What Children Have Taught Me About Design :: UXmatters

Fostering Wonder and Optimism

If, as adults, we could retain half the wonder and optimism children have, the human race would be unstoppable. First of all, kids are so much better at innovation than adults generally are. When I told this to my daughter’s class, they were so happy to learn that they were smarter than their parents. As humorous as it might seem, there is more than a grain of truth to this. We used to have really good imaginations, never seeing boundaries, only opportunities. We had the ability to address every issue with an open mind and truly desired and believed in our ability to succeed.

But, somewhere along the line, we lost this as adults. We always seem to put up barriers and are unable to see past our own myopic views. And in the world of enterprise software? Forget it. Everything is about velocity and user stories and points and scope. What is imaginative about that? Enterprise software gets built, but is almost never actually designed. We focus on the wrong metrics because we don’t approach software design with the innovative, transformative mindset that we should.

Being Undaunted by Failure

Children are natural designers and tinkerers, and failure never sways them. After reading the story to the class, I asked them to think about how the people in the story could have prevented the Naughty Bird from going to the bathroom on them. This was the design phase, and we wrote down everything they said. The kindergartners yelled out classic solutions such as building some sort of shield or protective device. But one child, who suggested one of the most innovative, heartfelt solutions, said with all sincerity, “Talk to the bird and find out why he is doing this.” To me, this was one of the most proactive solutions—one that should resonate with anyone creating a product or service for someone else. This child, without even knowing about user research, talked about empathy and figured out that knowing the real reason behind behavior was the key to changing it.

Too often, we just yell out solutions, thinking we understand the problems for which we’re designing solutions. But, even for seasoned UX designers, taking a step back and opening our minds is key to helping us see the real solution.

Making Things

It is hard for all of us, whether children or adults, to make do with what we have on hand. The next part of the workshop was having the children actually build their ideas. I gave each child equal amounts of the same materials with which to build their prototype, including paper, Velcro, tape, paper clips, and other materials. They each had ten minutes to make a prototype. At one point, a child came up to me frustrated, saying he needed “more stuff” to build his prototype. We’ve all faced this quintessential problem. While I felt bad telling the child that part of design—and real life—is sometimes having to make do with what we have. I also knew this was a lesson we should all be better aware of.

Wrapping Up

Having experienced this design-thinking workshop, the children felt accomplished and so did I. As a designer, I found this experience refreshing and invigorating. I learned more about design and human behavior during this workshop than I have from most books and classes. Since having this experience, I have been able to apply so many of the lessons I learned to my adult colleagues, during sessions with leaders in the enterprise-software space. All because of a book about a Naughty Bird and some time I spent with some future designers. I encourage anyone in the design space to experiment with doing something similar. Such experiences can only make us better—in both design and life.  

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