The Royal National Lifeboat Institution aim to develop a portfolio of sustainable products, services and interventions that reduce the risk of drowning around the coast of the UK and ROI.
Design Out Drowning is a community led project supported by the RNLI. We were appointed to conduct research in the south west and explore the value of a design-led approach to innovation.
We collaborated with design partners Amy Sergison, Matt Stone, Bethia Thomas and Arts University Bournemouth to learn more about drowning risks and challenges affecting coastal communities in Cornwall and Devon.
By observing behaviours and spending time with people from across the region, we were able to unearth new insights and develop a portfolio of design briefs that aim to keep people safe and address local needs.
During the summer months, we spoke to hundreds of people around the coast including fishermen, dog walkers, surfers, sailors, lifeguards, tourists, swimmers and business owners to discover how and why people get into difficulty in the sea. We worked with RNLI staff and subject matter experts responsible for community safety. Our research activities included:
Data analysis & desk research
Ethnography & user journey mapping
Community events & public engagement
One to one interviews (filming)
Stakeholder engagement and questionnaires
Online engagement & social media
Discovery and ideas sharing workshops
We also worked with an illustrator to bring some of the stories and experiences to life. Click here to view a selection of illustrated stories.
We categorised observations and stories into key topic areas for further exploration, for example:
Not being aware of changing tides and rip currents;
Overestimation of swimming ability in open water and cold water shock;
Walking along the coast/cliff with dogs off leads, unsuitable clothings etc
Mental ill health;
Not reading/noticing the signs or listening to advice;
Building on our initial insights, we ran a series of discovery workshops for stakeholders and creative thinkers to get involved in. The aim of these events was to bring RNLI staff together with businesses, designers and voluntary groups together to share knowledge, prioritise challenges and discuss ideas.
Throughout the process, we generated a high level of enthusiasm for DOD challenges amongst the creative community in Cornwall and Devon. Together we explored possibilities and developed a set of design innovation briefs which aim to reduce drowning and add social value.
Emerging Design Challenges
These are just a selection of the design challenges that emerged from our collaborative research process. The final set of design briefs will be launched by the RNLI in early 2019.
Theme: Safety Communications and Signage
How might we reduce drowning by rethinking how and when we communicate safety messages?
Theme: Coastal Wellbeing
How might we promote positive mental wellbeing in waterside environments?
Theme: Safer Coastal Environments
How might we design environments that prevent intoxicated people from entering the water?
Outcomes & Reflections
During phase 1 we:
Captured stories and insights about coastal communities (how people behave and the environmental factors);
Developed a shared understanding of local problems;
Identified skills and resources within the community that have the potential to address coastal safety challenges;
Identified opportunities for further research;
Developed local networks and brokered creative partnerships.
Our research has laid the foundations for innovative ideas to flourish. We feel confident that the design briefs are solving the right problems! However it is clear that we have only just begun to scratch the surface of the possibilities to reduce drowning and keep people safer at the coast. The bigger challenge going forward, will be for creative teams to work with the community and develop solutions to the challenges that are both sustainable and measurable.
We’re so excited by what phase 2 of the Design Out Drowning programme will bring and can’t wait to see innovative ideas being tested in the South West. The RNLI plan to launch the design briefs early in 2019. The briefs will be open to anyone who can offer ideas, skills and resources to tackle to the challenges and achieve positive outcomes.