Designing with Children

Conference season. We've been lucky to have 2 on our doorstep in Sheffield: 5th International Conference: Researching children's everyday lives and just yesterday: Co-producing knowledge 2nd International Conference. Both have been great for building our theories and understandings around our own work.

There were too many interesting ideas to mention really but a few thoughts stick in my mind at least. At the childhoods conference, Margaret Mackey inspired all with an autobiographical account of the development of her own childhood literacy. As she humorously and eloquently talked about childhood books, recipes, knitting patterns, board games and music sheets - all of which were key for the flourishing of her own literacy - we noticed the relevance of these interpretations for our understanding of spatial literacies and of design literacies. Margaret referred to Malafouris (2013) when she talked about our hands having literate knowledge. There is power in the non-discursive, unreasoned actions of our bodies. We can refelect on the hands and the minds of the designer/designer-child workd in discursive and non-discursive exhanges as they work through their creative processes.

Continuing on that which is embodied, Susana Manso helped us think further, about both play and about the way designers work, through the lens of dance choreography. Susana, herself a dancer, talked of both choreographers' and child-players' roles: from expert, author, pilot, facilitator to collaborator. She illustrated choreographer's and dancers' skills and approaches that are enabled by such different roles. All this sounded remarkably similar to the different aspects of designer and child roles we have encountered.

Yesterday's, stimulating plenary, as we considering Co-producing knowledge of places, saw Margaret Somerville, talking of one of her place-learning projects in Australia. Margaret recounted her methods whereby a group of children took videos of throwing stones in their local lagoon. Because they didn't like the sounds of their own voices in the first video, the children re-shot the action and the scene. We were reminded us of the reflective and iterative qualities of children's making-behaviour and their attention to detail. Later in the day, prompts around notions of power-relations cropped up as we continually noted that co-production (of knowlege and spaces) often privileges those who already have social capital (thank you Lee Crookes). We had lively discussion around themes such as: process versus outcome; difficulties in creating collaborative environments; the value of the qualitative and everyday versus the value of 'hard data' to worlds of research and beyond. We touched upon the prominence of emotion and relationship in co-production of any kind and the need for common languages between different partners whether they be residents, makers, children, tenants, professional service providers or academic researchers.

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