A Design Studio for Kids
It was bring your child(ren) to work day at WalmartLabs. So, we needed to come up with activities to entertain our miniature guests, and therefore decided to run a guided design studio for kids. We took over our large conference room for the day and outfitted each participant with a goody bag containing markers, colored pencils, and sugar. Lots of sugar.
As anyone with kids or retired summer camp counselors like myself can attest, it’s not easy getting 10 children all hopped up on sugar to focus on a workflow. Because of this, the design of the workshop itself needed to have a flow that was open-ended, allowing the child design team to be completely imaginative, have an engagement arch with multiple peaks, and provide an end result that they could hold in their hands.
We decided to have them create an iPad game, from scratch.
But here’s the trick:
they didn’t know they were making a game at first. That was saved for the end, the final stretch, the big reveal.
“Today we’re going to create a fictional story together. Doesn’t that sound like fun!?! (blank stares) So, what makes up a really great story? What do all stories have in common?”
The themes we wanted to convey through our activity were collaboration, teamwork and ideation. We wanted to illustrate that by working together we can create something greater than any single imagination could surmise, an end product whose ingenuity was greater than the sum of its parts.
We’re going to write a story as a group. First, by identifying the common components of every story (who, when/where, what, why, how — this obviously took some guidance, but it connected.)
- Who: Characters
- When/Where: Setting
- What: Mission / Plot
- Why: Motivation
- How: Storyline
Next, we’d explore each of those components by drawing individual ideas onto Post-it notes and placing them on the whiteboard beneath each heading. The Post-it exercise is generally more fruitful when each one contains a little sketch of an idea, but a word on a post-it works too.
Beneath the “Characters” heading we created 4 main characters by reviewing our individual Post-it notes as a group, allowing each designer to describe their idea one by one. We group similar ideas together, decide what traits to keep, remove, or expand upon.
Meet the cast
- Rupert: An adventurous boy of 15 years who loves apples. He rides a motorcycle, wields a semi-automatic weapon of some sort, has short, brown hair, wears a sweatsuit.
- Hairy Pudding: A sentient, robotic bowl of pudding with hair. He has jet propulsion which enables him to fly around and find a “host body.” He docks to the top of his victim’s head and, using his wand, can control their thoughts. He’s 112 years old and adored by all (most likely through mind control). He’s also “very dedicated to all things.”
- Fiona: The smart one. She’s 13 years old, wears a beret and has a French accent. She wears Crocs with socks, has long hair, and is a twin. Her twin is oddly absent from the cast.
- O’Laina: A bilingual 13 year old who speaks English and Russian. She’s an orphan, but powerful. She has short hair, and wears a tank top, skirt, boots, and fingerless gloves.
We made up some simple iPad templates and printed them on 11 x 17" paper. These helped us frame individual scenes which we then used to string the plot line together.
The year is 2048. Setting is a post-apocalyptic city in Arkansas, USA. Our heroes stand before a landscape speckled with tall buildings and lightning. There is also water…somewhere. The story begins when Rupert becomes possessed by Hairy Pudding (affixed to his head), and turns evil!
Rupert rides his motorcycle up to the abandoned 7–11, where he plans to meet best friends Fiona and O’Laina. They’ve been scouring Arkansas collecting the ingredients of a magical cure to all of the diseases plaguing the world: Pudding-possession, Zombification, and Orcism.
They find the final ingredient to their magical potion in the bottom of a Cracker Jack box — a Mirror toy. The potion is complete! And just in the nick of time, as Rupert arrives, they trick him into drinking the potion, turning Hairy Pudding into a good robot pudding-bowl, remaining friends all the while.
We used the iPad app Bloxels to build our sprite character Rupert, and set him loose in a dystopian future Arkansas.
How fun! The junior design team was able to see how the final product was made through collaboration, and I was able to blissfully ‘waste’ hours of work-time sketching a sentient, robotic bowl of pudding with jet propulsion powers.