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How to Design for and with Children

UNICEF advocates for the protection of children's rights. This also includes encouraging companies and designers behind products and services to consider children's rights in the design process.

How to Design for and with Children

In January 2018 an international crowd consisting of 70 designers, developers, design researchers and professors as well experts from NGOs like Unicef and Save the Children met for a weekend in Helsinki to create some overall design guidelines for when designing for and with children.

We frequently work on projects in the field of education and entertainment, where we involve children in the design process since they are a part of the user group. How to develop great and inclusive products or services for children is not only an important part of our work, but also plays an important and personal role for me as a mother. Discussing this with NGOs and experts from the industry working with and for children seemed like an outstanding opportunity. And like always we want to share this experience and the outcome with you.

Here’s what we did

ESPI Designing for Children Conference

Four working groups approaching children's rights from different perspectives:

  1. Supporting well-being, and healthy psychological and cognitive development
  2. Encouraging self-expression, creativity, learning & play
  3. Nurturing the child as a social being and a citizen and
  4. Ensuring safety and privacy

The result

These are all very big questions, to which we don’t have goldens answers yet. This first meet-up was to sparkle a mindset: To awaken the focus on children’s rights in our products and services. We came up with some general guidelines:

  1. Everyone can play
  2. Give me control and offer support
  3. I have purpose so make my influence matter
  4. Offer me something safe
  5. Create space for play (including a choice to chill)
  6. Encourage me to be active and play with others
  7. Give me room to explore and experiment
  8. Use communication I can relate to
  9. Make it flexible for me
  10. You don’t know me, so make sure you include me

Read an extended version of the guidelines (it is a Minimum Lovable Product / Work-in-Progress)

What’s next

We will continue the work and meet again in about six months in Copenhagen. The focus will be to break down the overall guidelines in actual hands-on action points. We already brainstormed first ideas, that could create an impact:

  • Defining safety standards in digital products and approach eg. Bootstrap (the most popular HTML, CSS, and JS framework for developing responsive, mobile first projects on the web) and make them integrate the safety standards in their modules (we reckon, that designing safety is not only in the hands of the designers)
  • Create a certificate or a badge together with the NGOs that products and services can obtain if they are inclusive and safe

There are a lot of improvements to be done. We just have to break down the complexity and start somewhere. You can also start to consider these perspectives next time you create a new product or a service. Even if it is not for children, since many children also use products that are created for adults.

Our inspiration

UNICEF’s general principles on privacy and freedom and a checklist that you can use as a check-list when designing for Children

Recent research (2017) about the empowering as well as the dangours aspects of being connected. If you have or can afford connectivity conducted by UNICEF

Professors from the academic world shared their knowledge in the field and companies like Lego and Toca Boca shared their experiences on integrating children in the design process and creating for children without excluding. To underline the power of inclusion, Petter Karlsson from Toca Boca shared this video with us (Attention! Risk of crying, while watching!)

You can watch the talks from the conference here or read more about them here.

And his great little movie from iRights sums up very well, some of the aspects we discussed.

Designers, developers, design researchers, experts and professors from companies, agencies, the academic world and NGO’s joined from North America, India and a wide range of European countries. The Finish organizers (Unicef, Designers and Companies) were excited and surprised about the international attention for this non-profit event. The attendants were grateful for the opportunity to meet so many talented and engaged people and exchange about such an important topic.

If you want to learn more on how to design for and with children get in touch with Louise!