Apps 4 Autism – intentional and inclusive co-design

Humanising the design process

Apps 4 Autism – intentional and inclusive co-design

We all experience the world in unique ways. Neurodiversity is important to the species. It brings different ways of sensing and experiencing the world to the surface. Autistic people are often subject to interventions that are for them, without their input. We believe it is not only possible, but necessary, to design with difference.

Held in November 2016, Apps4Autism was a unique event hosted by the Autism Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) bringing together autistic people, their community of carers, researchers, CRC staff, ANZ staff, Salesforce staff, Victorian public servants and hackers.

We met, Wojciech Nadachowski, COO of the Autism CRC at an Innovation Showcase where he presented the incredible collaboration between the CRC and Salesforce. During that conversation, Wojciech mentioned that the CRC was hosting a hackathon including autistic people, their carers and researchers. We were intrigued at the possibilities for real-time co-design. TSD is a specialist in user-centred innovation events, leading and adapting the Global Service Jam format for our clients.

We joined the team and convinced them to run a design jam instead of a traditional hackathon because it allowed the CRC to put the voices, experiences and needs of autistic people in the centre of the design. The CRC curated a number of webinars with the researchers and participants, and we worked with Rowena Westphalen, Senior Director and Salesforce Design Thinking guru, to educate the CRC staff, researchers and people on the spectrum who were advising and shaping the event about the power of human centred design.

This was an exceedingly complex event to design, redesign and continuously adapt through the event to meet the known and emerging needs of our people on the spectrum as we facilitated and curated the event. We observed, we listened and we co-designed together. In fact, both before and as it ran we adapted and redesigned the structure of the event six times from the real time feedback!

The event was probably the most inspiring experience of my career. The format was similar to other initiatives I have attended, but the difference was the fact that we focused so much on who the customer was, what their needs were, and had the experience of the customer in the room with us to validate our assumptions (or to tell us we were dreaming!). The diversity of the team meant that our ideas were challenged and enhanced continually and this was reflected in the end product.

ANZ staff participant

TSD worked with the anxiety triggers for people on the spectrum, the deep insights and relationships shared by the CRC’s amazing staff (Cheryl, Olivia and Wojchiech) and our deep experience in running large service design events to craft a uniquely neurodiverse design jam. People on the spectrum were in the centre of event. They owned it. They directed it. They shaped their own solutions. And, why not?

The environment was technically, emotionally and sensorily complex. As a practice, we believe in “full ecosystem co-design,” this requires as many voices to be heard and seen in what is being co-created. We aligned our outcomes early and stuck to the purpose of serving our colleagues on the spectrum to deliver the gentlest, most compassionate and welcoming experience we could for all the participants and stakeholders. Our amazing partners, ANZ Bank,, Specialisterne Centre Australia, Nvision Talent, The Post Project and Bracket Labs (the makers of Taskray) poured some heart and soul into creating an exceptionally memorable event.

Together we proved that it is not only possible to co-design for neurodiversity, but necessary to in order to “sense and feel” each other in our fullest humanity. Apps4Autism changed perspectives, changed lives and changed the way we can work together to support one another.

The sense of ownership, gratitude and joy expressed by our colleagues on the spectrum made this a career highlight for us. Best of all we were thanked by their big, warm cuddles, they trusted us and shaped the journey, though initially unsure that the “hackathon” would be truly theirs. Together we made it theirs. We are humbled by their talent and beauty.