Designing with Children

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Our very own researcher Maša Šorn recently co-led a live design project at her home country, Slovenia. Eleven primary school children, one film director, an architect and two landscape architects used video to explore the world of spatial design at a series of workshops held at Primary School Spodnja Šiška in Ljubljana. Parallel to the case studies followed as part of our research, this project enabled some valuable insights into the design process, ones that only an insider’s perspective would allow.

Also a member of Pazi!park team (www.pazipark.si, a group of landscape architects and urban designers interested in participatory spatial design), landscape architect Maša joined forces with fellow landscape architect and Pazi!park member Urška Kranjc; architect Andreja Sinčič Štrukelj, designer of school playgrounds, including the existing one at Primary School Spodnja Šiška; and, film director / screenplay writer Martin Turk, author of many award-winning short films shown at film festivals in Cannes, Sarajevo, Los Angeles, Sydney, Stockholm and others. This diverse team of practitioners delivered an intense workshop over four 1,5h sessions and, together with the participating children, drafted a design proposal of improvements for the existing school grounds.

During the first two sessions, the children worked together with Martin to use video as a medium communicating their ideas about their school site and possible new uses of it. It was amazing to see how children's views of their school site were freely expressed when they were filming and interviewing each other in a playful, yet focussed way. They all proved to be very competent users of video equipment and digital editing tools – they even directed their own video about their experience of the school surroundings (see vimeo.com/96695303). Spatial designers discussed the spatial interventions proposed by the children with the help of colour duct tapes, which were used to mark and shape new spaces. Drawing on their recorded impressions and the taped-up spaces, children drafted a new master plan of the school site and built 1:1 scale models of some suggested interventions in cooperation with spatial designers.

The workshop sessions culminated in an interactive exhibition, where the whole school community, including teachers and parents, were invited to express their ideas and comments on the design proposal. Thus, on the open school day, the whole school was transformed into a vibrant collection of exhibits with almost a fairground feel to it. The ‘media-design team’ was allocated a very nice classroom, where they exhibited cardboard models, their draft proposals and comments on possible school site designs, and screened the edited video.

Special thanks to participating children Gašper Rojina, Katja Vrečar, Kim Dominko Slak, Lev Soklič, Manca Lahajnar, Maks Dečman Hibler, Miha Sinčič, Teo Delanović-Sič, Tiago Devetak, Timon Svetek Zgonec and Zarja Brzin; the helping teachers Majda Koren and Urška Gale; and the head of school Franci Hočevar for making the project happen!

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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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