group photo

Designing For Teens, With Teens

Insight
Behavior Change

Recently, while digging a bit deeper into my own connection to human-centered design and inclusivity, I came across a simple yet powerful mantra:

Nothing about us, without us.

This phrase, with origins in Central European politics, came into use within the English language through disability activism during the 90s. The idea is simple: never create something for a group of people, without that same group of people being involved in the creation.

It sounds simple, yet is often overlooked or replaced with ‘customer personas’ and unchecked assumptions about a specific community. This mantra (sometimes shortened to ‘nothing without us’) is a simple way for us designers, product managers, leaders, innovators, educators, lawmakers, and many others to practice more inclusive design.

This past week, I had the opportunity to join 40 folks, similar to those I listed above, in Boston for two days of brainstorming and prototyping as part of Headstream: Springboard. Over these two days, we were immersed with teens as we thought about ways to positively impact the mental health and wellbeing of them and their counterparts.

The outputs ranged from a music app plugin to help listeners transition moods, to a system for helping break the act of mindless scrolling—all of which had inputs and feedback from teens (and not just former teens like myself). The results, although not perfect, were significantly more interesting than if they had been brainstormed in a vacuum.

***

In the spirit of Headstream, here are three big lessons I learned from the two days and plan to bring back to my work at Hopelab, along with suggestions for you to try the same.

Default to Co-Designing
Human-centered design, or really any type of design, needs to involve more than one human. When we design not only for, but also with those we’re hoping to impact, we end with solutions that hit that sweet spot of desirability, feasibility, and often viability.
Try this:
If what you’re doing could impact /help/support more than yourself, invite someone from that community into your process. It could be as simple as treating someone to coffee (or a gift card) in exchange for their input.

Reframe your “when I was a kid” stories.
I was a teen in the 90s and early 2000s, without a cell phone or high-speed internet. My idea of an influencer was whatever friend happened to have the best basement for playing video games. While my experiences are all valid, they don’t reflect the ones most teens have today.
Try this:
When you reflect back on your own lived experience, flip your statement into a question: “When I was a teen we always played outside” becomes “How are teens experiencing the outdoors?” Let your own experience feed curiosity for the experiences of others.

Elevate yourself to their level
Erase from your mind the idea of dumbing down anything for teens. This is patronizing and often super transparent. Instead, use the gaps in experience and knowledge between yourself and teens to educate one another. By doing this, you may be pleasantly surprised by what you learn (and how sharp a lot of teenagers are).
Try this:
Rather than trying to relate to a teen through outdated memes, try to understand the ways in which they use memes to communicate.

Overall, what I’d love for you to take away is that we shouldn’t be designing for teens, without teens. While I ended the two days in Boston with some exciting ideas and new connections, I left most inspired by the young people I was able to meet. They are indeed our future, and it’s a future I’m even more optimistic of now.


Related Content

View all Insights
Julie Tinker sits on a couch looking at the camera with her arm propped on up
Health Equity

As we strengthen our systems of equity and accountability within our teams and across our partnerships and products, we can’t think of anyone better to join us at the forefront than Julie to help foster a culture of learning, growth, opportunity, and joy.

Read More
Done right, tech can end the youth mental heath epidemic.
Mental Health

We need to reframe the conversation around technology and mental health into one of increased connection and potential for solutions.

Read More
Designing for teens and young adults.
GenZ

Hopelab recently partnered with The Hive, a Human-Centered Design studio at the Claremont Colleges, to prototype mental health solutions from the perspective of college students themselves. At the end of the project, we connected with young people, to hear about their experiences going through the design process and collaborating with Hopelab on mental health.

Read More
Tennis player Naomi Osaka and gymnast Simone Biles with a blue overlay
Mental Health

The biggest names in sports are saying ‘yes’ to their mental health. Grace Greene and Robin Raskob reflect on the revolution the world needs to see and how we might use their examples of community care and self care to approach mental health and well-being needs differently.

Read More