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Cell Furniture Project. Design-Led Research in Prisons. Stint 2: Co-Design Day 1: Define

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posted on 2024-04-29, 09:58 authored by Lorraine Gamman, Adam Thorpe

Activity #1: Icebreaker

Icebreaker: Spaghetti Tower

The first co-design session started off with an icebreaker that involved getting into small groups and building the tallest free-standing structure (with a marshmallow on top) in 20 minutes using only:


  • 20 dry spaghetti
  • 1 meter of masking tape
  • 1 meter of string
  • 1 large marshmallow​

This challenge is surprisingly difficult and requires people to work together, think fast on their feet and communicate. The groups must listen to each other’s ideas, agree on a strategy together and show that they can adapt when and if their original strategy goes awry.

Activity #2: Persona Characteristics Cards

Using Persona Characteristic Cards to Generate Profiles

To help facilitate the persona-creating process, DAC developed 'persona cards' based on the research and insights from Stint 1. These cards depicted characteristics that might describe people in the prison population. DAC gave each prisoner a set of cards and asked them to pick the ones that most closely resembled themselves and/or people they know in prison. If participants felt that characteristics were missing, they were encouraged to create new cards. Responses were then shared and from this discussion the co-design group generated several profiles describing the types of people you would encounter prison.

The profiles were:


  1. The Artist/Student Persona – included characteristics of ​'The Artist', 'The Student', 'The Privacy Seeker', 'The Customiser' and 'The Relaxer'
  2. The Prayer and Meditation Persona – included characteristics of 'The Prayer & Meditator', 'The Student', 'The (Cell) Workout Guy' and 'The Cleaner.'
  3. The Flat-packer Persona – included characteristic of 'The Flat-packer
  4. The Hoarder Persona – included characteristic of 'The Hoarder'

These general profiles were then used to create the persona.

What we learned during the activity


  • Some descriptions or characteristics were missing from the original list. "The Hoarder" was added to identify people who generally accumulate a large quantity of items for various reasons.


Activity #3: Develop Personas

Turning profiles into personas​

When the co-design group was in agreement that the four profiles accurately reflected the types of people you might find in prison, the next activity was to give an identity to each profile – effectively, creating a personas. Each persona was given a name, age, needs, motivations, routines and other descriptions that help to define a real person.

DAC created persona building worksheets to help guide the participants in this process. Working in groups the co-design participants created the following personas:


  1. Joe, "The Artist/Student"
  2. John B., "The Prayer/Meditator"
  3. Dean, "The Flatpacker"
  4. Hamid, "The Hoarder"

​What we learned​

One of the personas commonly found in prison was 'The Hoarder' and it was difficult to design for this kind of person. The co-design group discussed possible reasons and motivations for amassing items. These include:​

  • Compiling legal paperwork and court documents;
  • Uncertainty and anxiety regarding access to items and necessities;
  • Mental health issues.

The project was not equipped with experts that could help inform and respond to issues surrounding mental health, and therefore furniture concepts were not generated specifically for 'The Hoarder' even though he was an identified persona.

All furniture concepts attempt to holistically improve the wellbeing of prisoners and staff. It is in this pursuit of wellbeing and comfort that we hope to design furniture that improves quality of life and thereby helps support an environment that is conducive to mental health and rehabilitation.

Activity #4: Define Persona's Furniture Needs

Persona's Furniture Needs Worksheet​

Once we had personas, the co-design group then defined the furniture needs and preferences for each persona. By the end of this activity we had established a clear set of design objectives and parameters for the furniture. In other words, the co-design group had created the design brief. In the remaining co-design workshops participants would design for the personas and evaluate the furniture concepts against how well the concepts addressed the needs of the personas. Other important considerations like safety were factored into each design.

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