Designing with Children

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We have only recently returned from our second research visit at Wilderness Wood, East Sussex (see http://www.wildernesswood.org/about/), which left us with tons of exciting data to look at! There, we spent a day observing the Wilderness Wood team designing and building a new play kitchen for toddlers. The design team comprised eleven children aged 5-12, their parents, two building facilitators and Dan, the architect. A parallel event run alongside the design and build activity, which involved Lucy and younger children aged 2-5 decorating the kitchen and preparing recipes.

The morning of 30th May found the Wilderness Wood team identifying a structure for the play kitchen over two chalk boards with lots of drawing, improvising and ideas-sharing taking place. For the half hour that was designated to the design stage we were able to capture much excitement and brainstorming through video recordings, photographs and field notes. (It was only two of us this time; we just wished we had more hands and eyes). Constraints were discussed, solutions were found – with the children offering some great input into all these – and before we realised it was already time to get on with the building part.

For the rest of the day, we witnessed industrious building work across the site. The children were instructed how to use the tools and were then involved in every aspect of the work: strip wood off the bark, cut, measure and saw poles or, where there was no space for everyone, eagerly gather around and watch those involved. There was an atmosphere of inquiry and hands-on creativity in gaining a working knowledge of materials and tools, which the children seemed to enjoy, as adults' clear confidence in the children's abilities, which children appreciated and commented on during our interviews with them. We were able to run interviews after lunch and during the afternoon session, inside the nearby tepee, which lent our discussions a playful air.

This was a serious job to be done. And you can see the outputs with your own eyes. A big thanks to Emily, Dan and all of you who allowed us to experience Wilderness Wood!

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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.

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