The Role of Children in the Design of New Technology

The Role of Children in the Design of New Technology

Table of Contents


Children play games, chat with friends, tell stories, study history or math, and today this can all be done supported by new technologies. From the Internet to multimedia authoring tools, technology is changing the way children live and learn. As these new technologies become ever more critical to our children’s lives, we need to be sure these technologies support children in ways that make sense for them as young learners, explorers, and avid technology users. This may seem of obvious importance because for almost 20 years the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) community has pursued new ways to understand users of technology. However, with children as users, it has been difficult to bring them into the design process. Children go to school for most of their days; there are existing power structures, biases, and assumptions between adults and children to get beyond; and children, especially young ones have difficulty in verbalizing their thoughts. For all of these reasons, a child’s role in the design of new technology has historically been minimized. Based upon a survey of the literature and my own research experiences with children, this paper defines a framework for understanding the various roles children can have in the design process, and how these roles can impact technologies that are created.


Children, design techniques, participatory design, evaluation, educational applications, User Interfaces— evaluation/methodology, interaction styles


Children have their own likes, dislikes, curiosities, and needs that are not the same as their parents or teachers. As obvious as this may seem, we as designers of new technologies for children, sometimes forget that young people are not “just short adults” but an entirely different user population with their own culture, norms, and complexities (Berman, 1977). Yet, it is common for developers of new technologies to ask parents and teachers what they think their children or students may need, rather than ask children directly (Druin et al., 1999; Druin, 1996). This may in part be due to the traditional power structure of the “all-knowing” adult and the “all-learning” child, where young people are dependent on their parents and teachers for everything from food and shelter to educational experiences. At times, these relationships may make it difficult for children to voice their opinions when it comes to deciding what technologies should be in schools or at home. In addition, we as designers of technologies have our own biases and assumptions about children. Some of us may be parents of our own children, but all of us were once children ourselves with special memories of what we liked and didn’t like about the world. We may also have our own preconceived notions about learning theories and educational strategies, thanks to the many years of schooling that we all had to endure (Druin & Solomon, 1996; Papert, 1972; Solomon, 1986).

All of this adds up to a large amount of personal experience about young people that we may or may not choose to bring with us when we develop new technologies for children. But as we know, these personal impressions may not be enough to support today’s children. While they are fast becoming tomorrow’s power-users of everything from the Internet to multimedia authoring tools (Report to the President on the Use of Technology to Strengthen K-12 Education in the United States, 1997; Fulton, 1997). They are still children that must go to school and depend on their teachers and parents for learning and living in this complex world. In addition, as we know, young children have a more difficult time verbalizing their thoughts, especially when it concerns abstract concepts and actions (Piaget, 1971; Piaget, 1973). While children can be extremely honest in their feedback and comments concerning technology, much of what they say needs to be interpreted within the context of concrete experiences (Druin, 1999).

For all of these reasons, a child’s role in the design of new technology has historically been minimized. In the Human-Computer Interaction community, we have a short but rich history of developing shared paths for communication between diverse users and technologists. However, this history of shared communication is even shorter and less developed for our children as users, testers, informants, and partners in the technology design process. With the emergence of children as an important new consumer group of technology (Heller, 1998), it is critical that we support children in ways that are useful, effective, and meaningful for their needs. With this in mind, we need to question how we can build new technologies that respect children for their ability to challenge themselves and question the world around them. We need to understand how we can create new technologies that offer children control of a world where they are so often not in control.

I believe it is in understanding the role that children can play in the technology design process that will lead to answers. The better we can understand children as people and users of new technologies, the better we can serve their needs. This paper will suggest a framework for understanding the role children have historically had in the technology design process. How these roles can impact the technologies developed and the research methods that are used will be discussed based upon a survey of the literature. How these roles for children compare to adult participation will also be examined, along with the strengths and challenges associated with children in the design process. By understanding this framework in regard to the child’s role, it is my belief that we can make more informed decisions about our research and development practices that can have lasting effects on the future.


Let me argue, that the actual dawn of user interface design first happened when computer designers finally noticed, not just that end-users had functioning minds, but that a better understanding of how these minds worked, would completely shift the paradigm of interaction (Kay, 1990, p.58). It is that process of how we come to understand users, which our HCI community must continually explore and refine. The users we must understand are many times children, with their unique needs and strengths. There are many ways to come to know what children want and need for new technologies. It is our challenge to understand those ways and take advantage of what they have to offer. This paper has discussed the various roles children can play in the design of new technologies (see Table 2 for a summary). With each role, there are difficulties, complexities, demands, and exciting possibilities for children and adults. Depending on the development goals, research questions, resources, and personal philosophies, a certain role for children may be most appropriate. It is important to remember that no one role is suitable for all research and development.

The Role of Children in the Design of New Technology
Summary of the roles of children in the design process

In analyzing these four roles for children, we may wonder if there are ever inappropriate roles for children in the design process. Are there roles that children should not be asked to consider? This can be answered by asking if there are ever inappropriate roles for artists, or educators, or even computer scientists in the design of new technology. I believe the answer is yes. If we ask people to be something that they cannot be, then it is inappropriate. If we do not take advantage of all that an artist or a teacher or a musician can offer the design process, then it is wrong. I believe the same can be said for children. We must understand what they have to offer the design team process. We cannot expect them to program as well as computer scientists. We cannot expect them to know what educational goals need to be covered in a school curriculum as well as a teacher does. But we can expect children to tell us what excites and bores them, what helps them learn, and what can be used in their homes or schools. We can expect children to be creative, honest collaborators.

In the future, we can look forward to greater challenges given the proliferation of new technologies and new more demanding users that are young people. We have a chance to change technology, but more importantly, we have a chance to change the life of a child. Every time a new technology enables a child to do something they never dreamed of, it offers new possibilities for the future.

About KSRA

The Kavian Scientific Research Association (KSRA) is a non-profit research organization to provide research / educational services in December 2013. The members of the community had formed a virtual group on the Viber social network. The core of the Kavian Scientific Association was formed with these members as founders. These individuals, led by Professor Siavosh Kaviani, decided to launch a scientific / research association with an emphasis on education.

KSRA research association, as a non-profit research firm, is committed to providing research services in the field of knowledge. The main beneficiaries of this association are public or private knowledge-based companies, students, researchers, researchers, professors, universities, and industrial and semi-industrial centers around the world.

Our main services Based on Education for all Spectrum people in the world. We want to make an integration between researches and educations. We believe education is the main right of Human beings. So our services should be concentrated on inclusive education.

The KSRA team partners with local under-served communities around the world to improve the access to and quality of knowledge based on education, amplify and augment learning programs where they exist, and create new opportunities for e-learning where traditional education systems are lacking or non-existent.

FULL Paper PDF file:


The Role of Children in the Design of New Technology



Allison Druin University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies Human-Computer Interaction Lab College of Education, Human Development Department




The Role of Children in the Design of New Technology

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Behaviour & Information Technology, Volume 21, 2002


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Nasim Gazerani was born in 1983 in Arak. She holds a Master's degree in Software Engineering from UM University of Malaysia.

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Professor Siavosh Kaviani was born in 1961 in Tehran. He had a professorship. He holds a Ph.D. in Software Engineering from the QL University of Software Development Methodology and an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Chelsea.

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Somayeh Nosrati was born in 1982 in Tehran. She holds a Master's degree in artificial intelligence from Khatam University of Tehran.