Play Sandbox – Report

Posted on: Friday 03 July 2015 11:12pm by Hannah Lee


  • Understand your aims for the project
  • Consider practical and ethical issues
  • Identify how you have a feedback loop
  • Know your context and limitations
  • Willingness to take risks can pay off
  • Involving children in the design process is worth it


Jo Lansdowne, Simon Moreton, Hannah McVey and Alison Oldfield work as part of REACT, a four year project funded by the Arts Council looking at children’s relationships with digital technology. The session explores how it can be used to give children a different way to learn and new toys to play with, such as introducing technology in playgrounds, and tents for the home which have a story mode and 360 degree images.

REACT work with ‘young coaches’ who were involved in the design processes throughout. The specification for the Play Sandbox activities and the involvement of the children was that activities must be fun, engaging and motivating but the children must also be learning.

Hannah: Hannah’s job encompassed everything to do with decision making when working with children. The project had 14 children between 7 and 12, which is a huge age range to work with, and there were many challenges to overcome. Hannah came in just before the launch of the project and organised the launch event, making sure the children were visible and a part of the project right from the beginning. The launch emphasised the importance of being able to see things through children’s eyes. She said it was a great learning process for working out how children think. Sometimes the children were over excited or didn’t react to things making it more difficult to get feedback from them, but Hannah admits it was a great and honest learning experience.

Alison: Alison is a freelance researcher in Bristol. She measured what happens when children get involved in R&D design processes. Alison noted that for the style of this project, action research made sense as it was about understanding what was happening whilst the process was taking place.

So what can we learn from Play Sandbox about how children can be involved in the collaborative design process?

Children are going to have unique ideas and perspectives and if we’re going to design things for them we should find out what those perspectives are. The difficulty comes with how to involve children. As it was an action research project, everyone involved was interviewed twice and focus groups were held to try to understand and explain what happens in the design process.

Alison talked about the motivations for involving children in the design process. She then spoke about the impact which was ‘overwhelmingly positive’ although challenging. Some of the challenges included being the first project of its kind, and fitting the design process and benchmarks around children’s holidays.

All six design teams involved children differently because of the variety of types of projects. Some were more structured whilst others were more imaginative; this type of designing often mimicked the end product.

Practical and ethical issues included not being able to share children’s personal information which could have which made the design process more personal, and the physical barriers of organising children.

Another major barrier, according to Alison, was that user experience is something happening in children’s minds so it can be difficult to obtain this information. Despite the barriers, Alison was clear to emphasise that working with children in this way was extremely valuable to the design process.

The full paper will soon be available on:

For full details of the speakers check the Session Guide.

Event Reports

Hannah Lee

About the author

Hannah Lee

Sheffield Hallam University, Graduate

I am a recent English and History graduate of Sheffield Hallam University who is currently seeking full time employment. My interests include reading, writing and latin and ballroom dancing. I have enjoyed being a general volunteer at The CMC for the previous two years. This year I have successfully become… Read more