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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