Co-Design Studio

An immersive foundations course on co-design methodology and theory intended for students interested in equitably engaging with community partners in Social Impact Studios.


Course Information

Social Impact Design

Eric Gordon



The Co-Design Studio is an immersive course on co-design methodology and theory intended for students interested in equitably engaging with a variety of stakeholders in the creation process. The course will equip students with the design concepts, methods, and project management tools to effectively collaborate with partner organizations such as municipal government, nonprofit organizations, and grassroots community groups. It will introduce students from a range of academic backgrounds to the theory and practice of collaboration, the importance of power and positionality, and the value of dynamic and engaging design methods. Case studies, interactive in-class group activities, and group work will compose the experience.

Students gathered around a table brainstorming

A Look Inside the Co-Creation Process

Reflections by Studio Assistant Isabella Ercolano


When I walked into the Engagement Lab and saw the tables set up in a circular formation, I knew right then that this class was going to be different from the rest. I knew that there would be a sense of collaboration, co-creation and understanding like no other. To prepare for the work that was to come, we knew we needed to understand ourselves and each other as co-creators and what we can bring to the table. To achieve this, we shared our own stories with one another. We became vulnerable with one another and shared experiences that shaped us into who we are today, challenges we have faced, and how we grew from them. Through this we learned the power and importance of not only sharing stories, but listening to what others have to say.

Later on, we designed a class asset map. We were given a stack of post-its and told to write down what we are good at, what we know, and what we are passionate about. Once the whole class had finished writing, we moved to the wall and grouped our post-its together in a way that made sense. We had created a ginormous class asset map, filled with all our strengths and passions, ranging from languages we speak, to books we know a lot about and everywhere in between. We acknowledged our creativity with assets like singing, dancing, painting, drawing. We acknowledged our social skills, such as public speaking and ability to motivate and brainstorm. To step back and look at the asset map felt like I was looking into a tool shed. I was seeing all the incredible tools we can use in order to make an impact in the work that we do. I not only learned a ton about myself as a co-creator, but everyone else around me too. 

GUEST SPEAKER: jesikah maria ross

Prior to our discussion with jesikah, we listened to the first two episodes of her podcast, After the Assault. The podcast is led by a cohort of eight women who are sexual assault survivors. In the first two episodes, they discussed the psychology and the feelings women experience after being assaulted. These women so bravely spoke out about their own experiences in order to educate others.

When we met with jesikah, she started the discussion by asking us: why are you interested in collaborative storytelling? We went around the circle and introduced ourselves and shared our answers with her. She was passionately taking our names and notes, I could tell right away that she is a respectful and incredible listener. As our discussion continued, everything that jesikah shared showed us how collaborative design is crucial for effective transformation. She shared that the cohort of eight women in After the Assault shaped every aspect of the podcast and was led by them. No one could tell their stories except them, which is what made After the Assault so impactful.

Jesikah also shared the importance of care in collaborative design and production. There are ethics to care but there is not one “best” or “right” way to care, and it may vary from group to group. In After the Assault, the cohort found what ethics of care meant to them and made sure to adhere to those guidelines to create a safe, inclusive and collaborative community. A quote jesikah shared that has stuck with me ever since is, “the shortest distance between two people is a story.” In collaborative design, storytelling is the key. It bridges differences and unites people. Without this understanding and unity, we would make no progress. As a class we make sure to continue in jesikah’s footsteps to create the most inclusive, educational and caring collaborative design process.

Impact Beyond the Studio

The Co-Design Studio provides an opportunity for students interested in working with organizations to develop projects that connect to grounded strategies for social transformation. We typically build teams with diverse skill-sets, including (for example) storytellers, designers, artists, media-makers, developers, researchers, and community organizers, and support the teams through an iterative project development process. We provide design teams with template working agreements, and strive to connect successful projects to the support networks they’ll need to grow and thrive.

The Co-Design Studio is also a space for shared inquiry into the theory, history, best practices, and critiques of various approaches to community inclusion in iterative stages of project ideation, design, implementation, testing, and evaluation. The Co-Design Studio approaches partners not as (solely) consumers, test subjects, or objects of study, and instead imagines them as co-designers and coauthors of shared knowledge, technologies, narratives, and social practices.

Our goal is twofold: to develop an understanding of the ways that media and technology design processes often replicate existing power inequalities, while at the same time, moving beyond critique to travel as far down the path of community co-creation as possible, within the constraints of any given project.

Spring 2023 - Co-Design Studio Participants

Studio Contact

Are you an Emerson student interested in enrolling in this course in the future? Please contact   to learn more!