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Prototyping Research Methods

Participatory Design | Collaborative Research

My Role

Design Researcher


The participatory design handbook (Ferguson & Candy, 2014) defines this method as 'an approach that centers around the idea that people who are affected by a decision, event or product should have an opportunity to influence it.' Through this method, the users are empowered to investigate and define the problem space as the stakeholders and also to be present in conducting and designing the solution. 'It is important to value their knowledge whether it has been gained through professional training or lived experience.' (Ferguson & Candy, 2014, p.4)

This method is a great way to explore the topic of 'playgrounds' since it directly involves children; a group that has different perceptions on their surroundings and are sensitive to certain elements that an adult might overlook. With this participatory approach, the researchers/designers would act as facilitators to help children come up with the solution, rather than designing a solution 'for' them. This method however requires expertise and certain research preparation, such as consulting with professionals for having appropriate communication tools and getting consent from the kids and their guardians before initiating any activity.

Research Question

After our initial interviews with parents, the one common problem we found out was that, 'due to COVID-19', parents were not comfortable taking their kids out to play like before and they had to use other methods to keep them engaged at home, which mostly relied on screens. The pandemic has altered day-to-day activities in the past year and has brought upon new sets of limitations for everyone. Being forced to study online has changed the dynamics of a household and the way children would interact with digital devices both for educational and entertainment purposes. Therefore we decided to focus on indoor play spaces for children of the age of 6 to 10 years, which may require direct supervision from their guardians.

'How can we design an indoor activity for children
to reduce screen time using low-fidelity materials?'

Initial Research

We began by visualizing the variables involved on a 2x2 matrix based on the age group from 'Toddlers' to 'Adults' and the play area from 'Indoors' to 'Outdoors'. This helped us identify the section we were going to focus on; Indoor play spaces for children between the ages of 6 to 10 years. The participatory method is a great way to go through this research as it would allow us to directly involve the children in the project as co-designers and not just as end-users, in order to come up with a solution that fully meets their needs.


In participatory research, involving participants from the very beginning is crucial, as they possess valuable knowledge we may lack. Initially, we assumed problems parents face with their children, such as video game addiction, excessive screen time, and aggressive behavior. To test these assumptions, we interviewed two parents in our cohort with children in the target age group. Since this project was a test-run, we didn't interview the children, as that would have required Research Ethics Board approval. However, children are the real stakeholders and co-designers. These interviews provided clear insights and a better understanding of the problem area and pain points.

This topic requires different sets of expertise such as ‘children psychology’ and ‘game design’. To have a solid starting point, consulting with a number of professionals would be constructive and helpful to conduct the next steps. However, given the limited time for the assignment, we researched around those topics and analyzed a few existing projects to better understand their features and how they were successful or not. One of these was studying 'KidZania', which is an interactive city made for children of ages between 1-14 that combines inspiration, fun and learning through realistic role-play.

Participatory Activities

Next, in order to put participation into practice, we planned 3 sets of participatory activities in the project by using the 3 sets of tools (Ferguson & Candy, 2014, p. 6)

  • Making tools - tools and techniques for making tangible things

  • Telling tools – tools and techniques that support verbally oriented activities such as talking and explaining

  • Enacting tools – tools and techniques to facilitate acting and playing

These activities are conducted to further investigate the elements that would engage children in a game. By going through these activities, we would get new insight and will be able to refine and reiterate them again in future


Test Runs

Interviewing Parents

We started off by interviewing parents who had children of our targeted age group.

Screenshot 2024-05-31 011234

Outcome 1

Made us have a better understanding of the problem area which guided us into redefining our research question.

Playing on an iPad

One of us  played the role of a 8 year old kid and tried to play two different games on an iPad: ‘PAC-MAN’ & ‘Bake Shop’. This activity was run to analyze the existing features in a digital game that some kids would prefer over a physical activity. The facilitator would monitor the playing experience and noted down the responses throughout the game. (ex. How would the kid react when they lose/win?, What kept them engaged?...)


Outcome 2

The importance of audio and visual cues in a game to keep the children occupied and create a sense of achievement. These elements would become handy in the future stages of the project when designing an offline activity.

Create your own avatar

An activity was designed using a simple paper ‘tippy tippy tap’. The facilitator would use this as a gamified tool to ask the kid a number of questions about an imaginary character of their choice. At the end, the kid gets to name the character and then is asked to create it with some craft materials such as paper, cardboards, colors, etc. The facilitator would help the children to make their creation and by the end of the activity the kid would have their own low-fid action figure/doll.


Crucial Insights

Engagement without digital tools:

  • We designed an activity using low-fidelity materials, avoiding reliance on digital tools to keep children engaged.​


Creativity Enhancement:

  • This activity aims to boost children's creativity by stimulating their imagination.​


Non-Digital Engagement:

  • It encourages engagement through a non-digital approach, fostering creative thinking in a screen-free environment.

Future Iterations

To keep kids engaged, we need a follow-up activity and

co-created storyline for the character. Digital games may

lead to habitual play, limiting creativity. Our research will focus on defining and exploring imagination, testing this hypothesis, and prioritizing creative, evolving activities to continuously engage children’s imagination skills.

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