Children and Interaction Design (Part 2)

Designing with Children


The interaction design needs for children are not superficial requirements that can be met merely through colorful displays. Instead, children’s interactions with technology need to crafted from the earliest phases of design.

In this article, I discuss Participatory Design and children. Note: As far as I can tell, Medium doesn’t allow for HTML tables nor alt information for images. This article has two tables that are displayed as images and are not very accessible.

Participatory Design and the voice of end-users in the design process

The idea of democracy is an important part of participatory design and co-design and this can be seen in interaction design for children. In fact, participatory design is more than just one of the many ways to gather requirements or preferred features lists — instead it is a way to recognize the child as an important (if not the most important) part of the system and to reframe the child as a colleague in the design of technology for that child.

“Cooperative Design”, or “co-design”, is the subset of participatory design where expert designers work with the target audience to solve a problem and attempt to rise to the early ideals of democratization. Today, projects are often labeled as “Participatory Design” if they include any activity with an end-user, but, co-design implies that the end-user is part of the design process.

Roles of Children in Interaction Design

According to Druin (2002), children can take on four roles in interactive technology design: user, tester, informant, and design partner. Children who are users interact with the finished technology in a way that researchers can record and observe. Children interact with technology that has not been released so that researchers and designers can make changes before it is released into the public when acting as testers. When children act as informants, researchers may ask them to offer input at different stages of the design process in order to guide the design. Design partners are considered equal partners in the interaction design lifecycle.

The roles of children in the design process.

Methods and Techniques to work with children in the context of HCI

Co-design relies on different types of techniques to facilitate the design process. Some techniques utilize something as simple as paper, while other techniques involve large workspaces and physical objects.

Researchers use techniques as “a creative endeavor between researchers and users that is meant to communicate design ideas and system requirements to a larger group” (Walsh et al 2013). Techniques are often described in the research as low-tech, which may require nothing more advanced than crayons and paper, or high-tech, which require sophisticated technology. 
Methods are “a collection of techniques used in conjunction with a design philosophy” (Walsh et al 2013). Cooperative Inquiry, Bonded Design, Informant Design, and MESS (Druin, 1999; Large et al., 2006; Read, 2010, 2010; Scaife & Rogers, 1999) are methods that have been used in the co-design of interactive technology for children.

My colleagues and I developed the Framework for Analysis and Creation of Intergenerational Techniques for Participatory Design which we call FACIT PD (Walsh et al 2013). FACIT PD can be used to identify existing techniques for use in your interaction design projects or create new ones if existing techniques do not meet your requirements. The framework is divided into eight dimensions in the following categories: intergenerational participants, design goal, and the technique.

The Eight Dimensions of Framework for Analysis and Creation of Intergenerational Techniques for Participatory Design (FACIT PD)

Designers can use these philosophies to include children in their process. At the very least, design teams should be working with children as testers. Better yet, designers should be including children in the design process as informants or partners. When children are included in the design process, designers can use a myriad of existing techniques to elicit feedback or design their own.

In the next article, I will highlight some great projects that were designed with co-design.


Druin, A. (2002). The role of children in the design of new technology. Behaviour and Information Technology, 21(1), 1–25.

Large, A., Nesset, V., Beheshti, J., and Bowler, L. “Bonded design”: A novel approach to intergenerational information technology design. Library and Information Science Research 28, 1 (2006), 64–82.

Read, J.C. MESS Days: Working with Children to Design and Deliver Worthwhile Mobile Experiences. UPA User Experience Magazine 9, 2010.

Scaife, M. and Rogers, Y. Kids as informants: Telling us what we didn’t know or confirming what we knew already. The design of children’s technology, (1999), 27–50.

Walsh, G., Foss, E., Yip, J., and Druin, A. FACIT PD: A Framework for Analysis and Creation of Intergenerational Techniques for Participatory Design. Proceedings of the 31st international conference on Human factors in computing systems, ACM.

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