Bringing design and technology to issues within international development.

Implementing innovation for children requires understanding the complexities and intricacies of a child’s life – what are their needs, interests, and concerns, how do they interact, and in which ecosystems are their actions embedded? Another important question is whether they have access to technology, how do they use it and how often?.

Art Center College of Design and UNICEF Mexico signs a 2-year formal agreement to work together – exploring how design, research, and technology can offer new paths and innovative approaches to address some of the world’s most pressing issues. In particular, to address issues faced by unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents in Mexico.

Guided by UNICEF’s principles for innovation and technology development, UNICEF Mexico and Art Center are leveraging user-centered design methods, research, technology, and art, to create materials and activities for child protection specialists. These tools aim to enable child protection specialists to foster a dialogue with unaccompanied migrant children and determine a tailored strategy for their protection.

This initiative will help UNICEF and partners create an environment of trust and support for unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents who may have suffered extreme forms of physical and mental trauma.

“Design, technology, and art are powerful tools for UNICEF teams and partners in migration shelters to break the ice and start a genuine conversation with unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents who have suffered so much during their journey. Everybody loves to take some time to play or talk about their favorite food, music or band; and it is through these innovative icebreakers how UNICEF child protection specialists and partners can start building a trusted environment for children in migration shelters”. – Dora Giusti, Chief of Child Protection, UNICEF Mexico

The establishment of this partnership comes from a long history of collaboration between UNICEF and Art Center. Since 2012, Art Center students have held internships and worked with UNICEF innovation centers around the world. Also, the faculty and graduate students of Art Center’s Media Design Practices (MDP) program spent four years working on two projects: ICT and MobiStation research with UNICEF Uganda.

The collaboration brings together Art Center’s expertise in designing research methods, and prototyping with UNICEF’s large-scale understanding of geopolitics, resources, and program development and implementation. Together, the partnership aims to achieve three key goals.

  1. Fostering a knowledge sharing environment that offers the potential for diverse teams to discover touch points between design-led approaches and UNICEF country office initiatives.
  2. Increasing capacity of UNICEF Mexico and local partners to leverage design research methods to investigate, understand, and communicate.
  3. Providing an opportunity for students in Art Center’s Media Design Practices program to apply their education in the field.

To achieve this, Art Center students will devote a portion of their time to visit UNICEF-identified partners and field sites with a focus on addressing the issue of unaccompanied migrant children in Mexico City. There will also be a series of knowledge sharing meetings with UNICEF Mexico. These sessions will range from workshops on design principles, design thinking and prototyping to field engagements that user test potential design led interventions. In addition to this joint effort, the graduate students will be producing their own independent projects around social issues in Mexico City.

On the first field engagement in Mexico City, Art Centre students used participatory research methods to increase their awareness and understanding of the current circumstances associated with unaccompanied migrant children in and around Mexico City. Participatory research promotes the use of practices such as play, collaborative games, and other laid-back socialization activities to invert the typical first-contact dynamic and foster an open people-centered approach to the engagement.

“To create an openness environment with unaccompanied migrant adolescents you need to establish a “space” that minimizes formal institutional settings, procedures, and expectations. For example, during our visit to the Casa Alianza shelter, the girls residing in the shelter comfortably shared their experiences while doing manicures and playing games, and the boys expressed their interests and concerns while sharing their music collections and artwork.” – Sean Donahue, Art Center College of Design

About Art Center College of Design, Grad Media Design Practices+Field:
Located in Pasadena, California, USA, Art Center College of Design’s Graduate Media Design Practices Field track students tackle social issues in a networked global context. Students learn firsthand through fieldwork at local and international sites how to put people at the center of technological change and work within a complex web of relationships and cultural factors—political, economic, social, and technological. &

UNICEF Mexico works with Government institutions and NGOS to strengthen protection mechanisms for migrant children. UNICEF and the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs have collaborated to implement a protocol for Mexican consuls to conduct interviews with unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents to prevent re-victimization and identify protection needs. Along with this protocol, the Country Office has implemented the use of RapidFTR by Mexican consulates to register information from migrant children that allows identifying possible vulnerabilities and tailoring a specific plan for their protection. UNICEF also collaborates with the Mexican Commission to Support Refugees, with the Institute of Migration to build capacities of their staff to protect and care for migrant children.


By Sean Donahue, Elizabeth Chin, and Jaime Archundia.

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