Behind the Design: centering relationships in teen vaping cessation.

Behind the Design: Centering Relationships in Teen Vaping Cessation


At the heart of our design for Quit the Hit is the integration of psychology-backed cessation support science and individualized, relationship-driven programming. We knew this was the approach we wanted, the blend of science and human-centered design, but it presented a fundamental challenge.

The support group structure is at the core of our program, but it’s also what brings the most unknowns and uncontrollable factors to the table for designers, especially as a digital intervention. In conventional design, we would seek to mitigate such variation, but here, we wanted group dynamics to power engagement. Designing Quit the Hit meant we needed to design for relationships.

Set the stage: Create a non-stigmatizing, values-centered environment

Different digital spaces come with their own sets of norms. Before attempting to cultivate personal supportive relationships online, we needed to understand what digital environments felt safe and supportive for teens already interested in or actively trying to quit vaping.



Designing within our Innovation Framework means relying heavily on co-creation to understand the needs and desires of the young people we want to engage. We asked teens about their quitting experiences—where they needed more or different support, what messages they’ve found helpful or discouraging—and the stories we heard were rich, personal, and diverse. One teen talked about how her turning point in quitting was when she decided to do it for herself and not for her parents. Another explained how current vaping prevention campaigns left them feeling stigmatized and hopeless, rather than empowered to make changes. These and many other reflections informed a set of six program values, which bring humanity to the journey of overcoming addiction. Through the explicit articulation of these values early in the program, we encourage teens to show up as they are.

The values made me feel like it was designed for me simply because we are in control of when we want to quit and this is a space designed to help you do that to the best of your ability with no judgment. Who could ask for more?
19 y/o

Amplify realness: Leverage guides’ unique styles to build authentic connections 

Teens shared with us that they often think they are talking to a bot unless proven otherwise. Quit the Hit guides—support group facilitators and coaches—are real people, and while the program framework and values shape their roles, their unique personalities and style are the key to forming and facilitating relationships with and among teen participants.

In the discovery phase of our design process, we found that giving guides the freedom to integrate their own styles into the program structure helped build stronger connections. They sent selfie videos to their groups to put a face and personality behind their text messages. Bri, one of the group guides, built on that idea by sending an individual video to each participant, saying their names to let them know that these aren’t pre-filmed and that she cares about them. Teens we spoke to further expressed that it was critical for guides to share a story showing they were willing to be vulnerable with the group. Through close collaboration with the guides, we learned that loosening the structure of the conventional copy-and-paste program allowed guides to adapt, play on their strengths, and convey more authenticity to teens.

Spark the fire: Encourage speaking up as a way to help others

Once the connections are built between the participant and guide, the goal is to spark a supportive relationship between teens in the group. Similar to the feeling of being on a Zoom call with 12 other people, questions to a group are often met with silence. Our early Quit the Hit groups started with this same awkward dynamic, but we noticed that engagement increased when the volume of questions was dialed back, and the guide was more explicit about the group’s purpose to learn from and support each other through sharing. 

In interviews and surveys with program participants, we kept hearing stories that validated the importance of the group dynamic. Teens didn’t want to just help themselves through this program, but were also motivated to help others.

My favorite part is when other people start to share their stories. I don't want other folks to feel alone, I want to be a part of the conversation. They have the courage... why shouldn't I?
17 y/o

Observations and feedback from teens prompted us to shift from a rigid question-and-answer format to a facilitated discussion among the group. We encourage teens to support each other by sharing their own stories.

Acknowledge the undercurrents: Adjust expectations to make space for teens’ lives

As much as a guide can stoke the flame, it’s important to acknowledge the bigger picture of this program in teens’ lives. As designers, we can fool ourselves into thinking our program is the core part of a user’s life. In reality, there are countless other things that fight for teens’ attention today, online and off. We heard from some teens that they are reading messages in the few minutes they have, running out the door before school or in between studying for a stressful test. 

This program is to help them stop vaping but they're dealing with so much more. My biggest thing is I know that not vaping will not solve everything, but will be one burden that won't be on your shoulders.
Bri, Program Guide

As a program, we want visible engagement so we know what elements have impact. In the spirit of providing a safe space where teens can show up as they are, our challenge is to balance our need for visible engagement with our understanding that it’s not always how some people choose to engage, whether that be due to comfortability or lack of time.. Strategies to reconcile these needs include checking in with an individual who isn’t engaging much and asking them to “react” even if they don’t feel like responding. We want them to feel seen and acknowledged, and to affirm that how they are feeling, in general and in the group, matters. We have to take into account the broader picture of teens’ lives to understand how it affects what they bring to the group.

Despite the challenges and unknowns that come with designing a group-based program, Quit the Hit’s participants have consistently said their group’s stories, encouragement, and accountability have been the most helpful part of the experience. Designing for relationships means setting up the infrastructure for a supportive environment, but also knowing when to take a step back from prescribing behavior, and towards welcoming what individuals bring.

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