Youth Participation in Design, Research and Creation

Co-design or participatory design with young people is an innovative methodological approach that has been and is being applied in various sectors to develop research and creative processes. From interventions in the area of health to curriculum design projects in schools, to research on media literacy, the inclusion and participation of young people in this type of initiatives offers multiple possibilities for the generation of knowledge, products, and services.

In an article I recently published in Passagens Journal, I present an analysis of three co-design projects with young people aged 12-18, developed in schools and youth organizations in Austin (2012)[DGZiN Studio], Boston (2016-17)[Digital Citizenship Learning Playlists], and Bogotá (2019) [Proyecto Hablatam]. Drawing on qualitative data and using the case study methodology, I inquire about the challenges and opportunities that emerge with this type of interventions and the different forms of participation that can be configured when researching and creating with adolescents. Regarding the opportunities, the article focuses on the potential of using youth digital cultures and practices to investigate and solve problems situated in local contexts, and to design educational resources and learning experiences in a collaborative and participatory way. In terms of challenges, the article highlights the logistical and methodological challenges, and the ethical considerations of co-design process with youth.

Passagens Vol. 14 Núm. especial (2023): Dossiê Diálogos com as Infâncias e as Juventudes: os desafios com as tecnologias digitais em debate

Co-designing with Youth

Co-design or participatory design, since its origins in Scandinavia in the 1960s and 1970s, is one of the methodological approaches that have gained greater relevance in recent years in the development of collaborative processes of creation and research involving young people and adults. Co-design is based on an inclusive and democratic philosophical stance according to which all people have the ability to create, design, and research through collaborative processes characterized by horizontal power relations among all participants (Costanza-Chock, 2020; Exss Cid et al., 2022; Manzini, 2015; Sanders & Stappers, 2008). In this sense, participants in co-design processes cooperate in the research and production of knowledge, services, and products by contributing their local knowledge, daily experiences, and creativity in an egalitarian manner. As Costanza-Chock states, this methodology approaches communities and users not as mere consumers, objects of study or test subjects, but as co-authors and co-designers of shared knowledge, technologies, narratives and social practices (2020).

Several authors agree that the development of the co-design methodology took two particular trajectories as it was applied in different contexts. While in the United States, co-design processes have focused on the creation of products and services through the participation of their end users (User Centered Design), in Europe the emphasis has been on the process and the establishment of reciprocal and horizontal relationships aimed at social transformation and change. In many cases, the North American approach has been criticized as an extractivist process where user communities are consulted only to extract new ideas for products, applications or services (Costanza-Chock, 2020; Sanders & Stappers, 2008). In its two variations, the co-design methodology has been applied in the technology industry, public policy, health, education, academic research, among other sectors, establishing itself as one of the most widely used participatory methods with diverse population groups in recent decades, particularly with youth, adults, and minority communities. In the Latin American context, the European co-design approach has found resonance in the practices and methods of Popular Education and Participatory Action Research -well-established collaborative methodologies with extensive trajectories in the region- and has been applied mainly in the fields of education, politics and culture (Garces, 2020).

Now, co-design processes are developed following a series of stages that include the discovery and identification of the problem and needs, their understanding and definition, the ideation and modeling of solutions, the creation and prototyping of products or services, and their implementation, testing and evaluation (Manzini, 2015; Sanders & Stappers, 2014). Like any design process, co-design is iterative, and is developed cyclically by revisiting the different phases once the process has been completed. All participants in the process are expected to research, reflect, understand, propose, develop and implement solutions, participating creatively, supporting each other and contributing equally at different stages. One of the challenges of co-design is to promote reciprocal relationships that foster collective creativity and doing during all phases of the process, through the creation of collaborative spaces, the application of different design and research tools and techniques, and the development of participatory experiences (Sanders & Simons, 2009; Sanders & Stappers, 2014).

In co-design processes with youth, adults assume the role of facilitators, guiding and providing assistance to all participants during the different stages that are part of the design process, and supporting the application of different activities, techniques and tools. In this sense, co-design involves young people in all stages of the design process, collaborating with professional researchers and designers, educators and other adults to find the most appropriate solutions to their needs and problems. By facilitating the participation of young people in the design process as co-creators and co-researchers, it is expected that the products and knowledge produced will respond to the needs and realities of young people, be useful and usable by them, and take advantage of the knowledge acquired in their daily techno-cultural activities.


Costanza-Chock, S. (2020). Design justice: community-led practices to build the worlds we need. Cambridge, Massachusetts, The MIT Press.

Exss Cid, K., Spencer González, H.,Vega Córdova, V., Jarpa Azagra, M., Álvarez-Aguado, I., Pastén Bernales, A. y Von Unger Martínez, M. (2022). Investigación inclusiva y codiseño: cocreación de un sistema de apoyo tecnológico para la discapacidad intelectual. Revista 180, (49), 95-106.

Garcés, A. (2020)  Diseño participativo y co-diseño: su interpretación en la revitalización de saberes ancestral en Ecuador. Estudios sobre Arte Actual, ISSN 2340-6062, Nº. 8, 209-219.Manzini, E. (2015) .Design, When Everybody Designs. MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, EUA, 45 – 65.

Lombana-Bermúdez, A. (2023). Participación juvenil en diseño, investigación y creación: tres estudios de caso sobre proyectos de co-diseño con adolescentes. Passagens: Revista Do Programa De Pós-Graduação Em Comunicação Da Universidade Federal Do Ceará14(especial), 110–135.

Sanders, E. & Stappers, P. (2008). Co-creation and the new landscapes of design, Co-Design, 4:1, 5-18, DOI: 10.1080/15710880701875068.

Sanders, E., & Stappers, P. J. (2014). From designing to co-designing to collective dreaming: three slices in time. Interactions, 21(6), 24-33

Sanders, E., & Simons, G. (2009). A social vision for value co-creation in design.

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