Design Out Drowning


The RNLI want to develop a portfolio of sustainable products, services and interventions that reduce the risk of drowning in Cornwall and Devon.

Appointed as part of the Design Out Drowning team, I worked alongside service design agency Made Open Communications to research how and why people get into trouble at the coast. We then consolidated our findings into a series of design briefs, which are open for creative thinkers, makers and doers to respond to.


Ethnographic research and telling stories

After a period of desk research and information gathering, we reviewed current interventions and analysed data around drownings, rescues and wider socio/economic factors facing the region. This information revealed the demographics of people most likely to get into trouble and which areas of Cornwall and Devon are hotspots. 


The team then headed out into the community to connect with people in their coastal environments (dog walkers, sea swimmers, sailors, kayakers etc.) and gathered stories about their first and second hand experiences in the water. We also attended key local events, such as the Royal Cornwall Show, and hosted discovery workshops with lifeguards and RNLI workers to further understand people’s behaviours in the South West. 

As well as carrying out ethnographic research and interviewing people, I was responsible for executing a social media campaign to encourage members of the public to share their stories via an online survey. Social media platforms were also used to start conversations about water safety risks and to develop relationships with key stakeholders. 


Team members from top left to bottom right: Matthew Stone, Adam Harris (RNLI Lifeguard Supervisor), Amy Sergison, Bethia Naughton-Rumbo and Kathryn Woolf.


Community-led solutions

Our research has led us to identify some key design challenges related to drowning and the wider issues facing the South West. These include alcohol and drug abuse, getting cut off by the tide, mental health challenges, personal floatation devices, rip currents and walking or running near the coast. 

The RNLI and Design Out Drowning team are now looking for creatives, technologists, social entrepreneurs, makers and doers to partner with us in finding solutions. A series of design briefs are soon to be released to the creative community across Cornwall and Devon, so if you’re interested in getting involved keep your eyes on the Design Out Drowning Twitter feed for further announcements.