I facilitated a session at Mozfest last weekend on Designing Creative Technology Playgrounds for Families. In this session, I invited attendees (anyone who’s been in a family can contribute to this!) to brainstorm and discuss ways we can design creative technology spaces that can support all ages, interests, and expertise in designing and inventing together.
There have already been awesome efforts to support family-friendly spaces such as LAMakerspace and Mothership. The Makerspace team have also developed a Makerspace Playbook with design suggestions and thinking. Tara Tiger Brown who helped start LA Makerspace wrote a great and thoughtful blog post outlining the kinds of needs to support a kid-friendly hackerspace. Once she and her collaborators found a space, she wrote a follow-up blog post describing their journey and the new space.
The session actually started before the slotted Sunday afternoon time. When I was talking through my session with Michelle Thorne (the super awesome organizer of Mozfest!), she encouraged me to hack the event space in Ravensbourne. I then brought along a long piece of butcher paper across the Atlantic and posted it along one wall. I asked people to answer the question: “How can we design hackerspaces for families?”
It was a great way to get asynchronous participation during Mozfest, to help me prepare, and to seed the conversations for the actual session. For example, while I was observing people respond and discuss the question around the poster, one mom asked her daughter to explain the meaning of hackerspace. I realized that “hackerspace” and “hacker” might evoke different definitions across many backgrounds. This observation informed one of the first activities of the session.
Among the attendees, we had a great group of people at various stages trying to answer that question. Some people came because they were curious about the topic, some wanted to start family-friendly spaces, and others already had hackerspaces/makerspaces that were kid-friendly, but they wanted to make it inviting to the whole family.
Before jumping into the brainstorming at the start of the session, I decided to surface people’s definitions of hackerspace first, by asking attendees to write words, images, and phrases that come to mind when they think of hackerspace.
Some themes that came up that people used to describe a hackerspace:
- Making, inventing, creating
- Magic, fun
- Tools and skills
- Place, sandbox
- Intimidating, scary for newcomers
This surfacing was useful in motivating the rest of the discussion. How can we design a creative technology space that enables people to design, invent, and experience the magic and fun of making, connecting, and sharing? How can we make sure that this space is inviting, inclusive, and supportive for not just people who are already inclined to design and invent, but to those who are new or unfamiliar with making?
In the next activity, I asked everyone to think about what such a space would need. After many colorful post-its, we decided to drill down on three themes that emerged:
- How can we design meaningful activities to engage all members of a family in creative learning experiences?
- What would the space require to support the needs of making and the needs of families (which can include many ages, interests, backgrounds, and dynamics)?
- How do you build a community to participate, contribute, and manage the space?
Our group came up with lots of great ideas. (Check out our written notes.) One theme that came out of the smaller group discussions was including communities and families in the design and planning of the space. People emphasized the importance of incorporating the needs of local communities into account, rather than prescribing the entire space and experience. However, designers must balance supporting what the community wants and encouraging serendipity, or being open to new experiences. Childcare also popped up in conversations (and post-its) as well as making the space and tools safe. Other ideas included designing activities that used themes to invite a variety of interests and styles, such as food hacking or holidays.
Just as ideas were generated, so were lots of questions. In designing activities, how can we support meaningful and equitable participation? What activities can enable kids to be the facilitators and experts rather than just the adults? How can family-friendly activities be challenging and engaging for adults too? What can we learn from dynamics in other settings such as the home, classrooms, playgrounds, and schools?
There’s definitely more to be discussed around this topic and our conversations helped us all get started. I hope to follow many of the efforts of people who attended as well as look at the possibilites here in the Boston area. If you’re interested in talking more, please contact me or leave your thoughts in the comments below!