Written by Tony Allsopp on Sunday 25th March 2018
I count myself as pretty lucky. Not everyone has a clear idea of what they want to be or do in their career, but when I was about 12 years old I was introduced to the world of graphic design by a teacher and decided that was the career for me. Then at 15, I did two weeks’ work experience at a small design studio, absolutely loved it and realised that being a designer was definitely, unquestionably what I wanted to do.
Fast forward 23 years (doesn’t feel that long!) and here I am, a digital designer on the OPEN Digital team. Every day I get to create bespoke websites, apps and digital experiences - I genuinely love what I do!
So when I was recently asked to speak at my children’s primary school about digital design, I jumped at the chance. I was really excited about the prospect of inspiring even just one youngster to set off down their own creative path, and after running it past our lovely OPEN Health CSR ambassadors I had the time and resources I needed to give a little back.
For my debut teaching experience I was going to have three one-hour lessons, with kids aged 7-11 years old. I had two main objectives in mind - explain to the kids what a designer does, and get them to actually design something themselves.
The problem I was going to have was that the field of ‘digital design’ is really varied. At OPEN Digital we produce everything from email marketing campaigns through to progressive web applications and VR experiences.
After stewing on it for a number of weeks and leaving my homework until the last minute, I decided I needed to narrow the focus and put it into a context that my audience would understand. So instead of talking about digital design in general, I decided to centre my talk around designing apps. Most youngsters have exposure to apps from an early age these days, so it’s a medium they are all familiar with.
So the title and theme of my workshop was now set…
I’m used to speaking to colleagues at OPEN Health and our clients about what I do (quite often joking that it’s basically “colouring in on a computer”), but framing it in way that makes sense to 7-11 year olds whilst doing it justice as a skilled and exciting vocation, is really tough.
In the end, this is how I summarised what a designer does (in the context of designing an app):
So now I’d defined what we do, I needed to explain how to do it and get the kids to put it into practice. The typical ‘Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Validate, Iterate’ UX process isn’t going to cut it with our pre-teen crowd, so here’s how I broke it down and what I asked the kids to do:
Keep it simple, stupid is a principle that all designers will be familiar with. It's a bit clichéd, but it's a nice basic rule. So this was what I asked the kids to bear in mind as they were designing their apps (changing the 'stupid' to 'silly' as I felt it was a bit softer!).
It’s also the reason I decided to make the practical part of my workshop a pencil and paper exercise. I was originally planning to get my young designers creating something on-screen and possibly even interactive, but this was always going to present technical problems in the classroom, and besides, at OPEN Digital we always start on paper so we can get our ideas down fast and iterate!
Ahead of the workshop I put together an ‘app design sketchsheet’, with space for the app name and description, an app icon shape and templates for the screens. Many of the kids flew through the screens, so if you’re planning on running a similar workshop bring plenty of spare sheets!
Want to design your own app? Download the sketchsheet
The whole workshop went down really, really well. The kids were excited about creating something from nothing, and what they did come up with was frankly astounding. Over three, one hour workshops, there were over 60 unique apps created. Most were games of some description, but there were also apps to help you plan parties, book a doctors appointment and even an app that generates excuses for you to get you out of cleaning your room!
Overall this was probably one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. There were a number of children who openly said they didn’t think they could do it, or were obviously uninterested to start with. But with a little bit of encouragement and guidance they went on to produce some really creative apps that they were incredibly proud of at the end.
Here are some of the Awesome Apps that were created...
There’s a lot of emphasis on encouraging coding and web development amongst our youngsters today, which I whole heartedly support. But we also need designers to work with these future engineers, to design their own digital worlds and push the boundaries way further then I could even imagine. After this experience, I have every confidence in our next generation of awesome designers.
If you’re planning on running a similar workshop (which I highly recommend), here are my top tips:
1. Be flexible - don’t be too regimented with timings or structure during your workshop, go with the flow even if it means you don’t get through everything
2. Make it interactive - ask questions, get opinions, encourage discussion from the kids
3. Be funny - drop in a few things to make them laugh, even make fun of yourself a little bit (that will really get them on side!)
4. Talk to everyone - during practical parts of the session, make sure you get round to talk to every single child at least once - one-to-one support really makes a difference to a lot of the kids
5. No dull PPTs - if you’re going to put anything on the screen to show the class, make sure it’s bright, fun and tailored for the audience - no corporate slide decks!