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CHI 2019 Course C13: Think BIG

Castle 3 CROWN

Tuesday May 7th – all 4 conference sessions

Glasgow, Scotland

What’s behind this course?

I’ve worked in Interaction Design and related research for 37 years. I began as a self-taught practitioner. I unlearnt much, but not all, of what I’d already taught myself when I was a researcher and academic in Computing departments. I re-learned what I’d lost and added much more when I moved into a School of Design a decade ago. I’ve spent most of the time since trying to keep the best of three worlds (creative design, engineering project management, user-centred design) while overcoming their inbuilt disadvantages. This course combines short lectures and group exercises to share the results of my thinking about making design work worthwhile.

Forget Process. Think Playbook.
All projects are unique and no fixed process will work all of the time. A playbook of strategies and tactics, as in American Football, is a more appropriate foundation for planning, guiding and directing Interaction Design projects than a fixed iterative process with specific methods for each development phase.

Think beyond Playbooks.
We need to add coherence to unstructured playbooks through principles and practices that co-ordinate different design elements. Three very important principles are Balance, Integration and Generosity, or BIG for short. BIG design rejects single centres for creative design work and instead balances concurrent work across different design arenas, and integrates these at appropriate points in a project. Even so, it sees design purpose as key to integration, and relies on worth to direct and support integration. BIG design empowers design teams to go beyond documented needs, requirements and other upfront bases for design purpose. The aim here is to be generous and create worth that was never identified or even imagined before a project’s inception. The aim is thus to be innovative, creative and competitive, but most of all, to excel.

This course is about BIG design, its rationale, its practices and its principles.
This course is Wo-Fo: it introduces BIG design with a Worth-Focus.

BIG design is realistic. Interaction Design must serve several masters: users, stakeholders, customers, approvers, technical platforms, creative trends and other factors. Single centred responses are inherently unbalanced. Being solely user-centred, design-led, outcome-focused or data-driven will inevitably impoverish design work. Ideas can come from anywhere, so don’t put anything in their way.

Current attempts at combing strategic, creative and human-centred approaches such as Lean UX [12], while significant improvements on rigid process structures, can still adversely constrain, as can design workshops such as Google Ventures Sprints [14] and other commoditised ‘Design Thinking’ approaches.

This course complements existing Agile, Lean, User-Centred and Design Thinking repertoires with an integrated set of approaches, including support for the critical reflective practices that enable balance and integration in design [6,8].

This course is about realism in creative design work, based on decades of research into how designers actually work, rather than how outsiders think they should work. It does not commoditise Design Thinking, but instead develops Design Thoughtfulness.

This course is about doing design work, and not just listening to accounts of it. It is hands on, practical, systematic and tried and tested in conference and graduate courses since 2009.

This course has always received very favourable evaluations. It is well worth attending, and keeps getting better. Places are limited, so please register soon to secure your place.

Why should you attend?

If you attend this course, you will:

  • Learn about disciplinary differences between creative, strategic, technical and human perspectives on interactive software (and in particular, understand the roles of critical reflection in creative practices).
  • Learn strategies and approaches for applying and integrating diverse perspectives within a dynamic development process (in particular, creative [7,9,10,13] and worth-focused [1,2,3,4,5] perspectives in Agile and Lean [11,12]).
  • Experience new perspectives on design work that support reflection on balance and integration, rather than following prescribed processes [6,7,8,15].
  • Be able to reframe existing sequential UCD development stages as concurrent design arenas [6,8].
  • Understand creative design work [7,9,10,13] and its effective management.

Who can attend?

This is a moderately paced studio based course that asks for (and repeatedly gets) agility and stamina from attendees.

This course is aimed at broad, open minded, agile and curious practitioners, educators and researchers in creative design, software development and interactive technologies who want to combine user-centred practices with creative and strategic approaches to Interaction Design, both in research and practice, as a basis for reviewing, extending and balancing their existing practices and introducing design practice innovation.

There are no formal pre-requisites. You should ideally have experience of several design/development projects from initiation to completion, mastery of an existing discipline (e.g., computing, creative design, engineering, marketing, innovation strategy) and awareness of others.

Most important is a willingness to have existing positions and values challenged, to try out new challenging approaches with attendees from diverse backgrounds, and to discuss your initial experiences with these new approaches.

What will be covered in this course?

We will explore and exploit disciplinary differences between creative, technical and human perspectives, as well as strategies for integrating them. The course will systematically introduce, integrate and exploit:

  • Creative, agile, lean, engineering and human-centered design practices: origins, similarities and differences in terms of design situations [6,8]; results of ‘research into design’ studies; design arenas and design paradigms
  • Worth as a strategic focus for design purpose, its implications for design practice, and supporting approaches and resources [1,2,3,4,5]
  • Worth-foci in combination with existing user-centred resources such as personas, scenarios and empirical evaluation
  • Rich use cases for integrating technical, creative, experiential and strategic aspects of design [5]
  • Worth sketches and worth maps [2,4]
  • Collaborative creativity methods, using 6-3-5 Brainwriting as a practical hands-on example
  • Approaches to design tracking and reflection, using design arena and other canvases and maps in hands-on examples [8]

Practical Work in Groups

  • Exercises 1 and 2: collaborative brainwriting and design arena canvas exercises as inputs to a worth sketch that will be extended in response to insights arising during further exercises. Exercise 3: using worth-focused approaches to extend the design arena canvas.
  • Exercise 4: using rich use cases in an initial worth sketch for a web service
  • Exercise 5: extending the initial worth sketch
  • Exercise 6: (homework) lean user research planning to address assumptions and hypotheses from earlier exercises
  • There will also be reflection and discussion on successes and difficulties during practical exercises, and formation of a multi-arena work plan to extend design work from the course.

Course Timetable

This is a four unit course, taught across all four sessions on Tuesday at CHI 2019

  • First morning session – Design Thoughtfulness 1: the role of Processes, Playbooks and Principles; Design Arenas and their Canvases as an alternative to stage based processes; Brief for the course. Exercises 1 and 2.
  • After the morning break – Design Thoughtfulness 2: Disciplinary values Design Paradigms and the role of Abstract Design Situations; Focusing on Worth for Design Purpose, resources and approaches; Exercise 3.
  • After lunch – Worth-focused integration in design and evaluation work; Exercise 4.
  • After the afternoon break – Integrating and extending design arenas with worth sketches and maps; Exercises 5 and 6; closing discussion.

Where this course has been taught before

This course has been delivered with very positive evaluations at:

  • CHI 2018, Montreal, Canada
  • CHI 2017, Denver, USA
  • NordiCHI 2016, Gothenburg, Sweden
  • CHI 2016, San Jose, USA
  • NordiCHI 2014, Helsinki, Finland
  • In extended versions at Bachelors, Masters and Professional Doctorate levels at Reykjavik University (Iceland: 2014) and the Technical University of Eindhoven (Netherlands: 2015, 2016, 2017)

Elements of this course have also been presented at

  • Integrating Human-Centred Methods into Worth-Focused (Wo-Fo) Interaction Design: Pan-Baltic World Usability Day workshop, Tallinn, Estonia, November 2013
  • A Systematic Approach to Design and Evaluation Methods based on Design Arenas and Resources for Design Work: Design and Evaluation of Innovative Interactive Systems: Interdisciplinary and Trans-sectorial Training (DEVISE II), Bertinoro, Italy, November 2011
  • Fusing Design Paradigms: Workshop for Junior Researchers, 8. Jahrestagung der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Designtheorie und-forschung (DGTF), Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany, October 2011
  • Where Worthwhile Interaction Designs Come From and How To Get There: 3TU 1st International School on Human Technology Interaction, Almen, Netherlands, January 2009


  1. Gilbert Cockton. Designing Worth is Worth Designing, Proc. NordiCHI 2006, eds. A.I. Mørch, K. Morgan, T. Bratteteig, G. Ghosh, and D. Svanæs, 165-174, 2006. 
  2. Gilbert Cockton. Designing Worth: Connecting Preferred Means with Probable Ends, interactions, 15(4), July+August issue, 54-57, 2008.
  3. Gilbert Cockton. When and Why Feelings and Impressions Matter in Interaction Design. Kansei 2009: Interfejs Użytkownika – Kansei w praktyce. 2009. Invited Keynote.
  4. Gilbert Cockton, Sari Kujala, Piia Nurkka, and Taneli Hölttä. Supporting Worth Mapping with Sentence Completion. Proc. INTERACT 2009, Part II, (LNCS 5727), Springer, 566-581. 2009.
  5. Gilbert Cockton. Making Designing Worth Worth Designing. Position Paper, CHI 2012 Workshop: Methods for Accounting for Values in Human-Centered Computing.
  6. Gilbert Cockton. Design isn’t a shape and it hasn’t got a centre: thinking BIG about post-centric interaction design. Proc. MIDI ’13. ACM, Article 2, 16 pages. 2013, DOI=10.1145/2500342.2500344. 
  7. Gilbert Cockton. A Critical, Creative UX Community: CLUF. Journal of Usability Studies, 10(1), 1-16. 2014. (Invited Editorial, available at
  8. Gilbert Cockton. 2017. New Process, New Vocabulary: Axiofact = A_tefact + Memoranda. Proc. 2017 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing. ACM, 747-757.
  9. Nigel Cross, 2011, Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work. Berg.
  10. Kees Dorst. 2017. Notes on Design: How Creative Practice Works. BIS Publishers.
  11. Igor Garnik, Marcin Sikorski, and Gilbert Cockton. Creative sprints: an unplanned broad agile evaluation and redesign process. Proc. NordiCHI ’14. ACM, 1125-1130, 2014.
  12. Jeff Gothelf with Josh Seiden. 2013. Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience. O’Reilly.
  13. John Hegarty. 2014. Hegarty on Creativity: There Are No Rules. Thames Hudson.
  14. Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz. 2016. Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days. Simon & Schuster.
  15. Alan Woolrych, Kasper Hornbæk, Erik Frøkjær and Gilbert Cockton. Ingredients and Meals Rather Than Recipes: a Proposal for Research that Does Not Treat Usability Evaluation Methods as Indivisible Wholes. IJHCI, 27(10), 940-970, 2011.

The Course Presenter, Gilbert Cockton

Gilbert Cockton lives in Monkseaton near the beach to the east of Newcastle upon Tyne. He recently retired as Professor of Design Theory in the School of Design at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne. He has previously been a head of department and associate dean for research and innovation.

From 1997-2009, he was Research Chair in HCI at the University of Sunderland, where he was the recipient of a UK NESTA Fellowship on Value-Centred Design. Work during this fellowship moved his research from the design end of computing to the computing end of design, extending the variety in a career that has blended education, academic research, childcare, design, consultancy, work for and within business and public sectors, directing large regional economic development projects, and professional service.

A Fellow of the UK Royal Society for the Arts, he has published extensively since 1985, with almost 260 papers, chapters, books, articles and edited proceedings and over 150 invited presentations in 23 countries, on usability, user-experience and accessibility, theoretical and empirical inputs to design and evaluation, the nature of design work, and notations and architectures for interactive software.

He was scientific co-ordinator for the 26 country European TwinTide network (2009-2013) on transferability of software design and evaluation approaches. He has secured funding for research and knowledge transfer projects and infrastructure with a value of over $7M. He has contributed to the supervision or examination of 95 research students in 8 countries.

Gilbert is co-editor in chief of ACM Interactions magazine and has served in many roles within the international HCI community, including Vice-Chair of IFIP TC13 (2004-06), Chair of British HCI Group (2001-2004), Chair of ACM CHI 2003 and BCS HCI 2000 Conferences, and Secretary of IFIP WG2.7 on user interface engineering (1993-99). He is Editor Emeritus of Interacting with Computers, a member of the editorial boards of Quality and User Experience, the Journal of Usability Studies, and Springer series on HCI and on Design Research Foundations. He has advised national projects in Japan, Finland and Poland. His first career was teaching in a high school. Education remains his first passion.

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