Grit Magazine Issue 01 | The Adaptive Issue ft. Lucy McRae

Grit Magazine: A Youth-led Resilience Publication

A finalist entry of the inaugural 2018 NGV Victorian Design Challenge

Ollie Cotsaftis
10 min readJul 10, 2018


“In 2016 the Victorian Government announced a major new initiative to support, celebrate and enable Victoria’s design sector. Curated and presented by the NGV in collaboration with Creative Victoria, the Victorian Design Program is a year-long roster of design and architecture-focused events and activities culminating in Melbourne Design Week each March.

In 2017 the NGV introduced a new strand to the program — The Victorian Design Challenge — which invites Victorian designers to form multi-disciplinary teams with professionals from other sectors to apply design in targeting a real-world problem. For the inaugural Challenge, the NGV partnered with VicHealth and asked designers to respond to the Challenge question: How might we increase the resilience of today’s young people?

Too much screen time

Mental health issues in youth traditionally stem from an underlying sense of detachment and from an overwhelming feeling that they do not belong. However, despite the fact that the youth of today enjoy a far less violent environment and that communities are swiftly redefining their core values to embrace a more inclusive and tolerant culture, the rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2010.

On average, 2,000 young people commit suicide every year in Australia. Additionally, the 2015 VicHealth Community survey of young Victorians’ resilience and mental wellbeing reports that, in Victoria alone:

  • 25% of young people have, or will develop, mental illness or a mental disorder.
  • 1 in 4 young people feel they wouldn’t know who to turn to in times of need.
  • 1 in 8 feel a very high intensity of loneliness.

Overexposure to online content has been defined by VicHealth as one of five key megatrends affecting youth mental wellbeing (2015 VicHealth Bright Futures report); and Jean M. Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University and the author of Generation Me and iGen says:

‘More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental health crisis.’

Twenge directly links this megatrend and the current youth mental health crisis to the rise of smartphone ownership. Smartphones have radically changed every aspect of how young people live, especially the nature of their social interactions.

In the US, the number of teens who physically socialise with their friends on a daily basis has dropped by more than 40% from 2000 to 2015. Moreover, according to Twenge’s research, all screen activities are linked to lower levels of happiness, and conversely, all non-screen activities are linked to higher levels of happiness.

With unprecedented access to information and the birth of the knowledge economy young people have now entered into a world of eternal possibilities and opportunities. Whilst this has of course led to positive social change it has also given rise to fears, insecurities, and intimidating expectations. Once these become coupled with lower levels of physical intimacy, young people feel uncertain, unsettled, and disconnected as the world around them spins uncontrollably.

Grit Magazine

According to Angela Duckworth, founder and CEO of Character Lab, a US-based nonprofit whose mission is to advance the science and practice of character development, fostering a love for learning and a growth mindset helps young people accept suffering as an integral part of healthy learning. Developing a growth mindset ultimately insulates people against an ever more complex and competitive world, enhancing resilience and mental fortitude.

We — as a society — need to address the kinds of advice and support structures that young people have access to. How can we foster peer-to-peer learning and knowledge sharing between young people so that they understand better the world they are living in?

Grit Magazine is a youth-led magazine designed by young people for young people.

Through youth-led interviews, Grit tells the stories of inspiring people from all ages and backgrounds; and asks them what they would advise their younger selves across a large cross-section of topics such as relationships, professional life, health, heritage, or self-discovery, to name a few.

We would also love to see a variety of both local and global heroes being published in Grit Magazine. Anyone from Angie Abdilla, a Trawlwoolway woman and founder and CEO of Old Ways New, through to Dylan Alcott, Australian wheelchair basketballer and tennis player, to everyday heroes from the community: an asylum seeker, a car-crash survivor, a young single mother, a politically-engaged non-binary teenager, etc. Importantly, the research we’ve conducted highlighted that “big names”, or well-known/high-achieving people, were less important than the stories they told. Thus, it’s more important to young people that Grit tells powerful and relatable stories, rather than chasing celebrities.

Design Methodology

To ensure we are designing for and with young people via a human-centered design approach, we partnered with the Reach Foundation — a youth not-for-profit organisation helping young people own their voice and story — and Homie Clothing — a social enterprise creating pathways out of homelessness. Together we ran two co-design workshops, the output of which is Grit Magazine.

Over two half-days and with the help of 16 young people from various ages and backgrounds, we first ran a critique of online versus print youth-targeted magazines to identify which channel they would prefer to consume content and learn from. We then spent some time discussing the traits and stories of resilient people to help us identify content that would resonate with our audience. And we finally went creative and came up with the brand name and look and feel of Grit Magazine with our workshop participants. In this way, we co-created the concept of Grit Magazine with our future audience.

Going forward, sourcing the right pieces of advice and building awareness and interest from young people will also be an essential characteristic of Grit’s editorial process. For example, Grit could make an open call through a variety of youth-based media and partner organisations such as Vice Media or Junkee. This would allow Grit to gather both a list of potential “heroes” and also understand key thoughts, challenges, and concerns of young people today.

In collaboration with our youth partner Reach, the Grit editorial board would continue to undertake deep ethnographic and design research to ensure the voice of their audience is always present through the design process and that they have access to a broad representation of young people when testing and iterating design concepts.

Diversity and inclusion are fundamental principles to both our partners and youth reference groups. We need to ensure that the people featured in Grit are relevant, and speak to a varied audience of Victorian youth.

A print and digital-based magazine supported by an Instagram account

We designed Grit Magazine living as a limited and collectable series of 11 printed issues, each focused on one specific trait of resilience, with 8 to 12 interviews of resilient people per issue. These stories would also be available online, though in a different, more succinct format.

Our research highlighted a few important topics serving as the basis for each issue of Grit:

01- The Adaptive Issue | Stories of resilient people that needed to adapt to a new situation.

02- The Connected Issue | Stories of resilient people that needed to connect with others to overcome their challenges.

03- The Creative Issue | Stories of resilient people that found their paths through creativity.

04- The Emotive Issue | Stories of resilient people that managed to own their emotions.

05- The Friendship Issue | Stories of resilient people that needed to meet the right group of friends.

06- The Optimistic Issue | Stories of resilient people whose optimism helped them through tough times.

07- The Problem-Solving Issue | Stories of resilient people that got their life back on track thanks to their problem-solving skills.

08- The Self-Awareness Issue | Stories of resilient people that found themselves.

09- The Self-Care Issue | Stories of resilient people that are connected to themselves.

10- The Self-Esteem Issue | Stories of resilient people that accept their entire self.

11- The Survival Issue | Stories of resilient communities that overcame or are still dealing with systemic trauma.

Each issue would be small enough to ensure it’s portable; a magazine to enjoy whilst commuting or travelling. But our research also showed that the magazine needs to be a beautiful artifact, something to keep, treasure, collect and refer back to. Stories may also have an augmented-reality element to them. For example, some stories could be digitally augmented to unlock more content such as video interviews, creating a bridge between the printed magazine and the online channels.

Grit Magazine’s online presence would be covered by both a website and an Instagram account, promoting stories of resilience through images, videos and interview extracts. Think Humans of New York’s website and Instagram account but with content focused on resilience. The Humans of New York Instagram account currently has over 7.7m followers, whereas the more recent Millennials of New York account has nearly 75k followers.

A TechCrunch article published in August 2017 mentioned social media platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram are seeing double-digit growth amongst the youth demographics–suggesting younger users are favouring visual communication platforms.

Most importantly, our workshop participants nominated Instagram as the platform of choice to access content from Grit Magazine. Instagram would provide audience members with easily accessible and shareable content anywhere, anytime; whereas in-depth content would be available on their own time through the website and the printed magazine, leveraging all channels’ specificity of use.

As a future iteration, we would like to see the website become a web-based engagement and capability development platform with rich media and stories via video content, and a discussion forum space where young people can directly talk to and seek responses from the resilient people featured in Grit Magazine.

Why Print and Digital?

We believe the print format is key to diminishing screen time but we also need to be aware of the behaviour of Grit Magazine's target audience in terms of access to content and impact.

Through discussions with our workshop participants, we found that printed content tends to be valued more due to the higher level of time and effort needed to digest content, especially for a topic like resilience. The printed format also presents a great opportunity to highly engage young people, especially when our preliminary research has proven that there are negative implications from over-exposure to digital technology.

We also believe that quality online content would balance out the negative effect associated with screen overexposure.

Reversing the mental health crisis currently devastating today’s youth

Young people with resilience tend to see ‘struggles’ as a natural part of getting better at something, whether it be getting better at a job or gaining more life experiences. When they encounter something challenging they cannot do or a situation they haven’t encountered yet, they increase their effort, try new strategies, and end up learning more about themselves in the process.

With Grit Magazine — a print and digital-based magazine supported by an Instagram account — our aim is to better equip today’s youth with strategies and tools on how to deal with and bounce back from adversity.

Narrated through real-life stories from people they come to trust and respect, and delivered through a set of engaging, highly visual and designed artifacts, we believe Grit Magazine has the potential to:

1. Provide an exciting and challenging experience to the young people that will directly work with us to produce the magazine. Grit Magazine should be produced by young people for young people and we will be there to support and mentor them. Some of our workshop participants actually expressed an interest in running Grit Magazine with us.

2. Through the storytelling of resilient people’s life journeys, increase connectedness, self-growth, and build resilience amongst the broader Victorian youth segment; and,

3. Hopefully help reverse the mental health crisis currently devastating today’s youth.

And the winner is…

After being shortlisted for the final round along with three other teams on March 29, 2018, we presented our final concept in front of a jury and a live audience on June 2, 2018. The shortlisted teams for the inaugural 2018 Victorian Design Challenge were:

Local Time — A collaboration between Matt Dwyer and Dr Sanne Oostermeijer (WINNER).

Failure Place — A collaboration between Global South, Ivanhoe Girls Grammar School, The Space Agency, and Banyule City Council.

Platform — A collaboration between Matt Calder, Courtney Brown, Olivia Potter, Lauren Garner, Will Muhleisen, Stephen Mintern, and Simon Robinson.

And us, Future Peoples — A collaboration between future ensemble’s Ollie Cotsaftis & Local Peoples’ Giuseppe (Pino) Demaio.

The members of the 2018 NGV Victorian Design Challenge jury were:

Simone LeAmon (Jury Chair) — The Hugh Williamson Curator of Contemporary Design and Architecture, NGV

James Tutton — Founder, Smiling Mind

Dr Liam Fennessy — Associate Dean of the Industrial Design Program, RMIT University

Irene Verins — Manager, Mental Wellbeing, VicHealth

Hanann Al Daqqa — Youth Worker

Get involved!

Being a finalist in the inaugural 2018 NGV Victorian Design Challenge was such a good experience. If you would like to know more, have any questions or would like to help us make Grit Magazine a reality please get in touch.

Dr Olivier Cotsaftis (PhD, MBA) is a post-disciplinary researcher-practitioner exploring pathways towards regenerative and more-than-human urban futures. At RMIT University School of Design, his work focuses on unlocking practical and scalable potentials for sustainable urban development, specifically in the areas of biomaterials and climate adaptation of the public place. Before joining RMIT, Ollie spent 10 years in Industry, engaging with start-ups, not-for-profits, governments and blue-chip companies. He was a design lead at Fjord Design and Innovation and the founder of future ensemble studio. Ollie is also an editorial board member for Research Methods: Biotechnology Design (Cambridge Press, UK).



Ollie Cotsaftis

System-led, Place-based, Material-driven — and with a love for words.