Inside Our Youth-Focused Ideation Lab with Artists for Humanity

Walking around Boston in 2019 can feel a bit like wandering through a museum, thanks in large part to its distinguished architecture and more recently, the eye-catching street art. From Modica Way to Ink Block, artists have been breathing life back into Boston’s toughest neighborhoods. For kids growing up in these neighborhoods, seeing museum-quality art that is representative of who they are can be a life-changing experience. Rob Gibbs, co-founder of Artists For Humanity and well-known Boston-based working artist, is a leading voice in the creative transformation of Boston. Rob exemplifies the level of skill and empathy that Artists For Humanity’s mentors offer to their teen employees. Rob recently unveiled his latest work.

The Mural, titled Breathe Life 3, brings color, positivity, and unbridled black joy to the neighborhood where Rob “Problak” Gibbs grew up. Visitors to the mural can use an augmented reality app to see the mural truly come to life.

Artists For Humanity (AFH), located in an unassuming four-story building in Boston’s Southie neighborhood, is playing a major role in the revitalization of the city’s creative workforce by training and employing under-resourced Boston teens. More importantly, AFH is providing a haven for teens to learn more about themselves and their potential through meaningful work in art and design for Boston’s top businesses. AFH is bridging economic, racial, and social divisions by providing under-resourced youth with the keys to self-sufficiency through paid employment in the arts. That’s why Headstream, powered by SecondMuse with support from Pivotal Ventures, chose Artists For Humanity as the venue to host Springboard, a two-day ideation lab on technology and youth wellbeing.

At Springboard, we gathered folks from across the landscape of youth, technology, and wellbeing and asked them to come up with and develop tech-based solutions for youth wellbeing. Each team worked through a set of criteria, ensuring they considered the business model and thought through elements of inclusive design, storytelling, and sustainability. All the while, AFH teen graphic designers were upstairs, preparing to join the teams as experts in branding, storytelling, and design.

Over lunch, the teen designers sat down with the four Springboard teams to learn about the different solutions, give feedback from the user perspective, and to start coming up with ideas and concepts to brand the solutions and bring them to life. The room was abuzz with creative energy, but it was especially wonderful to look around the room when it would fall quiet, realizing that all of the adults were listening intently to the advice and insights from the younger generation.

SecondMuse believes in the power of place and environment to inspire people to think beyond what’s possible today. For a program like Headstream focused on teen wellbeing, there’s not a more inspiring place to brainstorm ideas, to support young people, than below the studio where teenagers are literally designing, creating, and building incredible art and design right above your head!

It was a special opportunity to be able to bring so many youth-focused leaders from across the country into AFH’s creative space, but the most rewarding part of Springboard was working in collaboration with the teen designers onsite to bring the ideas we developed to life.

Here’s what some of the teen designers had to say about their experience:

“The team I was working with was really collaborative and the ideas they had were great. When we started talking to them we referenced visuals from popular lo-fi music which could be incorporated into the app, and they were receptive to our ideas. They were more relatable than other graphics clients we’ve worked with because they were young and got it.”
—Tina (Teen Graphic Designer)

“The experience to design with and for people like me was great because when we’re designing we were able to use references to current topics that we all were familiar with. We were using references everyone knew, for example tv shows or memes, so we were all speaking the same language.”
—Jamaica (Teen Graphic Designer)

Here is a snapshot of some of the ideas the teams prototyped and the designs the teen designers created in just a couple of hours:

Sad Boy

A toggle-on and opt-in mode designed to work within the Spotify user interface, Sad Boy promotes more authentic, meaningful, restorative, and resilient digital interactions by optimizing for end-user wellbeing, not advertising revenue.

Co-Pilot

Co-Pilot is an AI system that tailors to you and your style as you use it. Co-pilot knows a bunch of stuff you may not know and can broaden your conversations, give you choices you might not have known were viable and generally smooth out some rough patches and energize your day!

North Star

North Star provides access to teen-created content, encompassing life events and stories. It utilizes VR to build empathy, is evidence-based, and includes diverse voices, imagery, and experiences validated by a Cultural Council.

The Nudge

The Nudge is a smart technology, agnostic to platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snap Chat, that uses AI (artificial intelligence) to recognize the patterns of technology use and the ways of using technology that might indicate that a person is lost in the ‘infinite scroll’.


Artists For Humanity practices a special kind of alchemy: using art and design to change lives, minds and hearts. In just a few hours we were able to witness that alchemy first hand — seeing concepts take form and feeling the palpable excitement in the room. We left inspired by the people we met and excited for what is coming next as we look to the future of building technologies with, not just for those who need it.

If you have an idea for the next big social technology to support teen wellbeing, join us! We are accepting applications for the Headstream Accelerator until January 10th.

Headstream Innovation

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We are sourcing innovations that rethink and reshape social technologies to support teen wellbeing. Join us! https://bit.ly/2Phjf7V

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