DWELL Co-design Process


This webpage summarises the participatory co-design and research methods used within the DWELL research project (2014-16).


Local residents from neighbourhoods across Sheffield played an active role in the research process. Around 150 older residents were directly involved as participants in the project, with many more providing feedback via our public engagement events.

In the initial phase, DWELL researchers used interviews and focus group discussions to explore the issues facing older residents and communities in Sheffield.  We then invited residents to join one of the DWELL co-design groups located in three case study neighbourhoods in Sheffield. A fourth co-design group was formed of residents from other neighbourhoods in Sheffield who explored more general design issues related to Age-friendly housing.

Case study neighbourhoods

Neighbourhood groups. These groups were located in three neighbourhoods representing different urban conditions and populations:

  • Dore – a relatively affluent neighbourhood on the south-western rural fringe of the city with a high proportion of older residents.
  • Sharrow – an area close to Sheffield City Centre with a diverse ethnic population and mixed housing stock.
  • Parson Cross + Foxhill – a relatively deprived area in the north of the city originally developed as a social housing estate.

The local neighbourhood groups ranged in size from 5 – 10 residents. Each neighbourhood group focused on how their local area could be developed as a Age-friendly or Lifetime neighbourhood.

Sheffield neighbourhoods mapping

City-wide group –  This group of around 20 residents were recruited from across all areas of Sheffield to work specifically on issues relating to Age-friendly housing. Over the course of the project, the City-wide group developed a design brief and proposals for a series of downsizer homes, and went on to develop proposals for urban living in later life for a site in Sheffield City Centre.




Researchers conducted a series of around  40 semi-structured interviews with older residents from across our case-study neighbourhoods. This initial phase of data gathering aimed to explore how the home impacts on people’s mobility and well-being as they grow older. Interviewees were recruited from both specialist (extra-care and sheltered) and general-needs housing.

Interviews were an important method to enable a wide range of residents to contribute in the DWELL project (especially if they were not able to join one of the co-design groups).


Home visits

The majority of interviews were carried out in participants’ homes, allowing residents to demonstrate how they use their home in everyday life. Photography and annotated sketch drawings were used alongside audio recordings to document particular issues.

Initial data gathering: Image gallery

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The co-design process began as a series of  group discussions with residents recruited to one of our co-design groups. Over the course of a number of sessions, the groups were asked to define and agreeing upon a design brief – a set of priorities (‘must have’ and ‘nice to have’ features) for housing or their local neighbourhood.


Group discussions

Group sessions initially took place every month. The early discussions covered a range of issues such as the availability of housing, local transport, and how different participants used their existing home and neighbourhood. Participants went on to discuss and compare examples of housing and neighbourhood projects from other cities and countries.


Walking and mapping

Within the neighbourhood groups, walking was used as a way of getting to know a place through the eyes of older residents – highlighting local issues, problem sites, and local assets. Walks were recorded using photography, and key points and observations later transferred onto an annotated map of the neighbourhood.


Visits to existing housing schemes

Members of the co-design groups visited a number of completed housing schemes for older people in order to review existing designs of apartments and housing schemes first-hand. For most participants this was the first time they had ever visited specialist older people’s housing and many were not aware of its existence.

Developing design briefs: Image gallery

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The second phase of the group work involved participants taking part in hands-on design activities. These workshop activities were typically led by members of the DWELL research team, with input from participants on which aspects of the design process they would like to focus on.


Visioning (‘What if…?’)

In the neighbourhood groups, workshops took the form of visioning exercises. This process involved taking the mapping and design brief produced by the group and turning it into a series of propositions for the neighbourhood. For example, the group in Dore posed questions such as “What if the centre of the village was pedestrianised?”.

The DWELL designers helped by turning participant’s ideas into a series of ‘visions’, which where then adapted and refined by participants in subsequent workshops.


Drawing and model-making

In the City-wide housing group, a series of structured workshops was used to explore issues related to the design of houses and apartment blocks. These issues included scale and density, privacy and security, and as a group we explored how the design of new apartments might be used to create a sense of community.


Site visits

The City-wide housing group visited two vacant sites in Sheffield to provide a more specific and real-life context for the proposed design work. The visits enabled participants to consider the wider connection between housing and the local environment, and which features might introduced to make a site more Age-friendly.

Codesign workshops: Image gallery

workshop1 workshop2 workshop3 workshop4 workshop5 visioning3 visioning2 visioning1 sitevisit1 sitevisit2


Design reviews

Once a concept had been established, the detailed design process was carried out by designers within the DWELL team. Two cycles of review sessions were held over a series of meetings and workshops to allow participants to make comments and suggestions that were implemented by the designers.


Public engagement

Public engagement events were used as a way of taking the work out into the public realm to get feedback from a wider public audience.

The City-wide group’s work on housing was exhibited to the public in the Winter Gardens and in the Moor Market. DWELL team members and participants engaged passers-by in many fruitful and interesting conversations about the potential for city centre living in later life.

The Dore group exhibited their work at the local village show, where they distributed copies of the ideas and used a simple voting system to get feedback on the visions from the wider public.

Design exhibition + review: Image gallery

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Reports and design proposals

The briefing and design work produced by the DWELL co-design groups informed a range of outputs. In many cases, participant’s ideas have been directly translated into the final design proposals, such as the downsizer housetypes in the Designing with Downsizers report. The material gathered from the interviews and discussions shaped a range of other outputs, from academic papers to Local Authority housing strategy.

The full range of DWELL findings and outputs can be explored on our findings page.

Final proposals: Image gallery

proposals2 proposals1 proposals4 proposals3