Designing with Children

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New ways of seeing things together. Workshop run by Die Baupiloten Architects at Le Buffet Restaurant, Cologne. Courtesy: Susanne Hofmann

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“Children can handle virtually everything in a design process”, a landscape architect thought. Courtesy: Dan Morrish

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The designers in our research saw children ‘fabricating, bolting together, gluing together bits of wood’ or ‘plastering and bricklaying’. Courtesy: Dan Morrish.

Our first journal publication has a 'journalistic flair'.

What architects can learn from designing with children has been published at The Conversation on 26 August 2014, discussing some key understandings of architects' experiences working with children in design processes. Discussion draws on our two completed case studies and 16 surveys with architects and landscape architects who have worked with children aged one to 18. They were commissioned to design anything from a playground installation and a children’s museum exhibition to a school science pavilion and a school library.

A series of themes are introduced in the article, such as possibility thinking, with which design activity has often been associated, i.e. the ability to think across possible scenarios and novel suppositions. These are skills that are not far from what children do in their own creative moments. The designers interviewed understood children’s exploratory, ‘what if’ approach as widening the scope of creative dialogue with them and, effectively, infusing the design process with creativity.

Children were also portrayed as responding more to the moment, engaging with the design process with spontaneity and honesty about what has been successful and what hasn’t. This gives the designers the freedom to embrace unexpected scenarios; it is a driver to sustain creativity through dialogue.

The above understandings of children’s potential were accompanied with the not so rosy acknowledgement of the various discomforts that the designers experienced in the process of involving young people. Such tensions, however, arguably reveal the transformational potential of dialogue for both designer identity and the design process.

This potential is big. We will continue to explore it.

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Courtesy: Rupert Ganzer

We are off to start the first of our case studies this week. We begin in Köln, Germany, this Thursday, where we'll be looking at a project set up by die Baupiloten Architects. The design workshops are part of a series run with 4-7 year olds who are involved in desiging a children's cafe area for Karstadt department store. The final design will be built in the Köln store late summer 2014.

Design sessions are being held in the existing Karstadt cafe, during opening hours. (Coffee cups will be clinking in the background no doubt, giving the research and design a very 'live' feel). After we've obtained written consent from all participants, we'll be conducting informal interviews with both designers and children and recording the design session with video cameras.

Children will be asked to photograph key moments - hopefully depicting something that is going very well or perhaps badly in their design process and the photographs will be used as the main stimulus for short recorded interviews. As well as photo elicitation, researchers will have activities available for children to visually depict what kinds of communication happen between themselves and between them and the designers. Children may choose to draw this or act this out with small toy figures resprsenting themselves and the designer. There will also be emotion stickers, pens and paper available for the creation of a simple cartoon strip or story board to show individual's experience of the cafe design process.

The key designers working on the project will be asked to keep informal design journals, reflecting on some of their thoughts and experiences of working with children and what it is that children are bringing to the design process.

We'll post again soon to present a flavour of some of the inital findings.

Bis später

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