Designing with Children

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On 1st December, we enjoyed a grand turn out for our final project dissemination event at The Alan Baxter and Associates Gallery, London. We are hugely grateful to our all project partners and participants who attended and we were delighted to see familiar and new faces from both practice and academic circles. The wonderful people at The Gallery hosted us so kindly; it was a great venue for such an event.

There's nothing like the pressure of fitting 3 years’ thoughts and work into just over half an hour of spoken words. As a project team, we could really only give our audience a mere taster of what we have heard about and seen of spatial designers' encounters in working with children during the course of our study. We drew on observations and interviews with children also, because whilst our project focusses upon the experience of the adult spatial designer, a great deal of this is understood in the light of how children experience the design process and engagement sessions.

We structured our talk around the themes which form the basis of the project's forthcoming book which we understand is just over a year away from publication; those themes are:

Similar Different

Fear Freedom

Loose Structured

Imagining Making

Separate Together

The intention was not that these were presented as opposing themes that could not and do not co-exist in the experience of collaborative design process. Rather, these themes raise interesting questions about what makes design collaboration with children challenging or fruitful - often both. The contrasting paired themes relate to the process parameters that can be changed by practitioners and provide a way to give examples and accounts of the potential effects of making such changes.

Our brief talks were intentionally kept free of bullet-point led slides. Instead, we ran silent film footage from each of the four case study sites in Cologne, Sussex, Tower Hamlets and Crete - the only way perhaps to help the audience and research partners to really gauge the types of projects and design environments involved. We’d love to run that film here but we respect the consent given by some of our young participants who were happy for films to be shown in research settings and discussions but who did not wish to be visible on the Web.

We told our research findings as short (real life) stories with much reference to ethnographic data, to field notes and verbatim quotes. Talks were then followed by a much appreciated panel discussion from the 4 architects who were involved in our case studies. Again, the themes were re-visited in these discussions and we were once again reminded of the fact that, while there are similarities, there is no singular experience of design collaboration with children. Spatial designers go into their work as themselves and with the experiences and beliefs they carry which give them their designer-identities. And oftentimes, children give those designers permission to experiment and work in the ways they enjoy best.

Over the course of the next few weeks, we'll post some particular inspirational and intellectual nourishment (being sure to have a break for other rest and nourishment over the seasonal interlude), sourced from the evening's discussion at the Gallery and our project findings more broadly.

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