The best five questions to ask before co-creating a digital product

When you think about “co-creation”, what comes to mind?

  • Trendy conference rooms with floor-to-ceiling glass walls covered in sticky notes? 
  • An eclectic group of hipster designers celebrating their own innovative ideas? 
  • A dynamic facilitator who just drank enough caffeine to kill a giraffe? 

We’ve all experienced our own versions of these collaboration stereotypes, but real co-creation isn’t about these trendy clichés. It’s about learning from customers’ perspective and building solutions that meet their needs. When executed well, co-creation increases customer satisfaction, saves costs, and reduces risk.

But without a thoughtful approach, co-creation efforts could quickly become just another display of innovation theater that makes for a great photoshoot, but produces no real results. So before you embark on your co-creation journey, make sure you and your team are aligned on the answers to these important questions first.

Questions to ask before co-creating

  1. What do you hope to learn by co-creating?

What are you trying to accomplish, and how will co-creation help you? Starting here will ensure that you’re clear about the purpose of the collaboration with customers, which will guide the rest of your planning. 

Most importantly, check your motives to ensure you are genuinely adopting a mindset of involving customers as participants and co-creators—not just token stakeholders. If your team isn’t prepared to elevate the perspectives and needs of your customers through the process, then you’ll be wasting the time and effort of everyone involved.

In our work with Herff Jones, the goal was to find opportunities to provide more value in the yearbook creation process. Because we knew that the students, advisors, and reps involved in this process have the most experience, we knew that co-creating with them would yield better insights.


  1. Who will you invite into the process?

Do you need perspective from your current customer base? A new segment of customers? Maybe your “customers” are fellow employees from other departments within your organization. Or perhaps you need to get perspective from the broader community outside of your customer base because a new solution you’re working on will affect a larger group than just your customers.


We recently redesigned an existing service for a Fortune 500 manufacturing company. In this case, their customers and employees were both equally affected by the redesign of the service, so we invited both groups as participants and co-designers in the process. 


  1. How will you reach these participants?

What access do you have to the target group of participants? Do you have established relationships with customers/communities that have opted in to provide perspective—for example, an online community group, an email list of willing customers, or a customer advisory board?

If the participants are employees from other departments, whose buy-in do you need to involve these internal customers?

Maybe you’ve discovered that you’re currently not connected with your target participants. In this case, you’ll need to find a way to build those new relationships. This can involve recruiting or leveraging feedback systems from within your product to find participants that are willing to share their perspective and collaborate with you.

With the same Fortune 500 manufacturing brand mentioned above, we were able to connect with employees through our partners within the company, but brought in a recruiter to find additional participants that met the target criteria for the customer audience. This allowed us to accelerate learning and ensure we were still informing solutions with the relevant customer perspectives.


  1. How will you collaborate with participants?

There are many well-documented participatory design methods to involve your co-creators in your design process. Your methods should be curated based on your goals, and methods are not mutually exclusive. Here are a few examples:

  • Facilitated workshops can be a great way to involve customers in your design and ideation process. Workshops can be conducted remotely or in-person (trendy conference room not required), and a well-designed workshop can provide a great venue for participants to contribute their insights and perspectives—either as a reaction to existing ideas or to generate entirely new ideas.

    For example, when we worked with Angi to find opportunities to provide more value to their target customers, we conducted in-person workshops where participants could map their own values and perspectives.


  • One-on-one sessions with individual participants offer the ability to go deeper and spend more focused time than group workshops. This can be helpful when learning more about an individual participant’s own lived or professional experience.

    For example, when we worked with InterSystems to map their developer’s trial experience, we had developers map their own journey using remote whiteboard tools.
  • Crowdsourcing can be a great way to get customer involvement at a broader scale than workshops or one-on-one sessions. A successful crowdsourcing effort requires rigorous planning, support, and integration into the business.


  1. How will you incentivize or compensate co-creators for their time and effort?

To show respect for your co-creators, you should compensate them for their time. This can be as straightforward as monetary compensation. has a handy incentive calculator that takes into account important factors like the type of study, how difficult the audience is to find, and how much time you need.

Another way to incentivize your co-creators is to offer rewards for chosen ideas. For example, Lego motivated people to submit ideas to their crowdsourcing platform, Lego Ideas, by offering significant incentives to creators whose ideas are chosen. Creators give the final approval for the end product, are credited on packaging and marketing, and even receive a 1% royalty on global sales. Since the launch of Lego Ideas, Lego has received ideas from over a million people, resulting in the production of dozens of popular lego sets.



These prerequisite questions are critical as you first plan your co-creation agenda, and they are also important to keep in mind through the middle and later stages of the work. Co-creation generates valuable new concepts during initial ideation—and it can also produce better results by refining solutions with customers.

Co-creating with your customers is a powerful way to improve their experience, increase loyalty, and launch new, validated solutions that are directly tied to your customers’ needs. Before you start, align your team around these five questions so that you optimize for meaningful outcomes—not just another scene of innovation theater.

Contact me at to find out more about how to better connect your organization and its customers with a co-creation approach.

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