Putting children at the heart of a social design project

T+HUIS Oud Woensel. putting children at the heart of a social design project 

Photo: T+Huis

Photo: T+HUIS

What was the problem?

The T+HUIS Oud Woensel project is an on-going project to support the development of children in
the neighbourhood Oud Woensel in Eindhoven, The Netherlands.

The founders of T+HUIS, Dennis Meulenbroeks and Sara de Boer, lived in the neighbourhood and started using their design skills to give something back to the community. Their main goal was establishing and developing a neighbourhood system which better meets the needs and wishes of the children from 4 till 12 years old in the neighbourhood.

Most children in Oud Woensel do not have many possibilities of developing their skills and talents and low future perspectives. For many children, parents don’t have a steady income and come from various cultural backgrounds with diverse values and ideas.

The T+HUIS aims at providing children a safe place to be who they are, together with activities meeting their needs and wishes. A place in which they can learn by playing, develop their soft skills and discover their

The team working on this project consists of a large group of both designers, students, children and volunteers, and is very dynamic in character. Since its start, a variety of designers (conceptual designers, graphic designers, industrial designers, artists) have worked on the project as full-time job, internship, graduation project or freelancer. The T+HUIS team also considers the children in the neighbourhood as integral part of the project team.

What did they do?

Photo: T+HUIS

Photo: T+HUIS

The main activity of the project is the continuous development of the neighbourhood system in Oud
Woensel. For this, the dynamic design team performs co-designing workshops with the children
(building their dream neighbourhood) to gain insights in their wishes for the neighbourhood.

They develop new activities by brainstorming with children and students, create low-fidelity prototypes to
try the activity or game and use evaluation forms for reflection. They also visualise research in flowcharts,
mind maps and mood boards, to trigger conversation with local stakeholders.

The team uses discussion cards to make complex conversations tangible and enable people to talk about subjects without getting lost in discussion. This also helps groups of people to form a common vision.
Furthermore, a variety of ethnographic research tools are used to get more insights in the

Special templates were designed to enable the students working in the T+HUIS to also perform this kind of research. The strongest design tool in this project however remains our ‘living lab’ located in the neighbourhood. This is a physical location in which all activities take place and which enables the team to become the eyes and ears of the neighbourhood.

The team is always present and the lab is filled with stories about the project, visual representations of the work, thoughts and vision.

What was the result?

The project offers a clear example of the application of design in the social field, focused on children, students (as interns) and communities. The most visible and concrete output of this system is the design and execution of children’s activities matched to the needs and wishes of the children in the neighbourhood.

Developing the neighbourhood system also involves doing research projects in the area, cooperating in local events and other projects, bringing local stakeholders (parents, volunteers, organisations, schools) together and mostly just being present.

On a weekly basis T+HUIS provides the children in Oud Woensel approximately 19 different activities.
This not only helps them to develop their skills, identity and talents, but also allows for challenge and
energetic playing.

The activities directly influence the development of the children, but also increase their ability to concentrate in school. Whereas the T+HUIS started out as a project playing in-between government, education and organisations, the project is now one of the four pillars keeping Oud Woensel together.

T+HUIS has become a partner of the local government, a partner of local companies and organisations and a partner in education. As living lab they have created a position in which they now advice educational institutes on how to apply the approach ‘learning by doing’.

At this moment, designers and students are also capturing the successful approach and elements in
such a way that other designers in different locations can apply it as well. Both nationally and
internationally there are many more neighbourhoods in which students and children can be supported
in developing their skills and reaching their potential.

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