interaction magic

3 tips for co-designing with kids

March 2023

Presenting in front of the class of students.
Presenting in front of the class of students.

Last week I spent the afternoon with a whole class of 10 and 11 year old students from Ashton St.Peter's School in Dunstable. We talked about what skills designers need, how anyone can be a designer, and how to identify problems and come up with ideas to overcome them.

To get the conversation started, I took along a selection of high-tech products including:

Trying these out in the classroom proved extremely popular: the combination of sports and high-tech gear was unsuprisingly a big hit with this audience.

High-tech footwear samples from Nike (left) and Adidas X Google (right).

After the discussion we worked on two design exercises, creating concepts for future sports products. If you're thinking of running a similar session, here's 3 tips to help get the most from co-designing with kids:

1. Give them all a badge labelled "designer"

I walked in, told them I was a designer, and that today they would all be designers too. Role playing being-a-designer got them into the right mindset and helped them believe they could really own their creations. Creating job title badges for everyone was a simple but effective hack to make this happen.

2. Provide some structure to presenting their ideas

Compared to adults, I found the children needed more structure to the process of illustrating their ideas. We explicitly asked them to "draw a picture of it ... add captions and labels ... then colour it in" which worked well. For some reason, having permission to colour it in was a big highlight!

3. Kids are amazing at portmanteaus

Every day, kids are bombarded with advertising and brand messaging. We asked them to present the ideas like an advert for someone to buy it, and they instantly came up with amazing taglines, puns, product names and plenty of portmanteaus. For good or bad, they naturally understood how to use hype and hyperbole to sell a concept.

Hard at work on their design concepts.
Hard at work on their design concepts.

I had an amazing time and would 100% recommend this experience to everyone.

The students' ideas, perspectives and curiosity was inspiring and energising in a completely different way to a typical workshop. A huge thank you to Jo Ingham from Ashton St.Peter's for inviting me in to the school for the afternoon.