Let’s listen to the young and involve them in co-design

It may seem a strange link between the design of websites aimed at children (see News Analysis) and the creation of youth centres with young people’s input (see News).

The one is closer to a traditional marketing ploy to appeal to the target audience, while the other venture, by The Sorrell Foundation, involves co-design. But, in both instances, designers are listening to young people about their likes and needs, rather than taking their cues from parents and teachers – and are being surprised by their findings.

The notion of, say, engaging children in the work of JMW Turner via a ‘virtual catapult’ website, as Magnetic North has done, is a stroke of genius. Art buffs may be in two minds about treating an old master in this way, but if it provides a key to art appreciation among the young then why not? One of the great joys of the stunning Anish Kapoor show at London’s Royal Academy is seeing young visitors interact with the art.

The Sorrell Foundation venture goes further in potentially addressing social ills. By injecting the principles of its Joined Up Design for Schools initiative into the Government-backed My Place project, the organisation is actively engaging young people in the creation of local youth centres they actually want.

Research carried out by the foundation with school students into crime in and around schools showed that youth centres were sadly lacking or badly promoted in the areas covered. A presentation by the students to the then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith in March suggested that better provision might help combat crime.
There is also an educational element to the project. Designers involved will take their brief from the users, immersing them in the design process and hence building their knowledge of the benefits of good design.

There has been much talk in lofty places about the benefits of co-design. How refreshing to see it actually happening in these projects – and with people who will shape the future.

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