Career Day: Teaching Kids About Design

Teaching kids about designing for technology: resources and tips

I recently spoke at my children’s school for Career Day. As a User Experience Designer in the web and mobile technology industry, I figured I had some skills that would resonate with young children’s love of devices. That was an understatement, and I wish I had been given more time to hang out and listen to their ideas about design. I have a feeling it wouldn’t take long before I would have learned just as much from them as they had from me.

For anyone considering a similar school presentation, or if you just want to get children interested in the field of design and technology, here are the materials and activities I used in my presentation. These were presented to 1st and 2nd graders, in 30-40 minute sessions, with approximately 18 children in each session. But the approach could be adapted to older audiences and longer sessions.

Posters

I created two posters: the first poster explains the job of a User Experience Designer and the second poster explains some of the elements of design that are typically incorporated into any interface.

Download free posters: teaching user experience and interface design to children

Classroom Activity

Most of my presentation was an interactive activity. I walked the children through the process of generating requirements, ‘wireframing’ a design, and then creating a ‘prototype’ for testing purposes. I gave them the assignment of designing a mobile app that would allow children to choose a vacation destination and let their parents know where they wanted to go.

Elements of Design

I started by talking about the Elements of Design (see poster), focusing mostly on the form controls since most 1st and 2nd graders have a pretty good handle on using color, writing words and drawing pictures. We talked about how color can be used to convey feeling and emotion, typography or letters can set a tone or mood, pictures can create visual interest and communicate an idea more quickly than words.

When it came to form controls, we talked about apps and websites they use on their own devices and what things they do in those apps. The 2nd graders were especially knowledgeable about which controls are used to perform which actions. It was impressive – and a little scary.

Requirements

Because I was working with 1st and 2nd graders, I kept my vocabulary pretty basic. Instead of saying ‘we’re going to write requirements,’ I simply asked what they thought kids would want to see and do in the app. I let the kids guide the conversation, and ideas ranged from very specific (“have a search box” and “include a comparison chart”) – to broader (“make it a game” and “show pictures”). As kids threw out ideas, I wrote them on the whiteboard so we could refer to them later. Once we had a list of 6-8 ‘requirements,’ I let the kids start sketching.

Creating Initial Designs

I handed out mobile phone template sheets (download PDF) as a starting point for our design sketches. I asked the children to draw pictures of things children would see and do and referred them to the list of ‘features’ we had discussed.  After they had some initial ideas down on paper, I showed them this UI stencil and let them take turns adding more controls and icons to their designs.

Tips and tools for teaching user experience and interface design to children

Making Paper Prototypes

When the first couple of students finished their designs, I used their sketches to show the class how to turn their drawings into a prototype that could be used for testing and feedback purposes. Moving from paper to digital was clearly the highlight of my presentation. I used an app called POP that allows you to take photos of sketches and assign actions to tappable regions of the screen.

pop-prototype-app

Creating a digital prototype was akin to performing some sort of magic trick to the children. They loved seeing their designs on an actual phone and being able to tap different elements to move forward and backward within the screens.  I had limited time, so I was only able to create 1-2 prototypes during the sessions, but everyone was clamoring to have their designs become a prototype.

At the end of my session, I handed out take-home sheets so they could continue working on their mobile app – and their future careers as designers – at home.

Side One – Download PDF

Tips and tools for teaching user experience and interface design to children

Side Two – Download PDF

Tips and tools for teaching user experience and interface design to children