Research & Art

Design education for kids and young people

Aalto’s Design Inside initiative and Aalto University Junior program collaborate for providing children with design understanding and skills.
Aalto-yliopisto Juniorin aulatila: värikäs julisteiden peittämä seinä ja vihreä kulmasohva
Aalto University Junior lobby, photo: Emilia Ståhlberg

Aalto University Junior offers activities in art, science, technology and business for children, young people and teachers – the goal is to activate them into the world of creative projects. The activities are designed for 7–18 year olds to experience what is taught at Aalto University and to get acquainted with content not provided in the schools.

Aalto University Junior and Design Inside initiative collaboration aims to equip children with active problem-framing and solving skills, abilities to explore and visualize, courage to build prototypes and learn by experimenting.

In the first stage, three design workshops were developed for kids in different age groups. The themes reflect current design practices taught in the Aalto University.

The aim of the collaboration was to create a topical workshop for introducing children to design and design thinking in the spirit of Aalto University Junior: through creativity, playfulness and exploratory learning.

‘With this kind of cooperation, we can create interesting, multidisciplinary workshops and bring the fields studied at Aalto closer to children and young people’, says Ida Ruuth, Art and Design Coordinator at Aalto University Junior.

User-centered design

The first workshop was piloted in November 2019, where participants aged 15–16 were given the task of designing a travel kit for their colleague. The goal of the exercise is to teach children user-centered design. The aim was to introduce them to the stages of design process: immersion, analysis and problem framing, ideation and prototyping, always with a focus on the user to whom they were designing for.

‘The main pedagogical goals in the work are to teach communication and design thinking. In the work, it is as important to be able to plan and implement as a designer as to be open and give constructive feedback in the role of a user’, says Paavo Makkonen, instructor at Aalto University Junior.

Children are naturally drawn to exploring and trying out new things – all necessary qualities for a designer."

Design student Virve Boesch

The work is done in pairs and every participant make their own plan and prototype. The work begins by interviewing the colleague, to create an idea of the user for whom the personal travel kit is planned. The travel kit can be anything the user might need on their trip.

Based on the design, a prototype of the travel kit is built using available materials, such as fabrics, cardboard, string, legos, modeling wax, and recycled scrap. The workshop culminates in a demonstration of the prototypes and receiving of potential user experiences. The user provides feedback to the prototype manufacturer on how well it meets the needs.

Next steps under way

Design student Virve Boesch, studying in Aalto’s Collaborative and Industrial Design master’s programme, is researching and developing a theoretical basis for the design learning activities, together with Aalto University Junior.

Design education is a relatively new practice, and Boesch is trying to find out how to facilitate workshops on the subject in the elementary school level.

‘Children are naturally drawn to observing, exploring and trying out new things – all necessary qualities for a designer’, says Boesch.

Furthermore, research suggests that design projects help to develop teamwork and project planning skills within children and even empower them to think of oneself as a change actor for the future.

‘When planning the workshops, it is important to consider also the pedagogical aspects and the practical methods of delivering new information. The Design Museum and Suomen Muotoilukasvatusseura SUOMU ry are important actors in the field in Finland. We can learn something from them, too’, says Boesch.

So far, the work is still in progress. The result of the project will be a design summer camp for children. Aalto University Junior instructors Rasmus Förster, Aura Latva-Somppi and Olli-Pekka Saukkoinen have been involved in the planning.

‘We’re looking forward to seeing the workshop plans in action, hopefully, this summer!’, says Virve Boesch.

More information

Coordinator Ida Ruuth, Aalto University Junior, [email protected]

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