A Q&A with Krystina Castella

With the upcoming publication of her new book 'Designing for Kids: Creating for Playing, Learning and Growing', Krystina Castella took some time to discuss her ideas around the subject area and her biggest influences. 

Congratulations on your upcoming publication of Designing for Kids: Creating for Playing, Learning and Growing. What do you want your audience to take away from the book?

This book melds academic research, design and business. I would like to see designers use this multidisciplinary approach as a framework to innovate. It will help designers translate the research and direct experiences with children into tangible insights and then viable designs and business solutions.

Why is this book relevant to present day Design and Child Development?

In the book I write about the most important topics today around child development (physical, cognitive, and social emotional development) as they relate to our times. For example in the past there has been a strong focus by designers on the physical and cognitive development of children but as we understand the importance of Social and Emotional Learning this has come to the forefront for designers. Designers are just beginning to explore our role in creating for the whole child including emotional well-being.

We have also learned so much in recent years about the importance, risk taking, boredom and of play in learning and physical and mental health. We know the educational methods that provide kids to think and innovate versus just memorize. We understand the pros and cons of media and technology in children’s lives to help us make the best choices as designers. We understand more about kids with special physical, cognitive and emotional needs enabling us to create stronger outcomes. Our kids’ communities are more diverse and our world is more global then it was in the past and we design for these aspects of our times.

How do you think the field of Design and Child Development is evolving today?

Many designers for children today are interested in spending their time on projects that emphasize impact. What I mean by this is they want all kids lives to be exposed to a childhood that is enriched with play, education and experiences so that they can fulfill their greatest potential. They are interested in designing for those with the greatest need, not the greatest wealth. I feature many topics around social innovation and use examples that highlight impact throughout the book.

We also can’t talk about the field today without recognizing the greatest changes and the source. In the last decade, the media and technology environments for children in many cases have become completely embedded in children’s lives. No adult can really understand what it is like to be a child today. We question what is best done from a developmental perspective in the physical world and what is best executed through the use of technology? Does this technology create enhanced learning and playing for a deeper, longer-lasting experience? How do we use technology as an equalizer compared to creating divisions? Designers love the hope that technology offers as a tool to make an impact.

What did you enjoy about writing the book?

I like the adventure - every day of it. Researching and writing the book gave me the time, space, and focus to dig into this topic, reflect, edit, interpret and share it with others. I interviewed and collaborated with almost 100 experts and thought leaders working in diverse fields advocating for children, which strongly enhanced my thinking and writing the content of the book. Meeting all of these amazing people and sharing our thoughts was extremely enriching.

What audience did you have in mind while writing this book?

Designing for Kids is primarily for undergraduate or graduate level design students, in the fields of industrial design, interaction design, environmental design, and graphic design. They will pick it up when they take a class where the target user of the assignment is kids and they are looking for both research information and inspiration. This includes courses in design research, toy and game design, product design, architecture, landscape architecture, graphic design, IXD/ interface design, branding and packaging design, and motion design.Children’s narrative content creators such as children’s book authors and illustrators, developers of entertainment or educational properties for kids, concept artists, surface designers, illustrators and advertisers will also benefit from the strong foundation for age appropriate and culturally relevant stories. Many projects included highlight social innovation and sustainability within of our creations, so designers who want to create impact with their designs will find the book very helpful.

Other audiences include design professionals and researchers that are working on projects for kids and often lack the social science background. They will find the book useful as a basic foundation in child development and culture. Child development experts, educators, and learning designers who are interested in learning more about design thinking to enrich their process for program development will also find this book helpful to spark their creativity.

What makes this book stand out from its competitors?

This book speaks to the way current design students consume information.It interprets research studies, interviews with industry experts, and projects examples into practical short bites of information with visuals. Design prompts allow designers to apply the content immediately. 

What first attracted you to this topic as an area of study?

I enjoy kids sense of humor and seeing the world through fresh eyes. I enjoy researching, play testing and co-designing with kids and teens and helping them interpret their ideas into real world design solutions. I enjoy using play as a tool for creativity. This has led me to practicing as a product and environmental designer for companies on projects with a youth and family focus including Walt Disney Imagineering (theme park design), Fox Network (designing sets for children’s programming), RTKL (designing public and community spaces), and exhibits for children’s museum. I have designed digital games and toys, board games, apparel, children’s furniture, clothing, stationery, housewares and soft goods. I have written and photographed children’s books and have written many cookbooks with family and fun food as the focus. In my consulting business and the Design Entrepreneur Network I founded I have worked with many individuals and businesses on developing their designs, products, services and business strategies.

Years after being trained as an industrial designer at Rhode Island School of Design to even better understand children’s development and behavior I took social science courses including development psychology and cultural studies at UCLA.Throughout my coursework I wondered how did I get this far into the field of designing for kids without knowing all of this valuable and inspirational information? From that point on I have included research in these field throughout my design development process and in my teaching. The translation of the research and direct experiences with children and youth into tangible insights and then viable business solutions is what I do in my coursework almost every day.

Tell us an unusual fact about yourself and your teaching or writing style?

Unusual facts: I have been creating and selling my creations since I was a kid. Also in addition to creating products and environments for kids I am a children’s book and cookbook author and have won several book awards. Also I love long distance backpacking. For me playing is a 100-mile hike in nature. While researching and writing much of this book I was not sitting at a desk but on the road exploring America with my husband and 5-year old son. We drove from Los Angeles to NY and back over many months through 35 states, Canada, 32 National Parks (tent camping) and explored every major city. The purpose was to experience play across America, interview people for this book, advocate for children and watch kids and teens play in diverse environments. I also attended and spoke at several conferences across design disciplines. 

Teaching style: Throughout my coursework we play in your design process as much as we can. We have tea parties and share our favorite snacks from childhood, we do user testing with sock puppets personas we create, we role-play scenarios and we run around outdoors and hack playgrounds for inspirational experiences. As far as my writing style I get to the point quickly- I use a lot of bullet point lists for quick reference. Also if I can say it visually instead of with text I prefer to explain with an image.

What advice would you give to an aspiring researcher in your field?

Anyone who likes creating for kids can work with kids directly as much as you can. Align the work with your own interests. My passion for the outdoors led me to be a volunteer park ranger for the National Parks Service and lead daily nature hikes and educational programs for kids of all ages engaging them in nature. I volunteered at homeless shelters to keep kids who lived there on top of their schoolwork. I teach the design process to kids and teens in public schools and outreach programs in under-served communities. I volunteer at the local public grammar school and work with the students on project-based and design-based learning initiatives. These experiences have taught me so much about designing for kids.

Anything else you would like to add?

Since becoming a parent I have reshaped the way I view designing for kids and my process and role as a designer. The key take away for me is that every child is different. Developmental stages are important but personalities and interests effect how a child experiences what we create much more than I ever thought.

Parents usually focus on the needs of their children as individuals; however we as designers take a broader perspective on development within our culture. We ask, what are the general norms? We recognize the widely diverse range of behaviors and abilities at different stages. We consider variations based on a variety of differences including children's unique set of personality traits, interests and environment. We then ask how can we best support the differences in children with what we design for them? What we create can have a strong impact through what we create on their childhood and their lives in the future.

Designing for Kids is an excellent pedagogical toolbox for teachers who seek to innovate their work in the classroom with the latest approaches to design thinking. This book is a case study in design thinking itself with its meticulous attention to both theory and practice with foremost empathy for both the teacher and student. Castella does a magnificent job of tailoring her design thinking methods to specific development stages of a child — spanning cognitive, physical, and emotional dimensions. It’s destined to be a classic for any STEAM educator who seeks to master design thinking in the classroom.

John Maeda, Global Head of Computational Design + Inclusion at Automattic, Inc.

Learning through play empowers children to become creative, engaged lifelong learners. The ability to “make believe” can take people’s minds to places where no one has gone before. Weaving together insights from academic research with compelling interviews and project examples, Castella’s book makes a compelling case about the critical role that smart and socially responsible design has in unlocking the power of play. This is an inspiring read that is full of wisdom and best practices, one that every designer who aspires to create consequential products, services and experiences for children and teens will want to have on their library shelf.

Mariana Amatullo, PhD, Associate Professor, Parsons School of Design, The New School

Thoughtful and breathtaking in its scope, Designing for Kids proves itself an invaluable resource. Krystina Castella melds her years of experience and expertise with nearly 100 interviews with industry professionals across a wide range of fields providing deep, real-world insights. Design Prompts throughout each section ask critical questions acting as launchpads inspiring deeper thought, creativity, and exploration! 

Eric Poesch, Senior Vice President of Design and Product Development, Uncle Milton Industries

Krystina is a true Renaissance Woman, skilled in integrating her own multi-faceted interests and experience with the expertise of others. In this project she’s channeled her enthusiasm for a holistic approach into an exhaustive study of the complex process of designing for children. 

Cas Holman, Associate Professor of Industrial Design at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and designer of Rigamajig

This book is a comprehensive textbook analysis for any designer of playful objects and playgrounds. Krystina provides an in-depth analysis through the eyes of many very successful designers of children’s products as to how and why we as humans are wired to play throughout our lives. Her work provides great insight into understanding the complexity of designing a child’s product. This book will inspire us, old and new alike, to design a child’s product, toy or playful environment with a new perspective.

Ken Kutska, Executive Director, International Playground Safety Institute, Inc.

Designing for kids is designing for the future. The objects both physical and virtual will mold a child's future and Krystina Castella's brilliant book will help designers bring that future to life.

Steven Heller, co-chair SVA MFA Design / Designer as Author and Entrepreneur

Not only is this book all you need to know about any sort of design, but it is also a comprehensive review of early child development. The tradecraft is right, and the background science is up to the minute.

Jay Beckwith, Play Systems designer, Expert in residence Gymboree play and music

When I reflect on what is truly unique about the design mindset, it always comes back to three things: impact, empathy, and play. In Designing for Kids, Castella provides educators and practitioners with actionable methodologies that help us excel at creating design artifacts that do just that.

Matthew Manos, Assistant Professor of Design, University of Southern California; Founder and Managing Director

Brilliantly written, comprehensive, and detailed guidebook on how to design and develop products exclusively for children. Enriched with case studies and learning tools from experts and thought leaders in the industry. A must have reference book for all times.

Yesim Kunter, Play Expert and a Futurist

About the Author

Krystina Castella is a professor of industrial design and business at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, USA. Krystina has practiced as a designer and has taught at ArtCenter College of Design across disciplines for almost three decades. Her research and teaching center around designing for play, the intersection between design and ethical business, designing for social innovation, and sustainable materials and manufacturing innovation.

About the Book

Designing for Kids: Creating for Playing, Learning and Growing

By Krystina Castella

Designing for Kids brings together all a designer needs to know about developmental stages, play patterns, age transitions, playtesting, safety standards, materials and the daily lives of kids, providing a primer on the differences in designing for kids versus designing for adults. Research and interviews with designers, social scientists and industry experts are included, highlighting theories and terms used in the fields of design, developmental psychology, sociology, cultural anthropology and education.

This textbook includes more than 150 color images, helpful discussion questions and clearly formatted chapters, making it relevant to a wide range of readers. It is a useful tool for students in industrial design, interaction design, environmental design and graphic design with children as the main audience for their creations.

ISBN: 9781138290761 | Paperback | $39.96 | November 22, 2018

For more information, please visit www.routledge.com/9781138290761