Pivot was excited to be a part of EDIT DX’s Expo for Design, Innovation & Technology. The event was hosted inside the abandoned Unilever soap factory located at the foot of the DVP in Toronto.  This was where people came from all walks of life to experience new ways of thinking and ideas for an innovative new future.

Designers are considered natural problem solvers as they undergo an iterative process to determine the best solutions for users. But what happens when a group of designers and non-designers get together to tackle a problem using design thinking?

After learning about the innovative EDIT DX event—a multi-day design festival focused on the future—Ian Chalmers met with Julielynn Wong, the curator for the Care vertical at EDIT DX and founder of 3D4MD.  The two decided Pivot would run a three-hour-long community work session that would explore ways to rethink and redesign the interactions Canadians have with their healthcare system.

Pivot is no stranger to hosting such meetups thanks to our popular DesignMeets events. And so for EDIT, we invited members of the public to participate in a rapid-fire design thinking process centred on a newsworthy, health-related issue: youth mental health.

More specifically, we asked participants to design a solution based around the question: How might we provide greater access to counseling for young adults experiencing poor mental health or mental illness?

Approximately 45 individuals, from students to retirees, joined us in the former Unilever Factory, EDIT’s unconventional venue.

Attendees were encouraged to work with strangers, which Leslie Capobianco—a student in OCAD U’s masters in design for health program—said helped her and her classmates simulate a real-world scenario outside of the classroom.

Capobianco described the work session as a meeting of the minds. “For us, it was a really great way to synthesize a lot of the course material and theory we’d been working on,” she said.

“The workshop created a unique opportunity to effectively raise awareness about mental health by challenging participants to collaboratively attempt to come up with ways to address that very issue.” – Ryan Nussbacher, Participant 

For those without related experience, the session was indeed a crash course in design thinking. Facilitators led participants through Pivot’s process, which always begins with research. Instead of our usual research process, Harry Dearden, an entrepreneur working on an app for those experiencing poor mental health, spoke about his own experience living with rapidly cycling bipolar disorder to give the group something to draw upon.

Next, the six groups distilled the problem down further and learned to harness empathy by creating personas and chatting one-on-one with Dearden.

After defining their problem statements, the groups had 15 minutes to ideate and come up with solutions, 10 minutes to filter through their ideas and 20 minutes to prototype their solutions before presenting them.

While the solutions were as diverse as the participants, Pam Sethi, who worked closely with the Pivot team in creating the workshop, noted that instead of generating solutions that responded to downstream issues, all of the prototypes—which included a podcast and a mobile installation that would broadcast expert advice—aimed to prevent mental health episodes before they became a real issue for the patient and their family.

Perhaps their conversations with Dearden helped guide groups in this direction. Dearden is currently building Small Talk, an app he describes as Snapchat for those in counseling. “You’re able to capture a video, audio recording or text entry whenever there’s a trigger or stressor that comes up,” he explains. These entries would sync with a calendar to guide users’ discussions with their therapists.

As someone working on a design solution to help youth experiencing mental illness, Dearden was happy to share his lived experience with attendees and was humbled by their participation throughout the work session.

“It was very good to see that people truly cared about the design process from all walks of life, be it students, be it respected industry folk or whatnot,” he says.  “The idea that people were willing to learn, that’s what gave me hope.”

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