How We Co-Design to Center Student Voices

Written by Georgia Maxwell & Marcus Lomboy (Senior Research Assistants), Sanskriti Maheshwari (Design Research Assistant), Amal Yusuf (Design Research Assistant), and Carla Montgomery-Alexander (Content Writer)

An illustrated icon of an individuals smiling, with a heart in the background representing care

In Summer 2021, The Innovation Hub was approached by Health and Wellness to help with their services redesign project, an initiative seeking to improve the delivery of mental health services on campus. Central to this service improvement work was having students directly contribute to the design of mental health service delivery, for Health and Wellness wanted to implement a model that ensures the best experience possible for any student who needs it. 

At the Innovation Hub we design with students rather than for students using a variety of methods and approaches. One method we use is co-creation, which uses collaborative activities to bring students to the forefront of design projects. The Innovation Hub used co-creation methods to bring students into the services redesign project to better understand what they may want from their mental health services. Many students participated in our co-design sessions, which speaks volumes to how important this project and work is to the UofT community. 

The services redesign project is a great example of how there are many ways that we can use design thinking methodologies to center students and empower individuals through co-creation.   

What is Co-Creation?

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During co-creation, students and researchers collaborate in the design process through a variety of design activities, such as discussion, drawing and writing. By providing students with different creative tools, we help them approach design thinking in ways that make sense to them. For example, in one of the activities that we ran during our sessions, students drew what their ideal experience would look and feel like when accessing mental health services on campus. Students used words, images, and diagrams to communicate this ideal experience in their drawings. Not only did this activity help us understand what students want from their mental health services, but it helped us understand how they want to feel when interacting with mental health services, which allowed us to conduct empathy-based research.   

Key Findings

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From these co-design sessions, our design researchers developed a series of insights and recommendations to help inform the changes being made to the delivery of mental health services on campus as part of the services redesign project.  

Our key finding is that empathy helps students feel safe when accessing mental health supports.  

While empathy can be such a small thing, it helps set the tone for students’ interactions with mental health services, whether they are calling to ask a question, booking an appointment, or attending a counselling session.  

In addition to our key finding, we uncovered how empathy and safety play out across 5 main themes that pertain to the student experience of mental health on campus. To read more about these themes, check out our Executive Summary

What is Next?

As students ourselves, we know that when we’re able to voice our opinions or be part of a conversation, we can help the university create services and programs that best reflect our needs. This is why we are so excited that Health and Wellness has engaged the Innovation Hub in a Phase II of the services redesign project.  

Phase II will allow us to continue to collect student feedback and improve students’ experience of seeking mental health support on campus, and continue to ensure that every student has an empathetic and safe experience when seeking mental health support. 

To learn more about the importance of empathy-based research, check out our previous blog posts: Designing Better Empathy and Empathy & Design.   


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