Lou Whiting
designer, etc.

Logo that reads "LOOU"

Lou Whiting
designer, etc. 






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Teen-Led Program Design

The Tierney Learning Center in South Boston has a wide range of programming and supports for youth — but once kids hit high school, that programming drops off. The need was clear: how do we keep engaging kids as they age up?

The team at Agncy figured that this program would be best shaped by the experts: teens themselves.

For this project, our trio of ‘professional’ designers led a team of teenagers to design ideas for their own programming, embracing their expertise to craft a vision for what support and “success” looks like as a teen.

This project began in early 2020, then picked up again in fall 2021. The team consisted of 3 designers from Agncy, 6-7 teens, and 1-2 Tierney staff.

Early Process 

Our first arc of work took teens through the “design process” — we did research, re-framed the problem, ideated, and developed ideas for the teen program. We outlined the trajectory of work in the first week and made sure to refer back to it each session, keeping the process transparent and contextualizing each step of the work. 

ABOVE: Working in-person, we used a lot of sticky notes, chart paper, and markers. 

Teen Team Research

In co-design, participants are ideally designing for themselves. The teens reflected on their own experiences first, then used that reflection to shape questions for adult staff and for their peers.

The Agncy team set up synthesis questions and tools for the teen team to make sense of what they had learned. The teens ultimately reframed their definition of success and created design criteria to use for developing ideas. 


We guided the teens through some ideation activities, then had them vote on favorites. After a little synthesis on the Agncy side, we ended up with four concepts that would work together as part of one larger program. We hypothesized that a variety of offerings would appeal to different groups of teens and thus have a broader reach.


Starting in Fall 2017, we “prototyped” each of our four concepts from our original work over the course of 7 sessions.

The teen team’s work was supported by extensive back-end research by the Agncy team in order to understand what was actually possible and what decisions were most essential for our teens to make.

ABOVE: We researched different partners that offered mentorship programs, then asked the teen team to discuss what they liked, disliked, and what they would change about each one to make their perfect mentorship program.

ABOVE: The teens have a movie night as part of the “Teens Being Teens” component of the program.

Piloting & Implementation

After our “prototyping” sessions, the Agncy team built tools to scaffold implementation (flyers, agendas, supply lists, and more).

The teen program moved into piloting & implementation in February 2022. Over the course of 10 weeks, the Agncy team supported in tracking data and learning, coordinating partners, and helping to run programs in hand with the Tierney and the teens.


We’d hypothesized that different teens would come to different events. In practice, we found that yes, different teens were more interested in different programs — but almost all attendees came to a wide breadth of events.

In the pilot, it became clear that no matter what they were doing, teens were really looking for community, and were excited to have different things to do together as a group.

Moving forward, the program will lean into teens’ draw towards social spaces to also connect them to healthy adult relationships, different skills and careers, and support for setting and working towards goals.

For a more in-depth look at the first half of this project, check out our winning entry on the 2020 Core77 Design Awards website: https://designawards.core77.com/Design-Education-Initiative/97183/Teen-Led-Program-Design ︎