Exploring a child-centred design approach from tools and methods to approach and mindset


This PhD project originates from a professional need and a demand for a higher focus on children in the design process; a theoretical lack of definitions and a shared language for working in a child-centred fashion in design as well as a personal puzzlement why children have not been the starting point when designing for playful experiences for children. This research explores the notion of a child-centred design approach and the influence on the design practitioner when experiencing the world seen from the perspective of the child.

An initial study of existing initiatives in the area of design, play and children establishes recommendations for working with children in the design process. This is studied further through a series of interviews with experts in the area to create direction and structure for the subsequent research process.

The research project is rooted in design research and makes use of methods from design practice to research through design and research for design development. An open and exploratory approach to the field of research is possible through the use of design experiments and a programmatic, structured research question: What is a child-centred design approach and how does it influence the designer? The general research approach is primarily qualitative and follows the methodology of Grounded Theory which makes it possible to enter the field of research without a predefined theory. Instead, the collected data from the conducted field studies becomes the main focus of the analysis, and the findings from the field studies are being explained and discussed through existing theoretical literature.

A collection of child-centred design methods targeted designers has been developed to conduct research into what a child-centred design approach is. The methods are: 'internship as a child', 'co-creating the life of a child' and 'comparing child personas'. The field studies conducted in this research project include two pilot studies and two main studies. The pilot studies primarily experiment with the child-centred design methods with different types of participants, surroundings and activities and develop methods for documenting the process. The two main studies are a part of a Master's course for a group of design students and a professional development course for a group of professional designers, respectively - all participating with the further purpose of designing playful experiences for children. The child-centred design approach is introduced for the designers in collaboration with children in the children's everyday environments.

The designers' experience of the child-centred design activities is documented throughout the process through reflections and tracking tools developed specifically for this project - Design process strips, reflection cards and a reflection kit, among others. The documentation and the follow-up interviews identify how the designer experiences and articulates the child-centred design approach in practice. This accounts for the data material for the Grounded Theory analysis resulting in eight 'grounded' concepts reflecting the designers' experience of the child-centred design approach. The 'grounded' concepts establish the groundwork for the development of four categories: designer, design, child and life, which delimit and structure the theoretical literature which is a part of the discussion and the explanation of the 'grounded' data from the field studies.

The discussion addresses and answers the research questions: What is a child-centred design approach and how does it influence the designer? The research is an illustration of the child-centred design approach, which takes its starting point in the experience of children and their everyday lives. The specific focus is on exploring, inspiring and informing open-ended encounters with the purpose of identifying what kind of play experiences should be designed - and how - in order to make them relevant seen from the perspective of the child. Experiencing the children and their everyday lives through the child-centred design approach leads to unexpected surprises for the designers making them reflect upon their assumptions regarding children and even change their design practice to be conducted with children - a change in mindset that includes the perspective of children in future design processes. This leads to a specific contribution to design research, recommendations for the design industry and implications for design education, as well as directions for further research into the child-centred design approach.



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Impact case study

Institution details

LAB for Play & Design

Design research, design for play, child-centred design