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Layers of imagination and exploration might get lost if we don’t create experiences for children


Chris Lindgren is a Swedish Play Designer and User Experience Researcher, and an advocate for inclusive and ethical design for children. On Friday 12 July, she’ll be participating in the panel discussion at the UKLA’s International Conference in Sheffield. Ahead of the event, we wanted to get to know her a little better. Here’s what she had to say…

"I’ve been working within interactive media for children for a long time. I spent the last eight years with Toca Boca, an award-winning play studio, creating apps for children that focused on play and creativity. Recently I decided I’d like to broaden my horizons so set up my own company. Right now I’m working with a children’s book publisher helping them define strategies for digital platforms. It’s been really inspiring getting to know a new industry while still doing what I do best. I’m really looking forward to the UKLA conference programme from the perspective of that project. 

I’m also the mother of two girls, 4 and 7, who are both in fantastic stages, conquering the written language and its powers.

Play and creativity in a digital setting has been the main focus for us at Toca Boca. The founders realised back in 2010 that apps for children were mainly of two types: games and learning. So we tried to find a formula for open-ended experiences that could facilitate different kinds of play, such as role-playing, exploring and creating.

I think it’s really important that interactive media includes those kinds of experiences alongside the competitive ones - especially as younger children are playing a lot of games made for adults or teenagers. I believe there are layers of imagination and exploration that might get lost if we don’t create experiences crafted especially for the younger audience.

The way children are using digital media outside of school comes with a lot of engagement and motivation: gaming, social interaction, learning about hobbies and interests or just having a laugh. Often they find themselves totally immersed into narratives that are being told in multiple channels and platforms at the same time.

A challenge I see, in Sweden at least, is a gap in knowledge among adults (including teachers) when it comes to children’s games and online culture. I believe it’s important not to just copy gamification mechanics into education but to look closer for other motivational factors beyond the sometimes artificial reward systems. It could be about collaboration, exploration or just getting the opportunity to share your biggest interest with someone else who is really interested too.

At the moment, I think the app industry is challenged by finding decent business models for selling apps. For example, some of the more unethical games for children in the app stores contain adverts that dominate the whole experience. I find this destroys users’ creativity and play, and is confusing to both children and parents about what they could and should expect from a quality children’s app. It also means that quality producers have little chance of reaching out to their audiences in the sea of free apps.

I have a lot to look forward to at the moment, including the realisation of some of the concepts that I’ve developed for the children’s book publisher. I’m not sure exactly what it will be yet but most likely something closely tied to the reading experience which they are already experts in. I’m also hoping to be able to do some research or play testing with children since meeting them is the best part of the job.”

The panel session, Creativity, Play and Digital Media, takes place at the UKLA International Conference on Friday 12 July and will be chaired by Becky Parry and Fiona Scott from the Centre for the Study of Literacies at Sheffield Universities’ School of Education. Chris Lindgren will be joined on the panel by Sharna Jackson, Artistic Director at Site Gallery, Sheffield, Leigh Hodgkinson, an animation director, illustrator and author, and Iain Simons, the cultural director of the BGI. 

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