced live within 15 minutes an example of co-creation. What an unexpected treat from David who was the presenter at the weekly Business Growth event at Coworking Bansko.

David, who talked about visual communication, asked us at the end to apply what we’d heard to a simple task: create some „icon“ or visual sign for the coworking space. We were to form small groups, come up with a topic, and quickly draw something on a piece of paper.

This was where it got really interesting on a meta-level I think :-)

Team gathering

Finding a group was easy. The group members gathered quickly around the tables. In my group we did not experience noticeable forming, storming or norming throes. We were able to get right to work.

I think that was, when groups turned into teams. Because there was a common goal for all group members they were supposed to achieve together. The exercise was not only about applying some visual concepts, but also about collaboration.

Phase 1: Taming chaos

However, working on the task in my team started in… chaos. No, we did not run around screaming and climbing over each other :-D Rather chaos was signified by a lack of alignment. There was no direction, no focus yet for what actually to draw.

Sure we knew that we had to create some visualization. But within this overall task we were clueless. What should our topic be?

Other teams started right away with a fixed topic. They were able to get to work on drawings without discussion. Not us, though.

It took us a couple of minutes to bring order to our chaos. Suggestions for topics where thrown around. Some were new, others refined previous ones… Some were discussed for a moment, others were just ignored…

Then, after a few minutes we pretty suddenly agreed on a topic. To me it’s still strange how that happened. Why that and not another one? Maybe the topic had more of a general appeal to all of us? Or maybe it was more tangible than other ones?

Anyway, it pretty much just happened. There was no ruling by any group member.

Our topic was: Visualizations of the coworking room categories

  • „quiet space“ (no talking allowed)
  • „semi-quiet space“ (some low voice talking allowed)
  • „social space“ (talking allowed, even doing phone calls or online sessions).

With a topic in hand chaos had been tamed. We had drawn a line. Chaos to me is a state of dis-order, i.e. no clear-cut boundaries. In chaos right/wrong, good/bad and other dualities are missing. Dis-order equals dis-orientation.

But now we knew what to focus on - and what not to consider anymore. That was the achieved duality. And it felt great to share this view with others. The team had found alignment.

Phase 2: Exploring the solution space

Once aligned the real work of visualization began. How could those coworking space categories possibly be represented in a „universal“ way so that people from different cultures and with different levels of experience with coworking would immediately understand them?

For that we stopped our discussion and each grabbed a pen and a piece of paper. All team members started sketching ideas. For a minute or two there was no interaction between team members. We were fanning out to explore the solution space individually; not physically, just mentally.

And then we got back together and put our visual ideas in the middle of the table. We discussed the pros and cons of our varied approaches to visualizing the categories. Some were discarded pretty quickly, others were greeted with more agreement.

In a second round some team members tried to build on what had been picked out as more promising visualizations. They went back to the solution space and explored further.

What they found was put before all team members for further discussion.

Although this might sound like a lengthy process if of course was not. It all happened in a matter of a dozen seconds.

It was after this second iteration that one team member had a crucial idea: Why not let all three icons look the same except for a delta representing the category.

That was our „plot point“ when we entered the final phase…

Phase 3: Refining the product

One of the team members picked up this idea right away and started creating new icons. That way the suggestion manifested for the first time and it looked right.

The discussion now was able to focus more on details. One aspect was to be simplified, another to be emphasised.

With that information another team member drew a version of the icons which then was accepted and handed to David for the final presentation of all designs.


Crammed into maybe around 10 minutes this collaboration was a great experience of focused team work. We co-created something I would not have dreamed of before.

In fact I had been a bit reluctant to join a group because I was skeptical about what could possibly be achieved. But I was wrong and am glad for the opportunity to see how co-creation can work even in such ad hoc situations. Thanks, David, for challenging me!