Unlocking co-creation potential between children and design students

Unlocking co-creation potential between children and design students

June 2020
VIVITA firmly believes in the innate capacity of children to initiate and organise themselves. To nurture such qualities, we often encourage children to share their skills by facilitating creative workshops for their peers. This practice serves to bolster their creative confidence and foster a deeper awareness of their own expertise and voices.

With a commitment to open knowledge sharing as a guiding principle in all our endeavours, we collaborated with the Estonian Academy of Arts to offer an elective course on social design, focusing on co-creation with children. Over three months, a diverse group of eight students partnered with fourteen children from Vivistop Telliskivi studio in Tallinn to address the challenge of reimagining the studio premises.

This course, facilitated by Vivita designers provided a unique opportunity for students to experience our methods of collaboration with children firsthand and to consider how to integrate our core values into their design practice. Guided through a design process involving collaboration with children from start to finish, students gained deeper insights into how design decisions can safeguard children's rights, enhance their societal roles, and ultimately enrich their daily lives.
Unlocking co-creation potential between children and design students

The co-creation process

Design, democratic values, and citizen participation are intrinsically linked. The decisions we make in design shape our behaviour, emotions, and interactions, impacting children as well. To ensure their needs and desires are addressed, designers must involve them in ideation and decision-making, respecting their unique modes of communication and expression. To support this, the course followed a co-creation framework structured by students in iterative steps spread over nine sessions:

  1. Meeting with children to map the studio space;
  2. Observing and interacting;
  3. Mapping experiences;
  4. Defining problems;
  5. Researching;
  6. Generating ideas, experimenting, and seeking feedback;
  7. Selecting ideas;
  8. Prototyping
  9. Presenting concepts together with children.
    This last stage was envisioned as a celebration of collaborative work from start to finish.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the course transitioned to distance learning from mid-project onwards, with half of the sessions conducted via Zoom. Despite these challenges, we endeavoured to adhere to the initial course plan as closely as possible. Although physical prototyping together proved unfeasible, children continued to provide feedback and refine shared ideas, actively participating either in person or online.
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Co-imagined possibilities for the new studio

Throughout the course, children expressed desires that may not have been uncovered without this special collaboration with design students. Among them was the need for relaxation and privacy in the studio after a long school day, as well as opportunities for both solitary and collaborative play and creation, with a desire to share their creations not only within the Vivita community but also with friends, family, and the broader community.

In dialogue with children, students identified novel potentials for the maker space setup, prompting a rethinking of the studio experience to incorporate playfulness, relaxation, and solitude as integral parts of the creative process. Thanks to the dynamic, playful, and flexible co-creation, children's boundless imagination flourished, and their eagerness to share thoughts resonated well with students' active listening and discovery of the children's genuine desires. This led to a multitude of possibilities for reinterpreting the space for creation and recreation. Considering Vivistop Telliskivi's production capacity and available materials, children and students developed seven unique proposals ranging from permanent structures to temporary event concepts.

Children and designers working hand-in-hand

The process-oriented approach to the design brief required students to relinquish preconceived notions and adopt new responsibilities in designing with children, rather than for them. Mutual understanding, transparency, and reliability were crucial in building a trusting partnership between children and students, resulting in design solutions that genuinely addressed children's needs. In their final feedback, children expressed appreciation for being listened to and treated with respect, underscoring the importance of their ongoing participation, whether in person or online.

The value of children's participation for a designer

While children participated voluntarily, their sense of belonging to the Vivistop Telliskivi studio fostered motivation and commitment throughout the project. The semi-structured process and incorporation of playful elements were essential for building an engaging and safe atmosphere, facilitating meaningful interactions between children and students.

Vivita provided an accessible context for design students to directly interact and collaborate with children, while students, in turn, contributed to meaningful changes in the children's creative learning environment. As this fruitful collaboration concludes, we extend our gratitude to all participating children for their willingness to share and to the design students for their open-mindedness and dedication to the project. All co-created proposals serve as new starting points, and we remain committed to involving children in their further development. This project reinforces our commitment to future collaborations with designers and educators interested in exploring the possibilities of co-creation with children.

Unlocking co-creation potential between children and design students
Amplifying children’s voices through designing for play allowed the students to develop empathy as a necessary skill to their design approach. As designers’ role moves gradually away from (only) making things, it is a crucial part of any design education to familiarise students with co-design methods applicable in a variety of real-life contexts.
Kristi Kuusk
Head of Textile Department of Estonian Academy of Arts

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