March 30, 2016   |   3min read

5 tips for a successful participatory design process

As we are done describing step after step how to build from scratch Pixie, our open source and open hardware continuous integration status light, we wanted now to give you the 5 tips we learned from participatory design.

Once it was clear we were to make a new continuous integration light for our office, we looked at users, the developers. Since we had them under our own roof, it was the perfect opportunity to have a go at a participatory design process and see its pros and cons for ourselves. Here is how we did it!


  1. How to empathize with users: A deep dive into developers’ needs
    First, we applied one of our favourite tools, the Futurespective, to set the project’s goals. The most important things turned out to be starting a new ritual in our company culture, avoiding information overload by creating calm technology and making something that is open source and open hardware. We then identified pain points in developers’ daily work through a workshop, and I finished off the process with in-depth interviews to really understand every process and best practice involved in the continuous integration system. When creating a specialized product like Pixie, this stage turned out to be crucial in making decisions at the very final stages of design.
  2. How to engage user: Involving developers in the ideation process
    Workshops, interviews and research do not make up the whole participatory design process. The more important is to include users [wisely] in the creation. So we conducted an ideation session with a small interdisciplinary team. The session was facilitated with several brainstorming exercises: combine, split, merge… to produce as many variations as we could. They were then evaluated by all participants against requirements we had produced in the research phase. After the session, I developed the most promising ideas, i.e. the ones that met the most requirements, into concepts.
  3. How to take responsibility: the designer role in participatory process
    Of course, users know best but they don’t take the responsibility for the delivery of the product. As a designer, I had to remain open to users and they helped me collect many ideas and needs but I still had to set the project’s scope independently. Once this was done, I framed the vision of the project by choosing the device personality to make it clear and consistent. It appeared that PIXIE inspired me a sheepdog (yes at Polidea we like giving dog breed personality to our apps), and that helped me to choose the right feature for MVP. iterating
  4. How to work iteratively: testing & improving loop
    In order to get the best final product we had prepared one working prototype with two different displaying lights. We gave the prototype to one of the team. We then, collected users’ feedback on sticky notes to select the preferred display light and catch all usability issues encountered. All changes and improvements that occurred in our design after this stage, were conducted “on the fly”.
  5. How to say goodbye to some ideas
    During the tests it turned out that my initial idea of showing white light for succeeded status (it’s the most frequent status so I didn’t see the point to indicate it dramatically) had to be dropped. During tests many developers express their need to see green light after succeeded build. I also wanted to indicate that PIXIE works well by pulsing the light but others found it irritating…So I adjusted.

Participatory design demands from a designer to find tough balance between meet users needs and expectations and deliver consistent and feasible product. But it also creates an efficient synergy between the two parties (designers & users) which resulted in fast advancement and the delivery of a perfectly fitted product.

This post is closing our serie about Pixie, we hope you enjoyed and maybe even build your own one. If so please send us the pictures we would be happy to see how it fits your wall. To stay tuned for more tutorials and open source projects, please subscribe to our newsletter below.

Gosia Fiedorow

UI Designer

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