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Collecting, sorting and applying information generated at a CaT aims to maintain all individual contributions as important as the other. They are a collection of perspectives that contribute to robust and agile solutions rather than reductive practices of data analysis that contribute to a concept of an “average”. 

User Stories and Personas

Collecting and applying participant stories generated at a CaT should aim to maintain all individual contributions to be as important as the other. Participant stories are a collection of perspectives that can contribute to robust and agile design solutions. The structure of the CaT should be designed to facilitate individual story gathering and the preservation of individual stories by providing multiple opportunities to create, critique, reflect, and iterate. It is important to avoid reductive practices of information analysis; avoid distilling stories to a collection of averages and eliminating individual differences in favour of sameness.

Individual stories can help counter-balance personas.

Personas (behavioural models of potential stakeholders) are created by "considering the needs, interests and daily tasks of non-obvious or untraditional users helps a design team to think broadly and stay open to unpredicted uses of the systems they are creating". However, personas as sole user-representation can lead to stereotyping or the fictionalization of an non-traditional user. A CaT aims to counter-balance representations (like personas) with the the understanding that individual stories don't represent the voice of the user, they are the voice of the user. Therefore, participant stories are fundamental to the practices of co-design and inclusive design.

Create-a-Thons and Hackathons

CaTs are “short term collaborations between small groups”, similar to a Hackathon (Also also refer to A Hackathon commonly appeals to the "technical" end of the spectrum either by focusing on digitally-based design solutions or engineering physical artifacts. A CaT aims to be broader than a traditional Hackathon in that it encompasses all forms of design mediums (industrial, interior, graphic and digital) and seeks to generate ideas and stories that inform the shape of a solution rather than attempting to create a solution or an artifact.

Create-a-Thon In Practice


  • the design problem space is ambiguous, not well defined, or complex.
  • there is a broad audience who would be interested in or using benefit from your finished product / service.
  • proposed solutions are not harmonious (i.e. satisfying one criteria, negatively diminishes another).
  • there are many possible design directions and unsure what to focus on.
  • there is a potential of bias
  • when an individual or small group is considered the "experts"

Goal: Use a CaT to help gather ideas, stories, perspectives that give you possible directions for further exploration.

Setting up a CaT

Step 1:


Define a broad problem space

Starting with an end goal in mind, create a broad problem space which encompasses your goal. We start with a broad problem space as it encourages creative thinking which may generate more robust solutions and new possibilities (serendipitous discovery and virtuous cycles). A more general problem space would also appeal to a broader audience which can give deeper insights into established demographics, or new insights into under served members.

For example, if you define your goal as to "increase museum gift shop receipts by 10%" and solicit solutions based on that scope, you may find solutions related to changing prices, or improving inventory. Also the study may attract only people retail experience. If the problem were defined more broadly as "discover why guests do not visit the museum gift shop", the ideas you get may be more interesting and useful for broader applications (i.e. "Strollers can not fit between the retail shelves" may lead to better accessibility throughout the facility). Also the broader problem space makes room for a larger demographic to participate.

For example:

    • "Why visitors do not visit the museum gift shop" (not "Increase gift shop receipts by 10%")
    • "Investigate possible new features for the next version of the product" (not "user test features in target demographic")
  • Come up with some scenarios to help your exploration
    • Some structure is needed to help guide the experience
    • Do some dry runs / rehearsals with colleagues to identify possible shortcomings - address those as necessary
  • Find some participants
    • Aim for participation from a broad audience not just the people who fit the "average".
    • Give sufficient detail and time and correspondence.
  • Observe and facilitate co-creation
    • Record with video and photos (consent required)
    • Participants themselves can also be given tools and opportunity to document their thoughts and observations
  • Give opportunity to individuals to reflect and document their personal "stories", designs, thoughts using multiple modalities (some examples may include scribbing/drawing, keyboard typing, voice recording or voice to text.
  • Give opportunity for individuals and groups to refine and iterate on their ideas.
  • Give opportunity for groups and individuals to inspire each other through the presention of ideas.
  • Ensure the pacing is sufficient, with appropriate breaks.
    • Don't try to do too much. Be respectful of time.
  • Build a good relationship with participants to allow for future opportunities