African kids design tomorrows world

I observed some kids playing one day and something about them fascinated me. They had very simple toys and a kid-size chair. They played for hours using the same toys without getting bored. From these simple tools, it struck me how many different scenarios they could imagine to keep it interesting and fun.

One consequence of adult rationality and ‘growing up’ is the loss of this childhood imagination and creativity, often embedded in play. We learn to rationalize, place, prioritize and/or dismiss ideas as a means of survival, an important skill to help us cope with our responsibilities and our goal oriented existence. With this efficiency however, we inevitably loose some of our ability to imagine and to create. We seek the quickest path to attain our goals, while in the lingering often lies novelty. With our ‘growing up’, we compromise the creative centre of our brain. My hypothesis is that we exercise the rational, at the expense of the creative side of our brains. Like a muscle, that which we exercise strengthens and that which we don’t weakens and is eventually lost.

Now imagine looking at the world’s complex problems through a child’s unadulterated creative mind. What kind of out-of-the-box solutions could they conjure up? The very thought of this excites me as a design thinker.

Designathon by Unexpect presents an opportunity to use design thinking principles and prototyping with kids to imagine solutions for world challenges. We held one of these with Kenyan kids across different socio-economic backgrounds sitting together to think of solutions around 3 themes; Mobility, Waste and Food. This was held concurrently with other kids from Amsterdam, Rio and Berlin. The session culminated in an inspirational Skype chat with other kids from different parts of the world.

The way kids think and they ideas they had blew me away. They see things totally differently. Their imagination wanders in a way that could surprise the most experienced designer/thinker.


I sat with these three kids to do an idea canvas. They had chosen mobility as their favorite theme. I thought their view of the problem will be that we should have better cars or tools for improved mobility (adult think) Their view was totally different.


They saw toxic fumes as the biggest mobility challenge. Their idea was to develop flying toxic fumes neutralizers! These would fly over our roads and streets sucking up carbon dioxide and dispensing clean air. Amazing how their minds work, right?! It gets better. When asked to prototype this idea, they used tools around them to come up with different motorized prototypes that simply blew me away, all in one day!


3 main lessons I learnt from the kids.

1. Play is powerful

Taking problems too serious can be counter productive. Allowing for play frees our minds to think different and complement rational thinking. It takes us out of our rational adult box.

2. Kids can inspire new thinking

We often send kids out to play while adults deal with important issues. We naturally shield them from global challenges and create as utopian a world as we can master. But this is a disservice. We need to involve them in designing their world. After all, we say they are the future.

3. Work with what is around you

Limitations can force us to create. We can come up with viable ideas and solutions by thinking differently about what is around us. Kids bias on acting, and acting with what is within their reach. A powerful design attitude we could all learn from.

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