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RSA Student Design Awards Workshop: exploring participatory design as part of the design process

Posted on 10 December 2020

Written by:

Deborah Ajia

Introduction to the event

In collaboration with RSA, The Glass-House ran an interactive workshop to introduce students to elements of action research and participatory design, applicable to all SDA briefs.

The interactive online workshop also explored the value and methods of participatory design, essential to shaping informed and inclusive design proposals built on solid research. Through real-life examples, discussion and co-design tasks, we explored the role that effective engagement can play in: better understanding the context and brief; exploring need and opportunity; unleashing assets and creativity; and building interest, collaboration and investment.

Sophia, in conversation with co-presenters Grace and Deborah from The Glass-House and Jillian and Gabi from the RSA, presented the students with a plethora of thought-provoking points in regards to design research including;

I think the different ways of mapping and engaging with people keeping their privacy in mind. I think I have learnt a lot of new mapping methods and look forward to implementing them in my design process.

Workshop participant

Why students wanted to join

We were thrilled to have students from all over the globe take part in our session with The RSA. Many of the students shared their thoughts with us, such as what they hoped to gain from the session, and information on any of their ongoing projects.

We were joined by students from a wide range of fields, from Architecture and other built environment disciplines to Graphic, Product and Service Design, who wanted to incorporate more participatory design methods into their work, while learning how to interpret the user’s needs and feedback, how to make the engage pool more inclusive, developing accessible activities and overall making their outcomes more successful.

Task and outcomes

A collaborative task was then set for the attendees, to envision how they would engage people in designing a new object or building for a local park. While designing their engagement activities, students had to contemplate, who their project was targeting, how they would reach these groups, which groups they would try to bring together and which specific engagement tasks they would develop.

Each group came up with vastly different ideas, however, some of the target groups overlapped;

After hearing from each group a number of trends developed, such as;

A LOT of design goes into creating research tasks which appeal to the target demographic(s)! I never realised how fun research activities could be made.

Workshop participant

It was lovely to see and hear about design from a place perspective, where it’s not a product or service, but a process of bringing together many perspectives to inform an idea that serves the collective…the “how” of making this happen was my biggest learning.

Workshop participant


The session dismantled the research process in regards to learning from your research target group and how to make engagement fun and successful. There was also discussion on the methods that can be utilised in a socially distanced way and how mapping tools such as Miro and QR codes can be adapted and used within research. The successful event resonated with the students and will help guide them when involving and engaging with individuals and communities within their in their personal projects.

We’d like to thank Gabi and Jillian from RSA and all the attendees!

A recording of this session is available through the RSA video archive.