Codeinskij

Umeå Institute of DesignNorway

Disrupting, Empowering, Expressing

Concept / Student

Team

Paolo Camerin

Overview

This is a project that explores the realm of programming and art education for young children, trying to bring these two disciplines together in a fun and playful way. The aim is to allow children to express themselves creatively and at the same time explore and understand basic concepts of coding and programming.

From the idea of creating a tool for education, this project has evolved, throughout the iterative design process of prototyping and testing, into a toolbox for personal exploration and discovery of Art and technology. This toolbox aims to give children the opportunity to grow and develop their understanding of digital media and aims to help them create stronger bonds with people around them by sharing and participating together in the activities they will create.

Prototyping is used in this project as an explorative tool to develop the final design and investigate children, their interests, and aspirations. The different iterations have helped get a deeper understanding of the user and the concepts revolving around the topic of art and programming this project tries to talk to.

The outcome is a physical modular interface that allows children to build, piece by piece, a digital and interactive art experience that they can eventually share and play with family and friends.

Project Description

When I first started to investigate the landscape of young children’s education, especially in the context of Programming, Art and Digital Media, I have realised that most of the tools that define this landscape have a very technical approach to the above-mentioned subjects.

Moreover, the artistic part of this landscape has rarely been developed as a focus and driver, for such activities. LEGO Mindstorms and the Scratch programming language, for example, are incredible and powerful tools that allow children to express themselves through new technologies, but have a relatively steep learning curve and tend to be embedded in STEM education programs that most of the time leave Art and artistic expression out of the equation. Here is where I saw an opportunity: take Art and Artistic exploration and make them the focus of an interactive and tangible activity aimed to foster children’s interest in basic concepts of programming as well as explore the concept of digital art.

I, therefore, set myself with the objective to understand what art means for young children and how I could engage them in an activity that would develop their sense of art and artistic expression, their interest in digital media, and programming from a very early stage of their life. This is also due to the fact that digital devices are often demonised for their potentially negative influence on children’s development. But if this is surely true in many cases, we don’t have to forget the power that these tools have, if used in a proactive and conscious way.

This project, therefore, tries to show kids what a digital tool can do if used actively rather than passively. This project followed a user-centred design approach, with a twist, given the infamous circumstances that 2020 brought upon us. However, the challenge of not being able to meet children in person (for most of the initial part of the project) ended up bringing more opportunities to the table.

Not only I could expand the range of my interviews outside of Sweden but I had also to develop different techniques and methodologies for prototyping, testing and validating my designs. From Umeå (Sweden), I connected with families and children all over the world, from Australia to UK, Germany and Italy. I carried out multiple interviews and conversations and developed a system in which I could test prototypes with the “Wizard of OZ” technique, using a combination of Zoom, Figma and custom Javascript applications. I created iterations of the designs sharing them with the children using videos, upon which we had follow-up conversations and feedback sessions.

Empathizing and bonding with the people involved in this project has been the most meaningful and positive experience for me. The project eventually culminated with in-person testing of the latest prototypes which displayed how powerful a tool as simple and direct as Codeinskij could be, for children, to engage with the above-mentioned concepts and with other children.

Seeing the potential for collaboration and the energy and excitement during those sessions was galvanizing.

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