Children’s creativity is increasingly valued by adults and, subsequently, their impact on society. On the other hand, there is a strong technology push that often violates children’s rights and needs to be mitigated. Both forces lead to an increased demand for including children in the design process of new technology. The International Association for Children’s Rights in Design proposed a set of guidelines for design professionals to consider children’s rights in a creative process.
Children’s creativity has traditionally been seen as ‘child’s play’, defined as ‘little-C creativity’1. The term little-c creativity and its counterpart, big-C Creativity, discriminates everyday creativity (e.g., creatively arranging photos, creating a new menu from left-overs) from eminent creativity (e.g., the creative genius required to make a societal or cultural impact). However, we need to revisit this view. There are an increasing number of examples where children have created or contributed to solutions that have had a societal impact. Recent examples are Emma Yang (app to support elderly with Dementia2), Kelvin Doe (engineered a battery from scrap materials), and Zea Tongeman (game to increase motivation to recycle). With the plethora of generative tools available (such as coding platforms) and the knowledge to deploy them (in wikis and videos), children now find themselves within a perfect storm of opportunity to transform their situation. Therefore, society must reform its ‘small c’ perceptions of children into being ‘pro-C creative,’ in other words ‘capable of creative acts within an organisation, community or domain’1, and proactively include them in the design process.
While early access to digital tools and content has created opportunities for children, innovations in this space are increasingly being used to target children for commercial purposes. Facebook and Google explicitly aim to target children as young as six years old to monetise their behaviour. For some years, concerns over how to keep children safe when interacting with intelligent, online technology have grown, as proven by the introduction of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (USA, 1998), De Code voor Kinderrechten (the Netherlands, 2021), the Age Appropriate Design Code (UK, 2021), and General Comment 25 on ‘Children’s Rights Concerning the Digital Environment’, adopted by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2021. These kinds of regulations and recommendations focus on prescribing a safe, healthy, and appropriate outcome and how to assess that. However, design experts and child experts realised this approach only allows for the evaluation of technology after its release. To guarantee that a released product respects children’s rights, health, and development, a focus on children should take place during the creative process. But how do we do that?
In 2018, a group of designers, psychologists, neuroscientists, health care specialists, educators, and children’s rights experts collaborated with UNICEF to create the first version of a guide that includes children’s rights in a design process. Since then, it has been further developed into a set of design principles and methods to help create a design process that companies can adopt. This contribution will conclude with the latest version of these principles, including the wording chosen by children worldwide. The initiative materialised into an association to maintain these principles and describe methods to implement them in the creative process. The association aims to spark local chapters worldwide to help designers get experience working with these principles. The first companies have been reported to include (some of) these principles in their ethical code.
The increased recognition of the impact of children’s creativity parallels interestingly with the forecast of the World Economic Forum for 2020 and 2030: creativity is in the top three assets of the future workforce3,4. Recent studies with adults also demonstrate designers create more innovative concepts and ideas when working within a co-design environment than when creating ideas individually5,6. The paragraphs above provide evidence for the idea that the creativity of (some) children counts as ‘pro-C creativity.’ Subsequently, it would be logical to assume designers could also be more creative when working with children within a co-design environment. Evidence for that assumption requires insights about the design activities that yield the best contributions in terms of creativity when applied with children. So to design something truly creative and, at the same time, inclusive of children’s needs, let’s include children’s creativity and their rights in the design process.
In 2018, the association D4CR started with 10 principles phrased by professionals in children’s rights and design. Since then, they’ve continued to evolve, for example, by having them rephrased by children. The principles are actively maintained by D4CR, where you can find the latest version and information: https://designingforchildrensrights.org/.
“Include me and my friends equally.”
– Boy, 15, Finland
I need a product that does not discriminate against characteristics such as gender, age, ability, language, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Support this diversity in all aspects of your company’s design (including advertising). Expect me to use your product in unintended ways and keep in mind that I might use your product even if it’s not designed for me.
Consult and regularly evaluate the current attitude and use of your products with a panel of children. A panel of children who work with you for a few years helps gain more in-depth insights. For more concrete examples, look at the work of Fails and Druin7 or the Designathon movement8.
Everyone can use.
RIGHT TO NON-DISCRIMINATION
“Let me grow at my own pace and I will ask for support when I need it.”
– Preisha, 12, Finland
I need to experiment, take risks, and learn from my mistakes. If or when there are mistakes, support me to fix them by myself or with an adult. Encourage my curiosity but consider my capabilities based on age and development. I need support to acquire new skills and encouragement to try self-driven challenges.
Define your target group of children clearly in terms of age and associated capabilities and development. Design for a persona and think about how your product supports that persona from one relevant milestone to the next. For example, make use of the Developmental Situated Design cards9.
Give me room to explore and support my growth.
RIGHT TO DEVELOPMENT
“I am and I can, so take my ideas into account first.”
– Karolin, 11, Estonia
Help me understand my place and value in the world. I need space to build and express a stronger sense of self. You can help me do this by involving me as a contributor (not just a consumer).
If your product involves, for example, a support platform, allow children to contribute solutions. If your product supports a maker community, allow children to develop skills based on their level of competence with your product rather than their age. Allow for safe, appropriate, user-generated content. A great example is LEGO building community (https://ideas.lego.com/howitworks).
I have purpose so make my influence matter.
RIGHT TO PARTICIPATE
“Offer me ways to protect myself and to help me and my friends understand how to stay in control of our safety.”
– Girl, 11, India
Make sure your products are safe for me to use and do not assume anyone else will ensure my safety. A marked path or ‘lifeguard’ can tell me why something is unsafe and inform me on how to stay safe.
Help me to improve my digital literacy. Give me tools to distance myself from those I do not want to have contact with, making unwanted content or contacts easy to block. Do not expose me to unwanted, inappropriate, or illegal content. Provide me with a model for healthy behaviour and make sure you equip my guardians with an understanding of this.
Make access to helplines very obviously accessible for children, for example, using chat functionality with typing, but also consider voice services for the age that cannot read yet. Consider an alert button for children to mark unwanted, inappropriate, or illegal content. Include parents and children in the design process to ideate acceptable and practical solutions. Examples are the report buttons in Facebook or a browser plugin similar to the Dutch initiative https://meldknop.nlOffer me something safe and keep me protected.
RIGHT TO BE PROTECTED
“Respect the data you get and let me know who will have access.”
– Mark and Gerben, 11, The Netherlands
“I'm okay with sharing my achievements, not my activity."
– Myra, 4, USA
Help me keep control over my data by giving me choices about what data to share, for what purpose, and let me know how my data is used. Do not take any more than you need, and do not monetise my personal data or give it to other people. Care about me by respecting my data.
Reconsider your technological options; online storage and internet connections are not the only way to communicate between devices. Local networks and/or ad-hoc communication can be realised in several ways, without online access. Make sure you only implement what you need. Do not misuse my data.
RIGHT TO PRIVACY
“Give me more time to play; allow me to use my time to play.”
– Olympia, 9 and Kostis, 10, Greece
When using your product or service, consider different moods, views, and contexts of play. I am active, curious, and creative but guide me to have a break and do not forget to offer me some breathing space. Foster interactive and passive time and encourage me to take breaks. Make it easy to set my limits and help to develop and transform them as my understanding of the world around me broadens.
Current casual games and social media platforms are optimised for lengthy screen times and strong retention. Include in the user journey a possibility to take time off the screen and maybe extend the journey to physical activities. Some powerful examples of these mechanics can be found in Animal Crossing and Pokémon Go. Create space for play, including a choice to relax.
RIGHT TO DEVELOPMENT, RIGHT TO LEARN, RIGHT TO LEISURE AND PLAY
“Make a product with which I can make something of my own together with my friends, learn something and share it with others.”
– Mehmet, 12, The Netherlands
My well-being, social life, play, creativity, self-expression, and learning can be enhanced when I collaborate and share with others. Provide me with experiences to help me build relationships and social skills with my peers and community, but also give me the tools to distance myself from those I do not want to have contact with. Encourage equality in your product or service by not highlighting differences that can be used in discrimination, such as the number of friends or likes.
If your products use avatars, make their representation relatable for all children, both visually and in their behaviour. Implementations of products with inclusive avatars can be found in, for example, the products of LEGO Friends and the games of Toca Boca. Encourage me to be active and play with others.
RIGHT TO DEVELOPMENT, RIGHT TO PARTICIPATE
“Ads should be different from the content I am expecting and use questions instead of “do-sentences” when making me an offer.”
– Myra, 4, USA
Label advertising clearly, so I do not confuse it with other information. Transparently indicate when actions in your product or service commit me to download content or commit to exclusive use of your product. Make sure I fully understand all purchases before I am paying for those in or through your product or service.
Test early with children of different ages to learn what and how they distinguish commercial activities. Also, observe how quickly they learn to distinguish commercial activities from actions that belong to your product. Consult with parents to understand what they think is appropriate and acceptable exposure to commercial activities. Help me recognise and understand commercial activities.
RIGHT TO INFORMATION
“Use clear and understandable pictures and sentences. Let me answer in a way that suits me.”
– Mark and Gerben, 11, The Netherlands
Make sure I understand all relevant information that has an impact on me. This includes the terms and conditions of your product or service. Consider all forms of communication (visuals, sound etc.) and make it accessible to all. Keep in mind that age, ability, culture, and language impact my understanding.
Involve children in the design process, create communication with them, and test the results early in the development process. If you release internationally, make sure to run local studies in key markets. Use communication I can understand.
RIGHT TO COMMUNICATION
“Let me show you how I live my life and what is important to me.”
– Girl, 9, Finland
You should spend time with me when you design a product or a service I may use. My friends, parents, teachers, and communities also care about your product or service, so include them in the process. We have good ideas that could help you. Also, ensure that you talk with people who are experts on my needs.
Incorporate the views of young people by working with a panel of children you can consult with to evaluate your products. Ensure children of different ages and backgrounds are represented to work with you for a few years to gain more in-depth insights. For more concrete examples, look at the work of the Designathon movement8.
You don’t know me, so make sure you include me.
RIGHT TO BE HEARD, RIGHT TO PARTICIPATE
A LITTLE NOTE
The principles were worded by children with the help of the following grown-ups:
Eva Liisa Kubinyi
Grown-up version: https://childrensdesignguide.org/principles/
The principles are maintained by the design for the children’s rights association.