Playful Public Design by Children
Authors: Kin Wai Michael Siu, Kwok Yin Angelina Lo, Yi Lin Wong, Chi Hang Lo
Abstract: The design of public space and facilities in a country park aims to serve a wide scope of people with diverse needs and interests. Research on human factors should include users of different ages and capabilities. Children are often a forgotten category of users for collecting views and preferences in public design. Their voices and ideas are seldom heard and heeded. It is crucial to involve children in the design process to optimise outdoor recreational and educational experience in a country park. Playful Public Design by Children is a design research project which involved 1,023 children aged 3 to 18. They were guided to use a human factors (or ergonomics) approach to identify and solve problems in the real-life setting of Shing Mun Country Park in Hong Kong. The design research, spanning from 2019 to 2020, was conceived and co-led by a public design lab of a university and a group of art and design studios for children and teenagers. This paper reports an investigation of children’s perception of, observations on and concerns about the country park and the values underlying these concerns. Different phases engaged children in site research and visual-based design projects. For clarity and more in-depth discussion, this paper focuses specifically on children aged 8 -12. The projects allowed children to participate in observing the inadequacies of current park features such as space and facilities design. Research findings reveal children’s ability to embrace complexity in different design situations as they adopted the role as researcher, designer and change-maker. The common problem-solving strategies among their proposed design ideas reflect their concern for fun, fulfilment, adventure, action and harmony of different users (animals included) in the shared outdoor environment. Their proposed design solutions go beyond existing park design that covers only functional and physical aspects. Children’s perspective addresses other human factors such as psychological, emotional and social needs of different users resulting in an array of whimsical designs, such as zoomorphic gazebos, tree houses and observation towers for star-gazing, bird-watching, daydreaming and quiet reading. The significance of the research project is in the pedagogical practice that reveals children’s inherent creativity, design ability and potential as contributing citizens. The project changes urban children’s perception of nature, design and problem-solving strategies, and parents’ perception of design education in children’s creative development. Through the lens of children, designers can find a more well-rounded view inclusive of different human factors that can optimise users' interaction with the country park environment.
Keywords: Children participatory design, country park, creative pedagogy, visual-based research, psychological, emotional and social human factors
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