Piloting Questions with Kids First

Before distributing the cultural probe kits on the kids, it is best to test out the questions on a few children first to make sure that an average child of the same age understands the requirements. Often, researchers discover missing points or realize issues that only become apparent with the child’s input. Initially, we met with Professor Bahous who teaches education in the Lebanese American University in Beirut, to look over our questions and give us feedback, as she is extensively experienced with such projects and Lebanese children. We also met up with Nadine Touma of Dar Onboz, who recently finished filming a documentary with children and their families in Lebanese rural areas concentrating on their traditional eating habits.

We asked parents and friends to help us find children between the ages of 10 and 12 from different demographics across Lebanon, who would be willing to test the questions with us. Some of the questions (see above) are very personal and would give us insight about how the kids feel about the world surrounding them and themselves, the answers could help us find smarter ways to reach them and  better ways to integrate a healthy lifestyle into their everyday lives. We are currently piloting our probe kit questions before mass producing a significant quantity and issuing them to schools who have already approved the project. Thanks to Toufoula’s founded reputation and previous projects, the dispensation part of the project has been relatively easy for the MENA Design Research Center.


Designing Cultural Probe Kits for Lebanese Kids

In collaboration with Toufoula, a Lebanese NGO dedicated to improving children’s quality of life, the MENA Design Research Center is currently involved in developing innovative tools for better health awareness amongst the youth in Lebanon. Following their last Dream Rooms project, Toufoula approached us with a new initiative. The aim is to promote healthier lifestyles within the young community but unlike traditional awareness campaigns, we decided to embark on a different endeavor. In order to find out how to reach today’s kids, we designed cultural probe kits that would help us dig deeper into their world and learn more about their interests and health awareness through inspirational qualitative data. Coming up with the right questions to ask is the most crucial part of the design process; we concentrated on giving the kids all the tools that could convey their thought, ideas, opinions and feelings. By introducing a camera, the child could now take a photo of a preferred object or setting, a sound recorder to explain certain emotions that might be more difficult to write down, stickers to indicate likes and dislikes, and colorfully animated postcards to be inspired and answer some personal questions about themselves. All these various multi-sensual and interactive methods allow the child to be more responsive and intuitive. This form of design research has proven to be far more effective than concrete interviews with researchers in sterile observation rooms with stalking cameras. It allows the child to feel free in his /her environment and explore his/ her world with creativity and insight. We are currently prototyping the first kit which will soon be distributed to a school in Beirut. The results will be collected and analyzed for further modification before mass production and distribution.


Design for Social Innovation

One of the greatest outcomes of design research is its application in the field of what is now known as social innovation. Using research methods such as participatory or co-design and human-centered design, we are creating new concepts and strategies to deal with the world’s greater problems. Issues regarding health, community, education, civil society, and the environment are some of the numerous topics that are currently in research by teams of designers, strategists, social workers, anthropologists.. and an abundance of various relevant fields. Some of the most innovative projects that have created much awareness respectively and have contributed to today’s societies are for example the One Laptop per Child project, aimed at motivating African kids to embrace education; Jamie Oliver and IDEO’s open food Revolution, encouraging better health choices for kids; and FROG’s Project M, which uses mobile phone technology to fight against HIV and other epidemics in South Africa. What makes design research a compelling attribute to these complex social problems is the detailed observation of the existing systems within the context, and the design thinking methodology of integrating out-of-the-box solutions -from basic analogue to highly advanced technologies. All methods are prototyped and tested whilst modifications, ensuring the effectiveness of the result through trial and error. By letting go of all assumptions and cliches, trying the ‘unthinkable’, and experimenting with basic tools, some designers have managed to solve more solutions for people’s lives than most of the world’s powerful politicians.

So yes, design sometimes CAN save the world.