Tangible ideation: How to design for and with children?

Bang Jeon Lee

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


In design, collaborative notions and design practices have expanded the type of users from adults to the younger generations. In line with this trajectory, children have become actively engaged as social actors and partners in research and design practices. There are two approaches which typify this; Participatory Design has involved children in environmental planning and design, whereas the Child-Computer Interaction community focuses on the domain of scientific research on the interaction between children as well as computational and communication technologies. Grounded particularly in Human-Computer Interaction research, Cooperative Inquiry has been introduced, applied and expanded in practice as a method of designing a technology working with both adults and children. Although children’s participation and involvement have been acknowledged in research and design, the development has leaned toward environmental planning and design as well as computational and communicational technologies, rather than other domains. Moreover, design practitioners have continued to encounter difficulties in practices designing for and designing with children, since working with children requires a thorough understanding and knowledge of children’s cognitive and physical development (i.e. dexterity, strength, motor skills and all developing significantly throughout childhood), as well as an adaptation of methodological matters. Furthermore, the imbalance of power relationships among stakeholders (children, educators, parents, experts in child development, designers and researchers) is considered. The purpose of this research is to the communication and collaboration methods of adult designers (design practitioners) with children in the design process. This research has been framed by experimental design research. Through its own experiments (design practices), the research has developed research questions and responses through an analysis built upon the findings from each practice. The practices have focused on furniture and spatial design; however, the key findings and recommendations of this research have been inclusively engineered for general design practitioners and researchers working with children. During the empirical practices with children, I have attempted to explore the children’s position, the approaches and procedures, as well as the manners and tools supporting interaction and communication with children in the design process when designing for and with children. Based on these research questions, the objectives of this study are to understand the value of children’s participation in design, to position the designer’s role in designing for and with children, and to provide practical guidance for adult design practitioners and researchers working with children. This study ultimately aims to enhance the well-being of children through their participation and collaboration in both design and education. I examine prominent research and design techniques associated with children in the literature review section. In juxtaposition to that, I describe relevant current research and position my research. Lozanovska and Xu have described children’s participation in design as five different models, and I have adopted three of these models: Design with children, Social scientist for children and Pedagogical models, which have inspired in the constructing of the framework of this research. These models have been applied to my own practice and resulted as three models of practice: Design for and with children, Social science for children and Tangible ideation models. Based on investigations and findings through design practices applied with the models of practice, this research points out three principles: material matters; process and structure; as well as a framework within designing for and with children. As the main findings, this research introduces the double triangles which describe the relations among practitioners, products and practices between designing for and designing with children as a new framework of designing for and with children. Using these triangles, materials have been redefined as a medium during different interactions with and through materials; in addition, the roles of various stakeholders have been positioned in this structure of Tangible ideation practice. My underlying argument begins with stakeholders’ roles and children’s participation in design, and then focuses on design practitioners’ reflective roles and position in design. Here I emphasise reflection and the practical contributions of this research, as well as provide considerable guidance for adult designers or researchers who work with children. This research has mainly focused on seven- to twelve-year-old primary school-aged children in Finnish and Korean contexts. However, this study also suggests research possibilities with both younger and older children as well as other cultural contexts in further research.
Translated title of the contributionTangible ideation : How to design for and with children?
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Hyysalo, Sampsa, Supervising Professor
  • Dhima, Sari, Thesis Advisor
  • Whalen, Jack, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-8620-0
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-8621-7
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • design
  • children
  • participation
  • design practices


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