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7 Tips for Co-Design with Young People

Here’s our tips


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Charlotte Fountaine

3 years ago | 5 min read

I wrote this blog while working at Snook, a service design agency based in London and Glasgow. Read the original here.

After many projects and workshops with young people on topics as sensitive as alcohol awareness and mental wellbeing, we came up with a lot of fun, interactive ways to engage young people.

Here’s our tips:

1. A more meaningful icebreaker

During a workshop, you only have a short time with the participants. So why waste time on an icebreaker? It is important to make everyone in the room feel comfortable from the beginning, no matter what age they are. But it’s a good idea to use an icebreaker that will feed into the subject that you’re investigating.

We ran workshops with young people to find out what they wanted to see in mental wellbeing provision online. We kicked off the workshops with making playlists of feel-good tunes. This activity meant we had music to listen to during the workshop and a collection of songs young people liked. The research we had carried out in an earlier phase of the project showed that music was a really positive mood-lifter, so we took the songs gathered in the playlists and shared them online through Aye Mind’s social media.

2. Don’t reinvent the wheel

When we worked with young people to promote alcohol awareness, we used the game Never Have I Ever. The game is usually a drinking game, but we used it to get young people talking about the tricky topic of alcohol awareness. Rather than creating a completely new activity, it’s a good idea to tap into things that are already understood.

During the game everyone stands in a circle, we let everyone know what the subject we’ll be talking about is. The first person stands in the middle and says ‘Never Have I Ever… Tried a Beer’. Everyone in the circle who has had a beer swaps places until someone is left in the middle of the circle — then it’s their turn to ask the next question.

Using simple, familiar games create an atmosphere where young people can share as little or as much as they want about the subject you are designing for.

3. Make a plan, then throw it away!

Any workshop is unpredictable, it’s hard to judge what people will respond to. We put a big focus on doing not talking and some of the most interesting ideas will come out of making and doing rather than simply asking questions and talking.

We always go into workshops with an agenda that plans out every minute, back-end and front-end. The back-end of the agenda highlights what we, the facilitators, will be doing at any given time. The front-end of the agenda is the part that people will experience, the activities they will be doing. We’ll go into a workshop armed with our own service design tools tailored to the occasion, post-its, big paper and whatever tech toys are appropriate.

We might use all of it or none of it. We’re more than happy to throw the agenda out the window if we see it isn’t working. It’s a great idea to have simple activities up your sleeve if something isn’t working. For example; How to Squeeze a Lemon is a technique you can use for quick idea generation.

Everyone gathers around a wall with post-its and sharpies in hand. They have 1 minute to write down as many ways to squeeze a lemon as they possibly can. It gets ideas flowing. Plus, it’s fun. It’s about quantity of ideas and not quality.

4. If an activity works for 16–25 year olds, it’ll work for everyone

We designed a mental wellbeing GIF and meme-making workshop for young people as part of our Aye Mind project. The first time we did the workshop was with a group of young people at the Riverside Museum where we played games and made mini-personas to talk about mental wellbeing.

Young people had the chance to get their hands on cameras, tripods, coloured paper, play-doh, lego and toys to set up their own images with positive mental wellbeing messages.

Since then, we’ve ran a shorter version of the workshop at conferences for adults working in the mental wellbeing sector across Scotland. Over that time, we’ve produced about 400+ Memes and shared them online, we even had #AyeMind trending during the Aye Mind launch.

5. What would work for you?

Take a minute to remember what it was like when you were that age and remember what worked for you. There’s a tendency when working with young people to feel like everything should be ‘cool’, use slang or have graffiti-style graphics. In reality, a well-thought out, hands-on, and active workshop will work for young people just as much as it’ll work for adults.

6. Safety first

Safety and fun are the most important part of any kind of user engagement. They come before any aims of any workshop or interview. Our Snook staff are PVG checked, most are first aiders and mental health first aiders. We always meet young people with their own support worker whether that’s a teacher or youth worker.

Make sure people you’re working with are fed, watered, happy and healthy as well as feeling safe and having breaks when they need to. This is much more important than running through all the exercises you have planned.

7. Don’t preach to the choir

When we ran Whose Round, (a project for NHS GCC working with Young Scot) an alcohol awareness campaign for and by young people, we didn’t just talk to people when they were sober. On a Friday night, the streets of Glasgow are full of people having wild nights out, so we took to the streets with Whose Round branded cones, cards and merchandise.

At freshers fairs we gave out hangover grab bags and we even went out on Halloween dressed as pumpkins to spread the Whose Round message. We like to tackle the problem head one.

8. Get out

Meaningful, interesting work doesn’t usually happen in your own studio. When we’ve worked on projects for and by young people, we go to the places they feel comfortable.

When working with Includem, a charity that supports young people transitioning away from services, Keira found McDonalds was a great place to meet. The young people she was speaking to didn’t want to have a meeting about their experiences in an institution, they were more comfortable chatting while having some fries.


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