It is hardly controversial to argue for user involvement in the technology design process: the issue rather is the extent of that involvement and whether or not this is related to the kind of user. In particular, can young children play a meaningful role in design, and if so, what should it be? Several design methodologies advocate a range of roles for children within the design process; this article presents a new such methodology, Bonded Design. Essentially, Bonded Design assumes an intergenerational team comprising adult designers and young users working together to produce a low-tech prototype. This team employs a variety of design techniques?conducting a user needs’ assessment, evaluating existing technologies, brainstorming, discussing ideas as a group, prototyping (for example, through drawings), and consensus building?to achieve its goal. Bonded Design emerged in 2003 from a research study to investigate whether elementary school students (specifi- cally in grades three and six) could actively participate in designing Web portals. To accomplish this objective two intergenerational design teams were established, each including children alongside researchers, which produced two low-tech portal prototypes (Large, Beheshti, Nesset, & Bowler, 2004; Large, Nesset, Beheshti, & Bowler, 2006, 2007). These prototypes subsequently were converted into working portals that received high praise in their evaluations by elementary school students. Indeed, one of these portals, History Trek, is now operational on the Web, providing access to information in English and French on Canadian history (http://www.historytrek.ca).
Bonded Design did not emerge in a vacuum; a number of user-focused design methodologies have accommodated children in various ways and to various degrees in the design of technologies intended for use by children (Nesset & Large, 2004). The oldest and most conventional approach, “User-Centered Design,” focuses on the impact of technology on users, but traditionally these users were only involved after the technology had been designed (Nesset & Large, 2004; Scaife & Rogers, 1999, Scaife, Rogers, Aldrich, & Davies, 1997). In other contexts, the term user-centered design has been understood by some authors to mean direct contact between users and designers throughout the design process (Rubin, 1994). Typically in User-Centered Design the users have little or no control over the design process itself. Fundamentally they are testers rather than designers, revealing design shortcomings rather than proposing design ideas. In this context, where children only act as testers of prototypes designed by adults for young audiences, their involvement is relatively uncontroversial.
Contextual Design is described by Beyer and Holtzblatt (1999, p. 32) as “a state-of-the-art approach to designing products directly from a designer’s understanding of how the customer works.” Designers collect data from users’ own environments by observing them performing typical activities. They usually record observational data and conduct one-on-one interviews with users in order to develop a deeper understanding of the users’ work practices. They then apply work modeling using such techniques as pictorial charts, storyboarding, and low-tech prototyping. In Contextual Design, therefore, the users’ role is critical but passive: it is their behavior rather than their ideas that inform the process. This methodology can be applied to children as technology users when the classroom or home is substituted for the adults’ workplace.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Cooperative Inquiry: A design methodology in which children and adults cooperate as equals within an intergenerational team throughout the design process.
Prototyping: The process of creating an initial design.
Children: Young people, typically aged 12 years and younger.
Informant Design: A design methodology in which children and adults are invited to inform the design throughout different stages of the design process.
Participatory Design: A design methodology in which users participate actively in the design process.
Bonded Design: A design methodology in which children play an active part in the design process alongside adult designers in an intergenerational team to accomplish a specific objective over a limited number of planned sessions.
Design Methodology: A set of techniques normally involving users as well as designers to be employed in creating new technologies.