How to design for kids?

Photo credit: National Gallery of Victoria, Julian Opie Studio for Kids

Back in the day when I studied at HDK (Högskolan för Design och Konsthantverk), in the University of Gothenburg, I had some fascinating fellow students who studied something I had never even heard of previously. Well, to be more specific, there was this one specific study programme that got me really curious afterwards now that I’ve become a mom. That was Child Culture Studies.

What is child culture design then?

Listen to this:

”One of the cornerstones (of this programme) is working to create a sustainable society, not only in the ecological sense but also with regard to social equality, gender equality, ethics, economy and issues of social justice. A vital aspect is collaboration with organisations and other actors with common goals.” (Gothenburg Uni website)

Isn’t this just brilliant?

I recently spent three weeks in Melbourne, visiting some of my close family. I did some critical observations about how kids were taken into consideration and how spaces were designed for the little humans. Like the subject of this post suggests, as a parent or a person hanging out with kids you’ve probably noticed spaces that are absolutely gorgeous, but your kid hates them.

Why? Because they’re dull, too unimaginative and perhaps the kids aren’t allowed to run around in these spaces. Stupid adults. Yes, you’re so right kiddos. It’s been researched that play is a universal, cross-cultural and necessary attribute of childhood, essential for development and for learning.

How to design for kids?

With my kid, I visited two major museums in Melbourne. The Melbourne Museum and the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). In both of the museums, kids had their own section! Seriously, not just a theme day or an egg hunt, but an actual reason for the kids to enter the museum.

I loved both of the kid’s exhibitions. NGV offered two things at Julian Opie’s studio for kids. Kids were creating head shapes out of felt. Using basic shapes, like circles for heads and different shapes to make a nose or arms. This felt activity showed how just a few elements can come together and make a portrait. Another activity was an interactive screen where kids could draw themselves with a soft felt tip pen. The finished portraits could be shared to your family or on social media.

Melbourne Museum offered something a bit more extensive with Pauline Gandel’s children’s gallery. It was like an experience room full of interesting bits and pieces for kids to explore (also for parents in this case). What I absolutely loved was the camouflage disco where children turned into spotty and stripy disco dancing animals.

In my opinion, both of these exhibitions were right in the centre of what child culture design is all about. They both combined hands on exploration, discovery, open ended play-based learning, immersive environments and unique museum collection objects.

Photo credit: Melbourne Museum, Pauline Gandel Children’s Gallery

Can adults play too?

Yes, let’s not forget that us adults need play. The importance of play for children is well documented. The researchers have turned their attention to its possible benefits for adults. The findings are that play isn’t just goofing around and acting silly. Play can reduce stress and contribute to overall wellbeing. Now, I gotta go and search for my lego set!

Text: Satu Heikinheimo, Development Manager and Service Designer at Kohina