Creating technology for the next generation

Our co-founder and CEO, Bethany Koby, joined Jon Marshall (director, Map) and Madhumita Murgia (Head of Technology, The Daily Telegraph) for a conversation on the future of technology, learning and the important role design plays. The event was held at Second Home, London on 23rd September 2015.

Check out these highlights from the discussion:

– Technology is more than a screen

Bethany highlighted the importance of looking beyond screens (mobile devices, tablets) when talking about technology to understand the way young people interact with it. There’s much more to tech: light sensors, motions sensors, programming inputs, accelerometers, and these needn’t be shrouded in mystery, locked inside a sleek container.

– The importance of the design process for both TWSU and Map.

Bethany shared our approach to designing new products: the process begins with a research project to understand children’s passions — not just what they think they want, but what their ambitions are. How can their own personal tech make their passions and interests even better. An example of this is Gaming — a child might say they want something to play games, but upon exploration what they really want is to make existing games more fun, to mash together different games so they can share and show their friends.

Jon emphasised how all Map’s work is informed by research and strategy, with dialogue with children very important — not just for children’s products but how their views across everything can be extremely valuable.

– How do teaching methods need to evolve along with technology?

Bethany suggests there was an opportunity to support teachers to become facilitators of tech creativity and learning, rather than lecturing on specific software or hardware functionality. A great example is the student who spends their spare time modding Minecraft — this is a brilliant way to encourage transferrable skills and is much more accessible to both the student and the teacher than spending hours on Excel formulas.

Jon explained the importance of designing products that may require a parent to take the role of teacher. With this in mind, fantastic graphics and easy to follow instructions are key — this removes the necessity for a parent to be too technologically advanced.

– Are there any specific challenges around distraction and children?

In the always-connected, online world, distraction is a growing issue for everyone. Jon suggests they are a number of key issues when designing new tech products: including battery life and it’s relationship with attention span. He also emphasises that, for a child, switching between devices and platforms isn’t necessarily a sign of distraction — to the child, they are transferring skills between products and are not necessarily disengaged with a platform, just exploring it in relation to others.

Bethany outlined how a child wants everything to work together — they don’t see a reason why building something in the digital world should not be compatible with something they are making physically — whether a Tech Will Save Us kit, or something from LittleBits. This interoperability should be the aim of everyone in the growing ed-tech space.

– What do you think of when we talk about creative tech?

Jon puts forward the mantra of not just consuming, but creating — this is the difference between creative tech and some of the other products in the toy sector. Some of the big, traditional toy makers have let this slip, leaving the toy market ripe for disruption. Bethany put forward the example of the recently announced AI Barbie — while this is advanced tech aimed at kids, it’s not creative, it doesn’t teach or instigate curiosity in a child.

Another key facet of the emerging creative tech space is gender neutrality. By it’s very nature, tech for kids should be gender neutral, the projects shouldn’t conform to entrenched stereotypes.

– What other issues are affecting this emerging space?

Jon identified how the toy space has been hampered for years by poor quality design and cheap materials. Bethany put forward the importance of concentrating on the whole end-to-end journey, crafting a rewarding experience from the packaging to sharing the creation — even if there can be some challenges with manufacturing, especially for a start up.

Key quotes and talking points:

“Kids don’t differentiate between physical and digital making, and so neither should we.”

“People misuse the word technology, simply referring to a screen. There’s a physicality that is never mentioned.”

“Technological education is seen as gaining skills and ticking boxes rather than creative and problem solving.”

Originally published at

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