the big ideas session was over, the
children were able to have free
time on the computers in the lab
before they had to leave at 5: 30 p.m.
After the children left, the adults
briefly met about the day’s design
session. Several of the adults made
references to previous projects the
group had worked on and compared
the ideas. This concluded the design
session. From start to finish, it was
approximately two hours long.
What can we learn from all of
this? As I previously mentioned,
Kidsteam is the in-person instantiation of cooperative inquiry that
achieves the following goals: eliminates traditional power dynamics, nurtures a safe space through
social interaction, focuses the conversation, enables creative expression, captures ideas, and facilitates
creative discourse by segmenting the larger design session into
smaller periods of time. Based on
this day’s session and several years
of design sessions like this, I offer
the following suggestions for implementing these periods during your
design sessions, regardless of the
design method you choose.
Snack time. It seems silly to
include food as a part of designing with children; however, for
two reasons, it is one of the most
important components. First, children have been shown to be more
creative after eating a healthy meal
[ 5] and may “think and behave
better” after eating [ 6]. Second,
the relationships formed by eating together can help a regularly
meeting team form bonds that
lead to trust and teamwork in
the design periods of the session.
If you are going to work with children either regularly or infrequently,
providing a healthy snack can create
a better experience for everyone.
Circle time. The circle time is
the part of the design session
that begins to focus the team on
the day’s activities. The use of a
question of the day focuses the
discussion and puts the partici-
pants in the mind-set of the design
session’s domain. Circle time’s
semi-structured nature helps the
design partners start to think
about the design session’s domain.
Some might feel as though some
of these benefits could be achieved
during the previously mentioned
snack time, but that isn’t so. There
needs to be a clear delineation of when
the social discussions wind down and
the design process begins. The act of
physically moving to sit down creates a buffer zone between arriving
and designing. It also encourages
the group to openly discuss a topic
that is, at least for the design session, meaningful for the design
team and could improve the communications that need to occur
during the later periods.
Design time. The design activities
are where participants can spend
most of the session’s time. The
events of design time are often the
elements discussed in the research
literature, and there are a number
of techniques that you can utilize
to work with children. It is during
this period that you can explore
new ways for children to express
their ideas to the larger group.
If you choose to try new design
techniques during this time,
remember to be patient and flexible. In fact, my experience has been
that few new techniques enable expression and communication exactly as envisioned the first time implemented and
need to be refined over several design
sessions in order to be most effective.
Big ideas. The big ideas section
is most critical in projects that
approach the design of children’s
technologies as iterative. Even
though the design portion of the
session is where the majority of
ideas come from, I firmly believe
that it is not nearly as valuable
without the presentations of ideas
at the end of the session. The pre-
sentations capture the essential ideas
of each design and begin to make con-
nections between the groups to identify
what is important to the designers.
The low-fidelity prototypes—in fact
any artifacts created during design
time—are useless without the rich
description that occurs during these
group presentations because the
features of the designed technology
or the subtle differences between
groups may not be apparent. The
presentations do need to be accomplished in the same session as the
one in which the prototypes are
developed. The good news is that as
long as the raw ideas are captured
through audio, video, or text, the
big ideas portion (the organizing of
ideas) can be done at a later time.
1. Scaife, M. et al. Designing for or designing with?
Informant design for interactive learning environments. Proc.of the SIGCHI Conference on Human
factors in Computing Systems. ACM, New York,
2. Druin, A. The role of children in the design of new
technology. Behaviour and Information Technology
21, 1 (2002), 1–25.
3. Druin, A. Cooperative inquiry: Developing new
technologies for children with children. Proc. of the
SIGCHI Conference on Human factors in Computing
System. ACM, New York, 1999, 592–599.
4. Walsh, G. Kidsteam: Co-designing children’s
technologies with children. UPA User Experience
5. Wyon, D.P. and Abrahamsson, L. An experimental study of the effects of energy intake at breakfast
on the test performance of 10-year-old children in
school. International Journal of Food Sciences &
Nutrition 48, 1 (Jan. 1997), 5.
6. National School Lunch Program; http://www.fns.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Greg Walsh is an assistant professor at the University of Baltimore.
His research focuses on ways to
include more children in the
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