Leap win at the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards for Barnardo’s LifeLabs

stills from mobile-first instructional videos created by care-experienced young people for barnardo's life labs

We’re delighted to announce that our pioneering co-creation project for Barnado’s, LifeLabs, has won bronze at this year’s DBA Awards.

What are the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards?

The Design Business Association’s aim is to demonstrate ‘the value of design, whether that be financial, behavioural, societal or environmental.’ They have been celebrating effective design since 1989, showcasing and celebrating impactful projects that prove the integral role that design plays in transforming businesses, improving societies and enhancing people’s lives.
Eligible projects are entered jointly by the client who commissioned it, and the agency or in-house team who delivered it, in recognition of the success that comes from collaborative partnerships. All entries must be accompanied by measured proof that the design process ‘made a clear and significant contribution to the results achieved by the work.’

LifeLabs for Barnardo’s

LifeLabs was the outcome of a pilot project with Barnardo’s Plymouth Care Journey’s service, supported by IKEA and aimed at over 800 17-21 year-olds in, or leaving, the care system in Plymouth. The objective of the project was to understand how to empower care experienced young people in the city to get the right support to develop the skills needed to start living more independently.
LifeLabs launched in Plymouth in February 2020. The pandemic reduced its budget and scope, but the co-design approach’s early success and increased awareness of the issue saw Barnardo’s corporate partner, IKEA, inject £75k into the project. This paid for the portal, its content and the exhibition, which all launched in May 2021.

What problem did the project aim to solve?

Every year, around 10,000 children and young people in England, leave local authority care. They will be between 16 and 18 years old when they start living independently, well below the average age of 23. Many of these young people are vulnerable, and Barnardo’s regularly sees young care-leavers struggling to deal with living on a low income, managing their tenancy, or feeling lonely, isolated and scared. In addition, by the time they are 19-21 years old care-experienced young people are significantly less likely to be in education, employment or training (or other positive destinations) compared to peers who have not been in care. They are also more likely to be homeless and to take their own life.
Barnardo’s know that these ‘positive destinations’ for young people are more accessible if a person lives in a place that they like, where they feel empowered to live independently, and where they are happy and well. Care Journeys is one of their Core Priority Programmes that works to improve the lives and opportunities of care experienced young people so that they are just as likely as their peers to be in these ‘positive destinations’.

How we approached the work

We have found huge value in co-designing and co-creating with end-user groups. Achieving the brief of this project meant putting the young people who would be using the service at the heart of a co-design approach, ensuring that the project would deliver exactly what they needed. It was not our place to impose our ideas, preconceptions, and design solutions on them. We worked with 11 young people from Barnardo’s Plymouth Care Journeys service: empowering and giving them a voice was what guided us throughout.

If we made any assumptions through the process then they were run past the young people in the co-creation workshops, but mostly we avoided making any assumptions because we started from the ground level up with the young people. Every possible angle was run through co-creation and we thought that was the best way to stay true to the brief. We were there to do some research and come at it using our expertise, but truly the best people who know what they want are the people who you’re working for, who need the outcomes.

Nathan Lance, Creative Director, Leap

Phase 1: Research, workshops and branding

Leaving care and transitioning to independent living is an experience that is rarely seen or heard about, so we wanted to give young people an authentic voice and understand their experiences. This meant developing both an in-depth understanding of what would help them, as well as a visual language that they felt they could own. We worked closely with a senior Barnardo’s project worker and a behaviourist to run a series of “new experiences workshops” which allowed young people to try new experiences, and gauged their responses to various tasks and new technology. These workshops helped us identify the specific skills and advice which the young people most wanted, as well as the best medium for them. We discovered that learning had to be the user’s own (or a phased but supported) pace, ideally through a toolkit of online videos covering five key skills and themes: DIY, managing money, reducing energy consumption, batch cooking, and mental wellbeing
We then ran a second series of workshops in which we co-designed the LifeLabs name and brand of the project with them, thereby ensuring that the young people could associate with it.

Phase 2: Portal design and development, content creation

We designed and developed an online portal that is a mobile and video first design. It has a busy, vibrant look and feel which incorporates the black and white images that the young people indicated they preferred, and structured to allow for supporting back stories to be told through video and text – another key finding from our Phase 1 workshops.

Running concurrently with the portal development was the creation of video content to be housed on the platform. This comprised a series of four experience-led videos of young people sharing their lived experiences and overlaid with animation to highlight the key points, and eight instructional videos focused on the skills areas identified. As with the portal, the young people were involved in every key creative decision and helped guide the videos’ direction.

This is BRILLIANT. Stop what you are doing and watch this. This is exactly how we should be listening to and learning from young people. This is “story” free; not a chance anyone could watch this and respond with pity. This is voice, power, integrity and true insight. So refreshing.

Head of Voice and Influence Team, Barnardo’s

Phase 3: Collaborative exhibition design and delivery

The final phase of the LifeLabs project was the collaborative exhibition in IKEA Exeter in May 2021. The exhibition provided a platform for the care-experienced young people involved to be seen and heard, and to celebrate the skills they’d learnt and the friendships they’d formed during the project. The exhibition was centered around the idea of pride, which emerged as the central theme from the planning workshops.
The exhibition included DIY workshops led by IKEA co-workers with the care-leavers, and the personalised pieces of furniture the young people created in the DIY workshops became centerpieces of the exhibition, displayed on plinths with QR codes linking visitors to videos of the DIY workshops that were also added to the portal along with supporting content about the young peoples’ personal journeys.

LifeLabs outcomes

When the LifeLabs portal launched in May 2021, it was promoted to local Plymouth networks and Barnardo’s internal services. Within six months, there were over 1,200 unique users of the portal from a target audience of 800 care leavers.

Most young people used to get given the leavers manual and throw it in the bin. This proves that if we provide trusted content designed by the young people who have experienced it we can provide tools that can make independent living a positive destination for care-experienced young people

Jason Owens, Senior Project Worker, Plymouth Care Journeys, Barnardo’s

The various positive impacts on Barnardo’s care-leavers from Plymouth – confidence gained, life skills learnt, new connections made – alongside the portal’s high engagement from limited promotion, led to Barnardo’s, supported by IKEA, expanding the local pilot into a nationwide programme with the potential to reach roughly 150,000 young people in or leaving care. IKEA also decided to extend their corporate partnership by at least one extra year (it was initially set to run from 2018-2021), injecting an additional £70,000 into the project to fund national roll-out. That funding allowed Barnardo’s to recruit a young care-leaver to a new role to lead the roll-out, to develop the portal’s functionality and create new content, and to run skills workshops with groups of young care-leavers across the country.

The success of LifeLabs is based on the project being created by young people for young people. It’s their voice, it’s so authentic and for any care-experienced young person to have that peer support is absolutely fundamental. It’s crucial that this approach is now taken across the UK to bring the change that is needed and we’re so grateful that IKEA supported this approach

Nick Cook, Assistant Director Children’s Services, Barnardo’s Cymru and South West

We couldn’t be prouder of this project and the impact that it is having. It is so gratifying to have that recognised by the Design Business Association and the panel of judges, and we thank them for the award. We want to take this opportunity to champion co-design and co-creation as a method that empowers the end-user and delivers the best solution.