Two weeks ago we held our first peer-led Meetup! It was fantastic to have three mentors share insights on setting up and running an after school Design Club. The talks were inspiring and there were loads of questions.
Our thanks to:
- Anne Stevens, Head of UX Research and Content, Just Eat
- Geri Reid, UI Lead, Design Systems, Lloyds Banking Group Digital
- Rachel Anderson, Senior Product Designer, Firefly Learning
There’s nothing quite like hearing about mentoring from the people who’ve done it. Here are 7 top takeaways from Anne, Geri and Rachel:
1. Be confident… jump in!
Not all of our mentors had had experience of working with kids before. But it’s ok to tweak things as you go and and try not to worry too much beforehand.
Geri said she envisaged “scary teenagers” but actually she found interested, engaged young people who just wanted to get stuck into the activities.
It was fab to hear that Design Club materials had made a difference in helping mentors feel confident. Rachel said it was great to have our slides and session plan to hand so that she “didn’t have to think of it all in the moment”.
2. Try different ways to find a school
If you have kids at school (and they’re not mortified by the thought of their parent helping!), then use your contacts to float the idea to a teacher, teaching assistant, someone on the PTA or a school governor.
If not, Geri said your local council website should list all state schools in your area (either where you live or near your workplace). Shortlist a handful and call them to find the best person to contact with a further call or email.
Rachel asked work colleagues for a contact at schools they’d been doing projects with. It then took a while and quite a lot of emailing (teachers are busy people!) but she got there eventually: “send reminders and keep going!”
3. Think about the tech beforehand
In the prototyping and testing stages, kids need access to smartphones or tablets so they can use Marvel. If you’re mentoring Year 5 (aged 10 and under), they’re unlikely to have their own phones.
Anne pointed out that while her school had tablets, they were too old! (Marvel needs iOS 11 or later; or Android 4.0.3 and up). She recommended putting the word out early to family, friends and colleagues to see if you can borrow their devices. And teachers should be able to scrabble some together, if you ask in good time.
School wifi is notoriously patchy. Install Marvel beforehand. Ask kids to do this at home if they can. And always have a plan B. Not all of our mentors used the slides we provide — some went low-fi and relied on printouts.
4. Ask the school for what you need
You’ll need a classroom, access to printer, and a teacher, teaching assistant or other adult to help you. Try to do a recce of the space beforehand — it’s a good opportunity to meet your contact face to face (if you haven’t already) and confirm you have everything you need.
Help from inside the school is useful for classroom management and knowing where things are. It’s good to have 2 adults for 12 children. Another adult can act as back-up if you can’t make a session. Also, if you’ve someone from the teaching staff, they might want to take over running Design Club in the longer term — it can be a great development opportunity, especially for teaching assistants.
Rachel brought in other team members from her work to mix it up. She found the kids were really interested in what everyone did. Not everyone will need a DBS check but it’s best practice to ask permission and let the school know when you’re planning to invite someone.
5. Set expectations
Rachel said it’s important to set clear expectations to the school and kids about what Design Club is. For example, tell them they will be prototyping an app only — not coding (and building!) the app. Make it clear that Design Club is not about coding, or gaming.
Set expectations about what you’ll be doing and not doing, both when approaching the school and at the beginning of each session.
Anne presented at a school assembly before the club started. This gave the pupils a good idea of what they were signing up for (we provide a simple slide deck).
6. Do some shadowing
Rachel found that shadowing at our after school pilot was super helpful. She recommends this as a great way to see how Design Club works. (Our Meetups are a good place to speak to other mentors about setting this up — alternatively, drop us an email and we’ll try to find a club for you to visit).
7. Be relaxed & have fun
Anne said that it’s likely your kids will be able to do both more and less than you expect. Their imagination is HUGE! But they’ll need help in understanding and seeing examples of concepts. Her Year 5s found it hard to grasp what prototyping was.
Rachel observed that her Year 7 and 8s got very tied up in the drawing (especially designing an app logo!). She reminded them about their session goal to keep things on track.
Geri suggested always having some 3 minute filler activities on standby: “You almost never need them but it’s handy to have them as backup, just in case you notice the energy getting low in the room”.
Sometimes it can work to have kids with more experience, or older kids, mentoring younger ones if you’re short on help. It gives them a sense of responsibility and can help build their confidence.
All three talks were great and there was a nice, positive buzz in the room. Here are some of the questions people asked:
What if kids produce personas that are really far-fetched?
All our mentors had experienced kids being wacky (a couple of unicorns in unicorn-land)! But as long as they’re empathising and referring back to user profiles to design solutions, that’s the learning point. It’s only if something is offensive or stigmatising that the kids need guidance (and teachers or teaching assistants can help here).
How did you fit this around your commitments?
Geri said the Design Club materials were really well thought out and meant you spent less time prepping. She recommended a couple of hours initially to read everything through, then 30 minutes a week to remind yourself what was in each session.
All our mentors had agreed flexible working in order to volunteer with Design Club. Rachel’s employer saw the benefit of her doing something positive in the community with a partner they already worked with. It was an opportunity to understand that audience better, as well as being good for corporate social responsibility.
Do you always finish on time?
Anne said this was more important at primary school with kids getting picked up. Geri agreed that secondaries were more flexible. This is one to check out with the teaching assistant or contact at your school.
Mentors found timings easier to calculate as the weeks passed and they got a feel for both the materials and the speed at which the kids worked.
What about DBS checks for mentors and other visitors?
All schools will require an enhanced DBS check for lead mentors. Most schools will organise this for you (if not, let us know and we can help). If you plan to bring in anyone for a one off visit, ask the school what their procedure is — if that person is always accompanied they’re unlikely to need a full check.
Do you need to be a designer to run a Design Club?
No. The materials are designed for mentors with some design experience, but interest and passion is key. It does help if you’ve seen the design process working in practice — the more examples you can bring in from real life, the richer the experience will be for the kids. But you might be able to ask a friend with professional experience to join you for a session or two. Or you could pair with other mentors in our network who are designers.
A humongous thank you again to Anne, Geri and Rachel — all running after school clubs this term — for sharing their experience with everyone.
We are currently looking for mentors to start clubs after the Easter holiday. See our start a club page for details.