Nick Bell, UAL Chair of Communication Design (2013-2016 Project), recruited UAL students to be part of a trans-disciplinary, cross-university ‘Early-Lab’ tasked with scoping out a new vision for the design of a local NHS youth mental health service provided by Norfolk & Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT).
Early Lab gave student designers the opportunity to be involved in processes early (long before they are usually invited) so that their contributions might have a greater chance to deliver resilient and sustainable outcomes. Trans-dsiciplinary, collaborative, complex socio-ecological challenges were met responsively with people where they were, in their enviroment.
While the use of making in participatory co-design is common, I argue for the benefits that making-led participatory co-design can bring to two fields where its use is rare: early-stage innovation and mental health. I draw evidence from my situated cooperation with service users and providers of a regional UK mental health trust. The motivation for this action-research was twofold: to envision a better youth mental health service, and to explore how primary and secondary schools can practice mental health prevention. I observed that where there was an absence of co-making in a researcher’s stakeholder engagements, communicative exchanges became heavily verbal, and this increased the relational intensity between actors. As a result, the discussion of service user experiences—coping with mental health conditions and the struggle to access mental health services—became more challenging for contributors. By contrast, stakeholder engagements driven by co-making transcended the verbal. Making brought a level of informality that enabled participants to lighten relational intensity, soften professional/cultural boundaries, and open up to each other. A low-fidelity visualization is described that I propose can help maintain stakeholder agency and sustain relations between co-actors for the longer term.