Category B: User-driven production

Category B: User-driven production

What is it?

User-driven production is based on a co-creation with the users of a service or product; you are creating with people, not for them. It is important that the participants are part of the process all the way through. The method is divided into a preliminary phase, a developing phase and an evaluation phase. In the preliminary phase you investigate into the challenge and possible solutions. The developing phase consists of both development and analysis. This means the facilitators analyze the information generated between workshops. The evaluation phase is where the final result is tested. The aim of this phase is to evaluate the product to find out if it solves the challenge.

How is it done?

The preliminary phase

Identify an apparent challenge

Use a problem, solution or presentation as a point of departure for the first investigative workshop.

Identify the stakeholders

You should find 2-4 users or users and 2-4 co-workers or partners/developers/experts. Both types of informants hold key insights.

Facilitate workshops with the stakeholders

Plan 1-3 workshops for each phase in the process and make sure to document them with a recorder or camera. It is important that all participants are given influence because all points of view and ideas are valid and relevant. Make sure everyone knows the overall structure of the process. The stakeholders should bear the challenge and resources at hand in mind to ensure that the solution is applicable.

Think outside the immediate challenge

Prepare a presentation to kick-start the user-driven production process. This presentation can be a video, a slideshow, or a description of a situation to visualize the challenge. The stakeholders should turn this presentation upside down and inside out so you will gain different inputs and points of view. Don’t be afraid to let the conversation and discussion turn in unexpected directions; but keep the overall framework of the process in mind. The methods of questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, scenarios, focus group interviews, participatory observation and lead-users are effective to incorporate in the preliminary phase.

The developing phase

Evaluate input from the preliminary phase

Draw up the main points from the discussions and gather possible solutions for the developing phase. The methods of prototyping, participatory observation, focus group interviews and structured interviews are effective for testing and developing the solution. If there is more than one workshop in this phase, the material gathered during a workshop is analyzed and used as a starting point for the next workshop.

Rethink the challenge

It is a good idea to stay open to new ways of understanding the challenge throughout the process.

Formulate one possible solution

Settle on one or two solutions, which are developed with the stakeholders. This should also be the basis for the evaluation phase.

The evaluation phase

Facilitate an evaluation workshop

The stakeholders should use this workshop to examine and ensure that the solution is satisfactory. The methods focus group interview, prototyping and observations are effective means to acquire the knowledge necessary to finish the solution to the challenge.

What does it take?

Time frame

The method of user-driven production can be conducted within 2-6 weeks. Compressing the analysis phases between workshops can make smaller scale projects possible.


  • Post-its, whiteboard, markers, paper, and a projector user to give presentations during the workshop.
  • Plenty of space to test and try out the new solutions during the prototyping exercises.
  • Camera and recorder for documentation.


The method demands 1-3 employees to observe and plan the process. They don’t necessarily need to have any specific skills. The method is furthered by an empathic and attentive approach towards the informants. One employee assigned as a coordinator is a good idea.



Karen is the curator at a museum. The museum wishes to develop a smartphone application to be used as a means supplying information about items, opening hours, special exhibitions etc. To ensure the durability and quality of the application, Karen wants to try a user-driven production process to develop the application.


Karen invites a lead-user of smartphone applications, a visitor who is very familiar with the museum, an innovative artist and a recognized blogger, who are used to work with communication online. She also invites a web developer, who has developed applications before. Finally she invites someone, who has no affiliation with the museum. The first workshop begins with an introductory round and afterwards Karen tells them about the purpose of the process. She ensures a comfortable atmosphere with breaks, food and drinks along the way. She gives them problems to solve using prototyping and one of them is to do a sketch of the interface for the application. They must also show how they would like to use it. Together they put together a temporary version of the application to be discussed further at the next workshop.

They do 4 workshops all in all. Karen uses the time between the workshops to assemble and analyze their progress. Her work is the starting point for the next workshop. The fourth and final workshop is an evaluation workshop where they discuss and add a finishing touch to the application.


Between the workshops Karen reviews her notes, the stakeholders’ sketches and prototypes to draw out the main points. She uses their input to put together a new draft focusing on design and function.


Through the user-driven production process, the museum has an application developed for smartphones, which is carefully designed, aesthetically satisfactory and user friendly. In this way users can use their phones to get information about the different items in the museum and information on offers, opening hours etc. By incorporating the points of view of the stakeholders, the challenge was solved.

More on the method

User-driven production is a new way of creating value for your users. It contains several different ethnographic methods in each phase.

Further readings on user-driven production:

Tom Kelley with Jonathan Littman (2005) – The Ten Faces of Innovation – IDEO’s Strategies for Beating the Devil’s Advocate & Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization.

C. K. Prahalad and M. S. Krishnan – The New Age of Innovation: Driving Co-created Value through Global Networks – Willey Blackwell