Maraid McEwan, Young V&A Inclusive Designer in Residence and Kirsty Sullivan, Senior Producer for Formal Learning, Young V&A
When Young V&A opens in 2023, the permanent galleries will explore some of the social and environmental issues facing children and young people. Amplifying the voices of all young people is key to the vision of YV&A. As such, we want to explore how we can work with creative professionals to help young people find their voices through design.
In late 2021 we put out a call for Young V&A’s first Designer in Residence in inclusive design. We wanted our first resident to explore learning opportunities around inclusive design. The British Standards Institute (2005) defines inclusive design as “The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible … without the need for special adaptation or specialised design.”
In addition, we wanted to look at ways in which traditional design practice can be rebalanced towards a diverse range of children and young people. This is particularly important in Tower Hamlets, home of Young V&A, where there is a higher-than-average proportion of the population with additional needs. We were also keen to explore how young visitors can work with creatives in an environment where their lived experience and unique perspectives are valued.
We worked with equality designer Natasha Trotman to ensure that the application process for the residency was as accessible as possible. We received some brilliant applications outlining a range of exciting potential projects, and after a round of interviews we settled on Maraid McEwan. Her proposal, centred around mindfulness in young people, spoke to the need in Tower Hamlets for inclusion and wellbeing in a post-Covid-19 world.
Maraid McEwan / Creative mindfulness
As a designer and researcher, my practice centres around the themes of inclusivity and social impact, using immersive and experiential design. For Young V&A’s residency I proposed to explore ‘Creative mindfulness: Designing personal immersive installations with young people to aid with mental wellbeing’.
When presented with the open call, my thoughts were instantly drawn to the issues of mental health and young people in London, post-Covid-19 and in today’s society. Younger people in my family had been struggling with anxiety, and the discussion around the benefits of mindfulness was one that I wished to investigate through inclusive design methods and creativity.
I have been deep diving into what creativity, mindfulness, mental health and design mean to young people. Now, as I near the end of my residency, the research has turned to focus on how young people access mindfulness, rather than the education around it.
I began my research by exploring the area of East London on foot. I wanted to understand how the area made me feel, and what objects, places, and emotions stuck with me. This kind of research is a large part of my practice, drawing on memory and found objects to create relationships within my design practice. These relationships can inform how I turn insights into design actions. For example, a memory or mindful moment can be reflected in something else, with one enhancing the other.
Throughout my residency I have carried out interviews with mindfulness practitioners including the charity Mind, Mind With Heart and mindfulness coaches. These people and organisations have aided my understanding of what mindfulness means today. The word itself has been capitalised upon, and has seemingly lost its meaning for many. I wanted to understand and simplify the core areas of what it means to be mindful, culminating in three areas of Relaxed, Present and Clear states.
My research led to the development of multiple workshops carried out with young people such as ‘mindful shapes’ and ‘mindful spaces’. A number of these workshops took place at Spotlight, where in a previous inclusive project we had encountered a range of young people who were either engaged with local wellbeing services or had additional needs.
The activities in these workshops utilised the V&A’s vast collections as inspiration for expressive reactions or words about mindfulness. I wanted to create a space where you could design your emotions, with no set goal: building a space to be creative. On one day, an inclusive group of young people took part in a mindful walk where they were encouraged to react to mindful words on cue cards and connect the words to things they could see around them. These connections were then drawn, pictures were taken, and collages were made. The young people were encouraged to sew these memories and connections into PVC and attach them to a display to see their interpretations come to life.
The series of creative workshops showed me that young people were engaged with their own wellbeing and keen to express their emotions around mental health through design and creativity. However, multiple conversations with young people identified a common problem: sound. When taking these walks, especially around Tower Hamlets, the young people often expressed that noise was a barrier to being mindful in their local area.
We often connect mindfulness with the serene sounds of forests or the calming sound of the ocean, but what if we cannot or do not have access to them? This question formed the final direction of my residency, and the outcomes will be on display at the V&A from the 20 – 30 July. I hope that the research exemplifies the idea that to be inclusive in design we must think about all the interconnecting factors that come into play when thinking about inclusivity. I believe that rather than just making an inclusive product or end concept, the design process and methodology must be inclusive at all stages too, as only then can we ensure the right problems are being solved.