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A CaT is a tool to help facilitate the practice of Inclusive Design. It’s goal is to engage a “full diversity of potential users”, a key principle [Insights] in the practice of Inclusive Design, in the design process. In essence, a CaT is a diverse community of co-designers (or co-creators) brought together to contribute to the collective design of a system, product or service.  Inclusive Design practices include: accessibility integration from the start, open work, a focus on functional needs and preferences, frequent testing, inclusive facilitation, design for adaptability and flexibility and design for uncertainty.

A CaT may also be considered as collective creativity or participatory design (Wikipedia page on Participatory Design), all of which are fundamentally a process that includes both the expertise of system/product/service designers/researchers and the situated expertise of users (those impacted by change to or creation of new systems, products and services). (Sanders and Stappers).

A CaT aims to create an environment that encourages input from diverse perspectives. “In keeping with the edict 'nothing about us without us', this principle is about including a diversity of people with a broad range of needs, preferences, interests and skills into the design process, and in so doing, weakening [blurring] the distinction [line] between user and designer.” source:

A CaT should encourage active involvement from users or potential users of the system, product or service being iterated upon—the key is to have involvement of a diversity of users, users whose needs aren’t met, users whose needs are constantly in flux; users whose insights are not available elsewhere because they do not fit into a construct of “average”.

CaTs can be applied at as many points as possible in the design process. To practice inclusive design there should be several touch points throughout a design process, and not simply at the beginning. To design inclusively it is important to review progress with and have input from a CaT community at multiple stages. 

A CaT intends to:

  1. identify problems in a given context
  2. develop ideas and stories, and
  3. use these ideas and stories to inform the design of systems, products and/or services (any and all mediums of design can be applied here).

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”. 

Create-a-Thons and Hackathons

CaTs are “short term collaborations between small groups”, similar to a Hackathon (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.

Create-a-Thon In Practice

When to consider using a CaT:

  • the design problem space is ambiguous, not well defined, or complex.
  • there is a broad audience who would be interested in or using 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

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

Setting up a CaT:

  • Define a loose scope
  • 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

Case Study: IDRC-PhET Energy Skate Park Create-a-Thon

The Energy Skate Park sim is a challenging sim because:

  • The user is free to position the skater anywhere within the playing area.
  • When the skater is released,

PhET Energy Skate Park Simulation


  • Consider a CaT at all stages of your design process. "Co-creation can take place at any point along the design development process: pre-design, discover, design, make [iterate]" (Sanders,Elizabeth B.-N, and Pieter Jan Stappers. Convivial Design Toolbox. 1st ed. Amsterdam: BIS, 2014. Print.).
  • In keeping with the core of the goal of Inclusive Design—flexibility and adaptation—always be developing a community of co-designers, and invite new potential users at every stage to build out diversity of perspectives.


Sanders, Elizabeth B.-N, and Pieter Jan Stappers. Convivial Design Toolbox. Amsterdam: BIS, 2014. Print.!DIgeneral1234 (2017). Welcome to The Inclusive Design Guide | Inclusive Design Guides. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Sep. 2017].

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