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Cell Furniture Project. Design Research & Co-design Sessions

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posted on 2024-04-26, 15:46 authored by Lorraine Gamman, Adam Thorpe

Design-Led Research in Prisons

Overview of the Design Sessions

Data gathering sessions and collaborative design (co-design) workshops were held at HMP Standford Hill, a Cat D Open prison. These meetups – 7 days in total – were scheduled over the course of several months and organised into two stints.

Stint 1: Data Gathering Sessions

​In Stint 1 – the data gathering sessions – DAC led creative activities, group discussions and interviews to learn about prisoners' opinions and experiences of using cell furniture and living in confinement. Also, during these Stint 1 sessions, participants provided feedback on the student design concepts.

Stint 1: What We Did

The Stint 1 data-gathering workshops took place in a 'Discover' phase of the project. Coordinating with HMPPS, DAC held three days of data gathering sessions over the span of one month at HMP Standford Hill. Approximately 30 prisoners participated in Stint 1. The goal of Stint 1 was to understand prisoners' experiences with cell furniture. As part of it's design-led research, DAC designed activities to create multiple ways for participants to discuss and express their knowledge and ideas.

The activities and tools used in the session:


Doing icebreaker exercises is a good way to establish a positive tone at the outset. They can serve as a creative warmup and they also help people feel comfortable with participating. We found that people who were not present during the icebreakers exhibited a less constructive way of communicating which arguably had an impact on the entire group.

Insight Worksheets

In the data gathering sessions, participants completed a set of worksheets asking them about their experiences, needs and aspirations relating to cell furniture. Taking into account the different and creative ways that participants express their ideas, the worksheets incorporated a variety of activities from straight-forward questions to more visual and artistic exercises. Group discussions were typically held after each worksheet page was completed.

Supplementary to the worksheets, DACRC created sheet of stickers containing all of the existing cell furniture items. These stickers helped prisoners recall what furniture they had used and were used by participants to visualise how they used, arranged and modified the cell furniture.


DAC held one-to-one interviews with the participants following a semi-structured interview script. All interviews were recorded, transcribed and have been anonymised.

Student Concept Feedback

Prisoners provided feedback on cell furniture concepts developed by the Central Saint Martins BAPD students. DAC brought pictures of the students’ designs and reviewed each concept in an open group discussion. Not only did this information aid the student design development, but it was another way of showing the prisoners that they were valued contributors in the design process.

​Stint 2: Co-design Workshops

In Stint 2 – the co-design workshops – DAC built on the insights from Stint 1 and collaborated with prisoners and staff to generate cell furniture concepts that responded to the furniture needs most important to prisoners and the HMP estate.

Introduction to Stint 2 and Co-Design

The Stint 2 co-design workshops spanned 'Define' and 'Develop' project stages. DAC planned four days of co-design workshops at HMP Standford Hill, inviting 7-10 prisoners and 1 staff member that had participated in the Stint 1 sessions.

Collaborating with the prisoners and staff, the objectives of the co-design workshops were to:

  1. Define the different types of people who use cell furniture –their habits, routines, likes and dislikes, etc. – for whom the workshop cohort would design for. Designers refer to this as creating user-personas. Personas would help identify specific cell furniture needs..
  2. Generate numerous furniture concepts in response to the needs of the user-personas and develop prototypes of the designs in cardboard and craft materials in order to visualise and test what works and what doesn’t.

The figure shows how Stint 1 and Stint 2 fit into DAC's project framework.

Co-Design Workshops Day 1 & 2

Day 1 & 2 Objectives: Define and Develop

On the first two days of the co-design workshops, the workshop cohort defined the human-centred needs and desired functionality that the new cell furniture concepts would need to address. We defined these aspects by first creating personas – in this case, prisoner personas. After that, we sketched as many ideas as possible for each persona before creating cardboard prototypes of the best ideas.

Persona Building​

Realistically, it is impossible to design a unique set of furniture for everyone, and trying to design for everyone would likely produce something that doesn't meet anyone's needs. Therefore, a common design practice is to create personas, who are semi-fictional characters that represent the different kinds of people that would interact with the products – in this case cell furniture. Each persona has needs defined by their habits, routines, likes and dislikes, etc., and we design the new products with their needs in mind.

The co-design participants created four distinct personas that represented different kinds of prisoners and defined the furniture needs of each persona.


The ideation is the creative process of coming up with new ideas. On Day 1, the co-design group defined personas and their furniture needs, and on Day 2 they ideated unique cell furniture concepts for each persona. The group shared the furniture ideas and sketches, and discussed what worked and what didn't work, how the concepts could be improved and whether or not the furniture concepts for one persona worked for the other personas.


Once a collection of furniture concepts were sketched out and visualised the participants roughly prototyped the concepts with materials like cardboard and tape.

Co-Design Workshops Day 3 & 4

Day 3 & 4 Objectives: Develop, Refine and Deliver​

Day 3 and 4 of the co-design workshops were held two weeks after Days 1 and 2. In the time between workshops, DAC researched materials, methods of fabrication and other aspects worth considering in the ongoing development of co-designed furniture concepts. The workshop cohort discussed this design research.

In the final days of workshop, DAC shared their research and developments with the group and discussed granular aspects of the cell furniture concepts, like feel and smell, in order to inform aesthetic and material choices. The participants then created new cardboard prototypes for some of the designs and put these in an actual cell at HMP Standford Hill for the team to evaluate in-situ and get feedback from other prisoners and staff on the wing.

DAC organised the final workshop day as a Dragon's Den style pitch, in which participants presented furniture concepts in groups. DAC helped the prisoners prepare their pitches with storyboarding exercises and other tools.


In preparation for the last two days of co-design workshops, DAC continued design development by considering aesthetics and use, and researching materials and other aspects of the design that would be discussed with the co-design group. On day 3 of the co-design workshops the cohort discussed the developments and looked at granular details of each proposal in order to refine the designs.


This second iteration of rough prototypes built on the refinement discussion and the new design developments. These full-scale prototypes were put in a cell for the co-design group and non-participating prisoners and staff to observe and give feedback.


A storyboard is a sequence of illustrations that depicts a scenario. The point of this exercise was to visualise how the new cell furniture item (or items) would be used by a persona as they went about a daily activity. This exercise can uncover nuances of interaction that might provide additional insights about the design.

Pitch Presentations

​In a 'Dragons Den' style format, participants got into small groups and decided which cell furniture concept they wanted to pitch in front of everyone including some additional guests from HMP and PSPI. At the end of the pitch, there was a Q&A and feedback.


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