Kids Design the Darndest Things
In a UB research classroom known as the Digital Whimsy Lab, kids are breaking open bags filled with colorful paper, pipe cleaners and cotton balls.
It might seem like time for creating crafts, but this is a project with a purpose: These children are participants in KidsteamUB, which might best be described as an intergenerational design initiative. In collaboration with adults—including principal researcher Greg Walsh, his two graduate assistants and volunteers—boys and girls ages 7-11 use the art supplies to create models and mock-ups. In this case, they’re throwing ideas around to improve the design of a joystick.
“These kids aren’t testing products—they’re design partners, and they’re good at it,” says Walsh, an assistant professor in UB’s Division of Science, Information Arts and Technologies and director of the M.S. in Interaction Design and Information Architecture program. “After all, they’re subject-matter experts in being kids.”
After hands-on creative time on the day’s design challenge, Walsh says, the participants “present their big ideas, and we discuss what’s similar between groups, what ideas are unique, what are our big overarching themes—to come up with a final product.”
In the past year, KidsteamUB has developed, among other projects, an online program for young designers to work on 3-D drawings and a safe password tool for a children’s social network that makes use of microchip technology housed inside a “magical amulet” worn as a necklace. (When swiped in front of a computer or phone, the amulet functions like an identification card and grants access.) Upcoming challenges include developing a sewer robot that lets young environmentalists design experiments with researchers.
Walsh has integrated this program into his Designing for Humans class, in which his college-age students present their projects to their younger KidsteamUB counterparts for feedback and suggestions. He says both groups benefit: “It’s a lively process, often surprising, and [it] sometimes takes us in a whole new direction.”