Designing playful situations for VIVITA Design Sprint

This June, shortly after the restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic were lifted, we were eager to resume with our Design Sprint series, finding the topic of health and well-being more fitting to deal with than any other global development issue at this time. In preparation for the workshop, children were asked to consider what factors and behaviours impact their health and how health in turn influences their everyday life.

Based on past experiences, we were interested to test some newly devised props to support teamwork, add interactivity and playfulness and allow for seamless transitions in the design process. Having a smaller group of children, six altogether, helped us focus on analysing the situations as they were arising.

Playful props

In order to help children connect to and express their emotions related to the topic, we designed a simple prop inspired by the Make a Face toy by Moon Picnic. Accidentally, we didn’t introduce it as a “facial expression tool”, which allowed for much broader interpretations and personally meaningful stories to unfold. For example, wooden shapes were used to illustrate overweight or otherwise unhealthy people or to portray how communities function. As children were manipulating the tool in various ways and in pairs, they began conversing and getting warmed-up for the subsequent teamwork.

A playful tool to help express positive and negative emotions related to the problem at hand. Photo credit: VIVITA Estonia.

Later on, we used LEGO bricks similarly to build individual scenarios around health-related aspects that affected each child the most. Children recreated various stories about people staying at home and ignoring the problems of the world, such as overeating, creating excessive waste, not finding enough time to meet friends. One child also visualised a society that keeps smiling on the outside, but is broken on the inside. This helped discuss common interests and form groups organically around topics that were interconnected.

Creating scenarios from LEGO bricks. Photo credit: VIVITA Estonia.

Once teams were formed around a design problem to be solved, we mentored them to define a more specific design mission by asking how and why. They filled in their answers in the posters made specifically for the task, which later reminded them of their objective and helped them stay on track.

Using A3 posters to define each team's design mission. Photo credit: VIVITA Estonia.

Unlike previously when we used the Crazy 8 ideation template, this time we decided to give each participant a set of blank cards to generate ideas individually and then present them to the team members. This seemed to help identify more ideas. However, some were repetitive or variations of the same at different levels of detail, which might have been avoided if all ideas were generated on a single piece of paper. Still, having the cards separately helped the teams find patterns and combine ideas when choosing which qualities to incorporate in the final solutions. In hindsight, this early in the process, we should have invited them explicitly to think out of the box and beyond practical limitations.

Drawing ideas and discussing them in the teams. Photo credit: VIVITA Estonia.

This is related to another weak link in the process: giving feedback. Using a prop that can be passed around to give everyone a chance to say something did help, yet children were more likely to ask questions and criticise rather than positively expand on others’ ideas. This is understandable, as it is the first time for each team to become introduced in more detail to the solutions proposed by the others. In order to engage everyone in a “Yes, and..” brainstorming, perhaps it would have to come after gaining enough information and be acted out together with the mentors in a lively, playful manner.

All these new props helped children get acquainted with the topic, but also get more comfortable with each other. The games we used created a fresher, more dynamic setup and versatility that were needed on that first day when most of the work being done involves thinking and talking. It also prepared the teams for all the great work they did once making the prototypes began.

Children’s proposals

We were pleased to hear children associate well-being not only with poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles, but also with psychological factors, such as loneliness and social isolation.

The first group’s design mission was to create events that help those who feel lonely. Children proposed a 5-story house on the outskirts of the city where people could come together and make new friends. To create a cosy atmosphere, the house would be equipped with a kitchen area, a rooftop terrace with a slide down to the swimming pool in the garden, a board game room, etc.

Drawings and notes of the 5-story house. Photo credit: VIVITA Estonia.
A 5-story house for meeting new people. Photo credit: VIVITA Estonia.

The other group’s design mission was to make walking in the woods more fun and attractive for children. Children proposed an adventure trail alongside existing paths in the forest and more camping and resting areas. This way, children could climb on the trees and be more active while adults are walking on the path.

Drawings and notes of the adventure trail. Photo credit: VIVITA Estonia.
An adventure trail alongside existing paths in the forest. Photo credit: VIVITA Estonia.

Despite some technical issues, by giving the task to shoot the videos to the children themselves and shifting the focus from them as presenters to the prototypes they created, we successfully overcame previous challenges related to watching the videos altogether as a group. Based on a child’s idea from the previous Design Sprint, we introduced an additional task of writing a letter to experts to present the solution and ask for further support. Children were very good at identifying the kind of help they would need, as well as promoting the strengths of their proposals to a wider public.

Children shooting the videos themselves. Photo credit: VIVITA Estonia.
Children writing letters to experts. Photo credit: VIVITA Estonia.

At the end of the workshop, everyone had a chance to choose and take home a small token to symbolise the one quality they improved on as a result of their participation in the Design Sprint: playfulness, imagination, attentiveness, courage, empathy, persuasiveness.

Tokens with different qualities: playfulness, imagination, attentiveness, courage, empathy, persuasiveness. Photo credit: VIVITA Estonia.

This season, VIVISTOP Telliskivi organised four different Design Sprints on topics ranging from climate action to responsible production and consumption to water pollution and health and well-being. With all the careful analysis and planning, each workshop brought successful solutions as well as new challenges and opportunities for improvement. Teamwork remains the biggest difficulty for the children, but it’s without a doubt one of the most important skills to develop for the 21st century. It’s important to create an understanding from the very get-go that VIVITA Design Sprints are about collaboration, combining skills and abilities, willingness to learn about and from each other. Despite the various personalities coming together and the initial discomfort and uneasiness, it is up to the mentors to create a safe atmosphere, facilitate discussions and minimise competitiveness among the children.

VIVITA Design Sprint workshop series is organised by Eva Liisa Kubinyi, Vera Naydenova and Mari-Liis Peets.