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Druin et al workshop

Participatory Design with Children: Techniques, Challenges, and Successes

Allison Druin1,2, Houman Alborzi1, Angela Boltman1,2, Sue Cobb4, Jaime Montemayor1, Helen Neale4, Michele Platner1, Jessica Porteous1, Lisa Sherman1, Kristian Simsarian3, Danae Stanton4, Yngve Sundblad2, Gustav Taxen2

1University of Maryland

Human-Computer Interaction Lab


2Royal Institute of Technology, KTH

Stockholm, Sweden

+46 8 790 7147

3Swedish Institute of Computer Science, SICS

Stockholm, Sweden

+46 9 752 1586

4The University of Nottingham

Nottingham, UK

+44 115 9515151




In this workshop, we will explore the various methodologies developed to work with children in participatory design experiences. We will discuss the roles children can play in the technology design process as well as the challenges that go along with each. The workshop will conclude with some hands-on experience with participatory design methods to be used with children.


Children, Participatory Design, Cooperative Inquiry, Design Partner

A Voice for CHilDREN

"I’m bored!" "That’s fun!" "Why do I have to do that?" These are all important thoughts from children. When adults get the chance to spend time with children, they soon find out that young people have their own likes, dislikes, curiosities, and needs that are not the same as their parents or teachers. Yet, it is common for developers of new technologies to ask parents and teachers what they think their children or students may need, rather than ask children directly. This may in part be due to the traditional power structure of the "all-knowing" adult and the "all-learning" child, where young people are dependent on their parents and teachers for everything from food and shelter, to educational experiences. At times, these relationships may make it difficult for children to voice their opinions when it comes to deciding what technologies should be in schools or at home. In addition, we as designers of technologies have our own biases and assumptions about children. Some of us may be parents of our own children, but all of us were once children ourselves with special memories of what we liked and didn’t like about the world [4, 7].

However, as we know, personal impressions may not be enough to make important decisions about the development of new technologies for today’s children. Young people are fast becoming tomorrow’s power-users of everything from the Internet to multimedia authoring tools. Our children are having technological experiences before the age of five, that we adults didn’t have until we were in college (if that). On the other hand, children are still children that must go to school and depend on their teachers and parents for learning and living in this complex world. In addition, as we know, young children have a more difficult time verbalizing their thoughts, especially when it concerns abstract concepts and actions [5, 6]. While children can be extremely honest in their feedback and comments concerning technology, much of what they say needs to be interpreted within the context of concrete experiences. For all of these reasons, a child’s role in the design of new technology has historically been minimized. In the HCI community, we have a short but rich history of developing shared paths for communication between diverse users and technologists. However, this history of shared communication is even shorter and less developed for our children as users, testers, informants, and partners in the technology design process. With the emergence of children as an important new consumer group of technology, it is critical that we support children in ways that are useful, effective, and meaningful for their needs. This means bringing them into the technology design process.


Over the years, our research has involved children as active research partners [3]. From the creation of collaborative storytelling software [2], to room-sized interactive experiences [1], children play an essential part in our technology design teams, along with educators, computer scientists, psychologists, engineers, and artists. To establish these partnerships, we have developed various participatory design techniques we have come to call "Cooperative Inquiry" [3]. These techniques include observation and note-taking procedures, low-tech prototyping, and "stickie-note" brainstorming. While similar techniques have been used with adult design partners, we have had to adapt our methods to address the many challenges of working with children in labs and schools in different countries. Perhaps our greatest challenge has been in adapting these methods to work within the power structure, time, and space of diverse schools. >From working within the constraints of the school day, to educating teachers and parents on our methods, it is not easy to accomplish a design partnership with school children. However, despite these challenges we have found rewarding outcomes in both the development of new technologies and important learning outcomes for all design partners.


To address the many issues of children as participatory design partners, this workshop’s goals will include:

  1. To understand the many roles a child can play in the technology design process.
  2. To become familiar with the various methodologies of working with children in participatory design
  3. To understand the challenges and rewards of working with children as design partners


This workshop will begin with a discussion on the various roles children can play in the technology design process. Following this, a short presentation will be given on the various methods that can be used in participatory design with children.

Workshop participants will then be encouraged to explore some of these methods. "Participatory Design Stations" will be set up around the room for different groups to try different methods. Workshop participants will rotate throughout the room until they have been to each station. The workshop will end with "participatory design war stories"—a discussion of the challenges of working with children in large groups, in schools, between countries.


The workshop will be led by Allison Druin, from the University of Maryland and the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Sweden. She has been working with children in developing new technologies for the past 15 years and for the last five years has been focusing on developing new participatory design methods for children. She will be joined in leading this workshop by her interdisciplinary team from the University of Maryland, Jaime Montemayor, Houman Alborzi, Angela Boltman. Michele Platner, Jessica Porteous, Lisa Sherman. In addition, Yngve Sundblad and Gustav Taxen, collaborators from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Sweden, Kristian Simsarian from the Swedish Institute of Computer Science and Danae Stanton, Helen Neal, and Sue Cobb from the University of Nottingham will discuss their extensive experience in adapting these participatory design methods over the past 2 years for the KidStory Project in Europe.


Our methods could not have been developed without the generous support of the European Union’s, i3, Experimental Schools Environment initiative for the KidStory project. In addition, the National Science Foundation’s Digital Library initiative has been a sponsor of our work. Finally, our partnerships with children in New Mexico, Maryland, Sweden, and England have taught us more than we could have ever imagined and for this we will always be grateful.


1. Alborzi, H., Druin, A., Montemayor, J., Sherman, L., Taxen, G., Best, J., Hammer, J., Kruskal, A., Lal, A., Plaisant Schwenn, T., Sumida, L., Wagner, R., Hendler, J. (2000). Designing StoryRooms: Interactive Storytelling Spaces for Children. Proceedings of Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) 2000.

2. Benford, S., Bederson, B., Akesson, K., Bayon, V., Druin, A., Hansson, P., Hourcade, J., Ingram, R., Neale, H., O'Malley, C., Simsarian, K., Stanton, D., Sundblad, Y., & Taxen , G. (2000). Designing storytelling technologies to encourage collaboration between young children. Proceedings of CHI 2000, ACM Press.

3. Druin, A. (1999) Cooperative inquiry: Developing new technologies for children with children. Proceedings of CHI 99, ACM Press.

4. Papert, S. (1972). Teaching children thinking. Conference on Computers in Education: IFIPS (pp. 223-230).

5. Piaget, J. (1971). Psychology and Epistemology: Towards a theory of knowledge. New York: Viking Press.

6. Piaget, J. (1973). To understand is to invent: The future of education. New York: Grossman.

7. Solomon, C. (1986). Computer environments for children. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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