The Human Centered Design Podcast with Gerry Scullion

'Playful by Design' with Prof Sonia Livingstone and Kruakae Pothong

John Carter
November 27, 2023
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'Playful by Design' with Prof Sonia Livingstone and Kruakae Pothong

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In this episode, we welcome Professor Sonia Livingstone with Kruakae Pothong from the London School of Economics, also involved in Playful By Design. The discussion focuses on childhood development and incorporating design into children's lives.

Kruakae, originally from Thailand and with a background in journalism, highlights her shift to research at the intersection of policies, technologies, and society.

Sonia, a social psychologist, shares her journey of exploring how children engage with the digital world and her involvement with the Five Rights Foundation, aiming to improve the digital space for kids.

The conversation touches on design thinking, the collaborative efforts of the guests, and the role of design in shaping children's experiences in the digital world.

A really enjoyable chat with our guests Sonia and Kruakae, thanks for joining us.

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Episode Transcript

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[00:00:07] Gerry: I'm delighted to have you here in the podcast. Welcome to This is HCD. We've got Sonia Livingstone here and Kruakae from the London School of Economics, but also, heavily involved with Playful By Design, is that correct? Playful by design or playful for design. But we're really excited to have you here. We're going to be talking a lot about childhood development and introducing design to the lives of children. And we connected over several emails over a wonderful card kit that you've created.

Um, for free, I should add, and we'll be putting a link to that one in the show notes, folks. For anyone who's interested in this realm of design, it's really important, but let's start off. Let's get to know each other a little bit more. Um, we'll go Kruakae first. Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you're from and what you do.

[00:01:01] Kruakae Pothong: Um, so I'm originally from Thailand and, um, we have been known for a lot of creative stuff. There are lots of, um, design studios in Thailand, but that wasn't my path before. I was in journalism and then I moved to do my PhD in communication studies. Um, the focus has been on the intersection between, uh, policies, technologies, and society.

And that has been my continuous research since. And then I had the pleasure of starting to work with some design colleagues. And that's when I started getting my head into, um, value sensitive design. And then I met Sonia and then the value bit becomes what is good for children.

[00:01:48] Gerry: Yeah. And we're going to tackle that big question in a second, but we'll, we'll pop over to Sonia first and we'll ask Sonia, tell us a little bit about yourself, where you're from and what you do.

[00:02:01] Sonia Livingstone: Thank you. Well, I had a really different journey, um, to this point from, uh, Kruakae, so I've been working as a social psychologist, looking at how children and young people engage with, um, uh, all things digital for a long time, and the digital world keeps changing, and I've increasingly become interested in, um, Not just trying to fix the problems, but also trying to work out what we want, what does good look like? And I began working with the Five Rights Foundation, which is a small charity determined to try to make the digital world a better place for kids. So design thinking and design is a bit new to me. That's, that's where I'm kind of making the link where I've really enjoyed the, um, the work that Kruakae and I have done together because, um, It's not just about what policymakers do and it's not just about what parents do or teachers It's also about how that digital world is designed and how children are learning about that and thinking about that And they have ideas about how it can be

[00:03:02] Gerry: Yeah, absolutely. So Five Rites Foundation seems to be part of both of your lives, um, tell us about the origins of Five Rites. Is there Five Rites? Is that, how did the name come about, first of all, that's probably a question that we could tackle.

[00:03:17] Sonia Livingstone: It began with yeah, it began by its founder and Baroness Beeb and Kidron who is an advocate for child rights And, um, also comes from a, um, comes from a film background.

Uh, and it's quite a small charity that is really punching above its weight in seeking to intervene, especially in terms of regulation and policy and design.

Uh, and the, there, there are five rights originally. Um, they're the right to, be able to, um, know what is happening to your data online, to be able to, um, take down what is harmful, um, to be able to kind of, um, you know, their rights that are focused on making children's digital experience, um, productive and safe for them.

But actually over recent years, we've been working more with the, um, UN convention on the rights of the child, and that's given us all a bigger umbrella because it's. Then, you know, how the digital world is designed is absolutely crucial to realizing the rights, but the goals become children's right to be an agent in the world, children's right to express themselves, to participate, to be protected, to have their privacy, you know, it's kind of, so we've, we've, we've developed a larger rights agenda, but still with our focus on, you know, making digital better.

[00:04:42] Kruakae Pothong: if I may add a little on my little past experience working on another research project with Five Rites, I see the connection and the continuum from the control by design that Beeman's been trying to, um, sort of make that happen, create that opportunity for children. So that to me, I, I take it as to connect with children's agency when, when we expand the agenda to cover and engage with rights.

[00:05:15] Gerry: So, let's boil this down and distill it down to, you know, the world of parents and the world of children at the moment. What does the landscape look like for a child, and what are the problems that exist? That you can see through your own lenses as practitioners, uh, within the, the digital kind of access, the proliferation of software like YouTube and applications like within the iPad world.

Like what, is there, is there a problem, an epidemic in front of us or what, what are we seeing?

[00:05:52] Kruakae Pothong: Where do we begin?

[00:05:53] Sonia Livingstone: where do we begin? There are so, there are so many, there are so many problems. 

[00:05:56] Gerry:

[00:05:57] Sonia Livingstone: So, so maybe I'll, I'll begin, and I, I know Kruakae will add, but I'll begin by saying, um, children have always played, children have always expressed themselves, children have always been creative, uh, and today they do it on incredibly technologically complex commercial platforms. And it's a transformation from playing in the street or playing in the kitchen or playing in the playground at school, to doing it on a commercial platform, which is very often a global company, doesn't necessarily expect to have children there, doesn't necessarily know anything about the children who are there or what their needs might be.

And from parents point of view, it's like, which of these games are beneficial? Um, what is, what is being... Taken from my child in the trade between,

[00:06:48] Gerry: I've been tracked. 

[00:06:49] Sonia Livingstone: Yeah. what's being tracked, what data is passing, um, what are the risks, who are the people that my kid is playing with in multiplayer games, because that can be incredibly dangerous. So it's, children have this desire to play and express themselves and be themselves and grow, but they're doing it in this really new kind of place that we have to understand.

[00:07:13] Gerry: I noticed on Sunday, um, I was out for a drive with my mom and I've got two kids, six and a half and four and a half. And my, my mom is in her eighties. And she's like, we haven't seen one child playing on the road since we've been out driving for the last 20 minutes. I said, yeah, they're either at their backyard.

I said, oh, they're playing. Yeah. Doing something else. So like, they just don't play like we used to play, like when I was a child, when I was a child. So is play, what are the differences in the nuances, uh, between those two paradigms of playing in the street versus playing in the digital world?

[00:07:51] Kruakae Pothong: I would start with the amount of information that, um, by engaging and playing online, the platforms made more visible. And whereas in the past, if you were playing in the street, um, people from the opposite part of the world, if I was playing in the street in Bangkok, you wouldn't know being in London.

What I like, how do I play? But when kids move online to play, because of this complexity of technology, the way they, by, by just interact, interacting with the platforms that they use for play, whether that platform is designed for them or not, what they like, what they don't like, what they're interested in, how they interact, their pathways through play are made visible.

without them having any control of what, to what extent, could be shared, should be shared. And then you have that, um, expanded dimension of, if we were to play, if I was playing, um, on the street in Bangkok, um, yes, my parents would be worried about the creepy crawlies people lurking around, but I'd have the neighbors who could also see and observe and maybe keep an eye, a watchful eye on me.

But what happens on Facebook or other platforms. Behind closed doors, which is kind of ironic in a way.

[00:09:33] Gerry: there's Yeah, go ahead, Sonia,

[00:09:35] Sonia Livingstone: And I think, um, you know, what is, what is the essence of being a child and why do we want to start our work with play? And it was the idea that play is where children express their agency. It's kind of who they are and how they see the world and how they can imagine the world in their own, in their own way.

And they love the digital environment because it offers them so many tools. It feels like it's theirs, it's kind of cool, it's new, it's edgy, it's huge, it's powerful. Um, but it is very hard for them to be agents in that space because like Grugoso, they don't know who's around, they don't really have any control over, you know, arranging the furniture or, you know, kind of putting their toys where they want them to be so that the space becomes meaningful and there's all these other people they can't.

So, You know, we, it, it, it offers incredible opportunities, but it's, it's, it's just escapes their control. And children actually are used to growing up in very kind of local environments. They can chalk the pavement or they can, you know, arrange, rearrange the toys in their, in their room or whatever, and feel they define the space for themselves.

[00:10:47] Gerry: So, we also had a couple of parents over recently, I'm just going to keep on reflecting on my own perspective of being a parent of young children. And they were like, we've got no games in our house. We don't have any games because I was talking to them about this whole kind of strive to play to learn.

And then this. shift, psychological shift of playing to win, um, in the development of a child. And I had Juan Prego, who is, uh, uh, a world class trainer in design. He's based in Argentina and trains out of China as well. And he's done an awful lot of work in childhood developments, and he made that distinction between the learning differences of playing to learn and then learning playing to win and being able to capture them at a relatively young age to retain that playing to learn for as long as possible. What do you say to parents who believe like, okay, we just want to keep them off technology. We, technology is bad. Um, that whole kind of playing to win mindset, we want to avoid it as much as possible.

What would you say to those parents?

[00:11:55] Sonia Livingstone: So first we would, working within a child rights framework, we wouldn't especially advocate play to win or play to learn, but we'd advocate play for its own sake.

Children will define the purpose, not adults. You know, I want my kid to play to learn their maths better or learn something productive for their future better.

It's like playing the here and now out of their heads in their imaginative space. They will learn. through doing it. That's the magic of play. They won't necessarily learn what adults want them to play. Okay, so technology, I mean the thing is, um, I think adults, I understand why adults parents get fearful and there is a lot to fear about technology and it's a very high pressure commercial space that wants everyone on the big products.

But we have, in our research, been discovering all the diversity of technological products. Some are beautifully designed, you know, small companies making a game that really fosters children's imagination and creativity. Um, sometimes there are even big games that do that, but, you know, that's why design thinking is so important because what we found parents Wanted and didn't have was almost a kind of language of design so that they could discern this is a great space.

I can have a conversation with my kid about why they're enjoying it. And this is a pressure ride space or a data exploitative space or full of commercial sales pitches or whatever. And they need that language to discern and to discuss it with their kids. And then, you know, there's a lot of opportunities.

So it's not. Yes or no to tech, it's steering through what is a pretty demanding kind of landscape.

[00:13:40] Gerry: it a balance?

[00:13:42] Sonia Livingstone: It's always a balance. Parenting is always a balance. And, I always say, as someone who does yoga, balancing is hard.

Balancing is not just getting the scales of balance. It's standing on one leg with, you know, juggling and, um, you wobble and you. You have to sway in the wrong direction and learn and readjust and, you know, it's, it's tough for parents.

Um, and no one is really, all those games and play opportunities out there in the digital world, they're not explained to parents. They're not, um, not, 

[00:14:13] Gerry: A game is a game.

[00:14:14] Sonia Livingstone: yeah, or they are explained with a heavy commercial pitch that is, this is going to turn your child, you know, this is,

um, Mozart to make your child Einstein in the future or whatever it is, you know, this is. Um, which is, is, is, and how are parents to judge, how are parents to know what's valuable.

[00:14:33] Gerry: Kruakae, can I ask a question to you just around that balance piece? Because I know you were interested to jump in there. If it is a balance piece, and I believe it is a balance piece, what are the pieces that need to be put on that kind of scale? Um, what constitutes the elements of play? Like, what are the facets and the categories of the types of play that parents need to introduce? To ensure a solid childhood development.

[00:15:00] Kruakae Pothong: Um, I would say evolving capacity and agency. And

[00:15:06] Gerry: What agency, what you define, because I know some people would be like, Agency. Let's break that down a little bit

[00:15:14] Kruakae Pothong: yeah, going back to, so in, in, in the way of play, I'll, I'll use this example from, um, one of the participants in our initial consultation. So a parent described, um, enjoying, um, watching the kids. leaving them in the room and it was an empty room and then the next thing they came back the kid was jumping up and down playing pretending to be The kings and queens or hunting giant squid or something along that line.

Or a parent describing their children, um, taking over the zoo. And playing, started developing their own game. Playing hide and seek on zoo.

[00:15:58] Gerry: Yeah.

[00:15:59] Kruakae Pothong: kind of agency.

[00:16:00] Gerry: Okay, that's a great definition. So, so going back to that scale metaphor, um, what are the weights that we would need to apply to ensure that that scale is being balanced?

[00:16:15] Kruakae Pothong: I think the weight of it is, well, I would assume that parents know their children. And, um, what, and, and what, not just what they need, but what, Make them vulnerable

[00:16:28] Gerry: Okay.

[00:16:30] Kruakae Pothong: but then that vulnerability and the protection for, uh, protection against exploitation of that vulnerability needs to be balanced against, um, the growing, you know, the growing and development of the child.

You can't wrap your child up in a cotton ball. My mom wished she could. Um, but, uh. Because otherwise, kids don't learn to develop resilience. They don't learn problem solving skills,

[00:17:00] Gerry: Yeah,

[00:17:01] Krukae Pothong: that kind of balance.

[00:17:04] Gerry: so the problem solving skills, like most parents would be like nodding their heads if they're listening to this kind of thing. Yeah, we, we understand why that could be important because the world that we all find ourselves in post pandemic, we have to become problem solvers and it's not going to go away.

That skill needs to be nurtured, uh, at a very early age. What are the things? That you can see from your research that parents are doing and are doing well to encourage that type of skill to be fostered.

[00:17:39] Kruakae Pothong: Um, I've seen an example of a couple of parents that, uh, that joined our consultation said they would play the game. Either with or before, and also if they do play the games before, they join, they introduce that game to the child, then they also continuing, not watching as in, you know, keeping control, but observing and helping them when they got stuck.


[00:18:14] Sonia Livingstone: we, um, learned, um, from, I, I learned from reading the research on play was the idea of loose parts. And I think this is a really great concept. So imagine the, um, you're, you're at home with your kids. You might just leave, um, instead of putting the rubbish away, you might leave, um, a few squeezy bottles and cardboard boxes in a corner of the room and you might just not say anything.

And your child might find them. And then the next thing you know, you've got a spaceship.

And I think that's the kind of thing that parents, so they just kind of set the scene, but they don't direct and they don't give the goal and the child will make it happen. And one of the questions I keep asking myself is like, What are the cardboard boxes on the internet?

Where, where can the kid go and find the, those, that, those loose parts, those kinds of possibilities that will really, and then, and then can they, can they follow through themselves?

[00:19:09] Gerry: are those cardboard boxes on the internet? What have you found?

[00:19:12] Sonia Livingstone: Well, one of the things we asked this question of parents and, and, and children in our, in our consultation. So one of the things they talked about a lot at this point was a game like, um, uh, Minecraft,

[00:19:25] Gerry: Okay.

[00:19:26] Sonia Livingstone: seemed to kind of, and you could compare it with a game like, um, um, well, and in some ways they talked about Roblox as well.

And you compare it with a game like Fortnite, where the kind of goals are more set on the. Pieces are more arranged, but Minecraft, um, there are all kinds of possibilities. And they could, you know, they could make a box and call it whatever they wanted to. And other

people might come and join in, and they might not. Um, but in the child's head, they kind of express themselves and their agency.

[00:19:59] Gerry: so those kind of both of those games are being reported to have a high addiction rates that can lead to anxieties. Young children don't have that capacity to be able to say no and to say, okay, I've had enough to be able to self regulate. How, how and what would you say to parents who are struggling with that?

They say, okay, cool, we'll introduce Minecraft. We realize that there's got some play capabilities there. But my child is struggling to switch off from it because they're more susceptible to being addicted.

[00:20:36] Sonia Livingstone: Yeah, I think, I think it's a, it's a, it's a great question. Um, so in designing Playful by Design, what do we want? We said, okay, we want the game to be open ended. So that's the kind of cardboard box that the possibilities are there and it could go in many directions. Um, we also said, um, you know, kind of really, um, promote the child's agency, not just to play as they want, but also to leave when they want.

Don't create that kind of compulsive feel that you've got to keep on playing, keep on playing. So, partly we wanted the designers to think about Making it easy for a child just to leave or put it down for a bit to be interrupted and then to go back to it. Because that's what we do in the kind of offline world.

But, um, from the parent's point of view, so I would say look out for those features. Is it a game your child can walk away from easily and come back to? and carry on if they want to, or another day. Um, but also make sure that you understand, um, is your child still feeling? Are they excited in the space, imaginative in the space, able to express themselves in the space, or are they beginning to feel I've got to stay because everyone's there and I've got to finish and I can't leave else I'll look like an idiot.

And, and those are the things to look for. And then at that point, you know, provide a better alternative, or, you know, um, Refer back to a conversation you've had with your child before about what is good for them, what do they enjoy and what help they might need in pulling away.

Because I think kids are beginning to see for themselves that sometimes it's too much and they need to pull away but they need a bit of help or encouragement or something great to do or just dinner time.

[00:22:24] Gerry: yeah, absolutely. Kruakae, do you have anything to add to that? Hmm.

[00:22:32] Kruakae Pothong: perspective. It's not... It's not impossible, although this, this balance between interaction and, um, having a cutoff point or supporting children's agency to, to. To feel that they can walk away when they've had enough. It's, it's a constant struggle in, among signers.

This, this is our learning from, from our process to develop this card, Playful by Design card as a design tool for designers, but it can be done. And, um, an example for that is, um, by making. Creating an end point, a natural end point, as part of the progression of the game, but then, you know, and then so kids don't feel like, oh, there's a new challenge, excitement all the time, and keep going, but there is an excitement, it's up and then down, and coming to a natural cutoff point.

Observe the day, maybe, or dinner time, or something along that line that would help encourage, um, kids to sort of wean off would also work.

[00:23:46] Sonia Livingstone: One of the hardest things that we found in our conversations with parents and with designers is about risk taking. So all the theories of child development are that children need to take some risk. They need to climb a tree and fall up, fall down, not too high. Climb a tree and fall a little way, or scrape their knee or unlearn and put themselves up and know their limits, and then next time, you know, try to run faster or climb higher or whatever.

And that is how children learn. It's how they gain confidence. It's how they, you know, um, develop their capacities. But if you say to anyone online, let your child take a few risks, that's terrifying. That's terrifying for parents, and it's pretty terrifying for designers and, um, product developers as well, because they don't want.

Um, harm happening on their sites and they don't want the reputational damage and they don't want the responsibility. So, online tends to be either made incredibly safe, or designers will say, okay, we know kids are playing Fortnite or whatever it is, but we're not, we don't want them to be there. Maybe they're even going to begin to age gate them out of those spaces,

because we don't want to take the responsibility. And it's a bit like the digital world is, um, you know, it's either like having a five, a six lane motorway in front of your house, you know, so you don't want your kid to go out and play in the street or, an incredibly safe garden and they can't ever get out of the high wall. And we don't, we, that's the design challenge, I think.

[00:25:19] Gerry: One of the things as parents, you're able to self identify when a child is ready to move to the next stage of saying, okay, listen, they're on the swing. I think they're going to be okay in the trampoline. How do you know when a child is ready for technology to introduce?

[00:25:35] Sonia Livingstone: It's, it's, it's such a hard question because, um, parents remember what it was like on the swing or on the trampoline from their own childhood. And now they're in a world that they don't have those kind of visceral memories and they've got their own, their personal experience to fall back on. And games don't come, you know, this is something that, that probably should be regulated and better designed for.

They don't come with good age ratings. They don't come with good, you know, if you go to the app

[00:26:02] Gerry: Newer development 

[00:26:03] Sonia Livingstone: four plus. And it's not a four plus, it's, it's graded, it's complex and, and even within a game there isn't always that kind of progression from, um, you know, you've begun here and now here's the thing to do next because every game is trying to monetize attention.

So it says stay here with us forever. Um, so it is, I think it is, it's something that is, um, You know, parents have a gut feel. The only way they can know really is to play the game with their children and and see are they bored, are they kind of pushing it around or are they out of their depth and they should have, you know, they need something a bit easier than this or more straightforward.

[00:26:40] Kruakae Pothong: But then that is perhaps what makes it quite difficult and, um, unequal for a lot of children because not every parent has that time and energy to be playing the games with their children. Has that appetite for, um, playing the games or the games with their children. So, um, there is also that responsibilities from the, the makers of these products and services as well, so that not everything falls down to the parents, that they have to take that responsibility to spend the time to learn, to progress, in order to be able to recommend the good things for their kids.

[00:27:27] Gerry: One of the things in playful by design when I stumbled across it, I remember I was in bed when I saw it truthfully. And I was like, like one of those things where, you know, I had no one to share it to. I was like, Oh, this, this is amazing. It was midnight at night. And I was like, and I, I saved it for the next day.

And I looked at it and when I looked at it, there didn't seem to be these. age gaps or the age kind of like this is for a four to six year old. Um, and I found that really interesting because an awful lot of the stuff that you find online is a suitable for four to six and then six to eight and so forth.

What was the thinking behind that? I know this is a loaded question, but plain to have as advocate here, what is the thinking around that and not having those age categories or suggested ages on some of the modules within Playful by Design?

[00:28:14] Sonia Livingstone: So in a child rights framework, um, rather than saying a four year child is ready for this or a 12 year child is ready for that, you think about evolving capacity. It's a bit of a clunky term, to be honest, but it's children develop at different rates. And they develop unevenly and they develop best when they're always a bit at the edge of what they can do, but they're not like super challenged.

Um, so we emphasize the idea of being age appropriate, um, and then leave that as a judgment for the parent, for the child and for the, um, service provider, because what is age, what, what suits an age is. It's just going to be so variable. Some children are more vulnerable. Some children have got a lot of support.

Some children are a bit ahead of their class. We didn't want to put them in boxes, but we did want to prioritise it as a consideration for everyone to keep in mind.

[00:29:13] Kruakae Pothong: And this concept of age appropriates, uh, age appropriateness from the, um, perspective of design and the different design features. Some features would be appropriate for younger children and, or the different age bands and so on and so on. It's pretty complex and designers struggle with that all the time.

[00:29:34] Sonia Livingstone: And designers have to think about anyone who would be on the

service. They can't really say, OK, well this... This child is super competent and understands all these things so, so there's a mismatch basically between those who are providing the products who try to go for a really broad age range and parents who know my child has just mastered this and needs, you know, something that kind of gives them a chance to flower in this particular or develop in a particular way. So it's a mismatch and um, that makes it hard and that's, you know, I'll go back to agency at that point because I think children have that kind of visceral sense of, you know, can I climb that tree? Um, children generally know they have that, but online it's very hard to make that judgment. Is this a safe place to play or can I manage that game? Mm

[00:30:22] Gerry: the things that I noticed, like whenever we go away on holidays with the kids, we tend to give them access to YouTube Kids. Okay, now it's, it's the child friendly version of YouTube, and it seems like such a small little introduction to the interface, but they have tiles below the video that I noticed that whenever we introduce it straight away, they're watching a video and then they're getting about 30 seconds in and they're clicking the next thumbnail.

And they're being caught in this loop, this, this kind of design loop that we, anyone who's involved with design will know. And it's all about getting the impressions for the advertisers and seeing what works and so forth. What are the risks that you see with introducing technology to children too early, um, because that ability to know that you're in that loop seems to be, you know, seven, eight years old when they're going to go, okay, look, I want to watch the video and I want to watch it to the end. What are those risks for introducing it too early?

[00:31:27] Sonia Livingstone: So I think at this point we are a bit, um, beyond what the research is. I couldn't say categorically research says this is the risk, but I could say that there's, um, enough research and enough, um, experience to say what is vital is for children to gradually develop their own judgment and they can only judge based An environment that they kind of understand, so they don't understand, they can see the screen, they understand the screen pretty early, but they can't understand behind the screen.

Advertising companies, data brokers, commercial imperatives for profit, you know, that's no way can they understand that. So I think, um, ideally, you know, you'd have the Screen designed, um, in a way that it operates in, in, in terms that children can understand. And some producers, of course, will do that, but even YouTube Kids, like you say, it's number one imperative is to get kids to graduate to YouTube and to get the data.

And it is owned by, you know, one of the biggest, um, corporates going. So it's... They're making an effort and they've curated some of the content and they've taken out some of the problematic content and they've taken off the comments which are often dodgy, um, part of the content, but they still have it.

They're still a business.

[00:32:45] Gerry: Yeah. And it's 

[00:32:46] Sonia Livingstone: and ultimately, you might say, you know, look for a non commercial. If you don't want your child to be locked into commercial pressures, you need a non commercial product.

[00:32:56] Gerry: for example.

[00:32:58] Sonia Livingstone: Well, I could say public service broadcasting

makes a lot of, um, I think there's a fair number of, um, civil society, museums make games. Um,

Uh, children's, there's various children's organizations make games. Sometimes, um, local councils or child friendly cities will make a child friendly interface or services.

Uh, educators sometimes make games that they want, you know, to learn something. Creatives try things out. I think there is, but like I said, at the beginning, it's hard to find it because we're all directed towards the big corporate.

[00:33:32] Gerry: Yeah, the ones that are on the tip of our tongue tend to be the ones that are the one that are there to make money. That's one of the things that I've learned. Now let's talk about Playful, um, by design, because it is amazing. And I'm not just saying that because I know Sonia, I think you were leading, this is your initiative.

And, uh, Kruakae, you're, you're involved as 

[00:33:54] Sonia Livingstone: Absolutely, 

[00:33:55] Gerry: root workers. So, Where did this come from? Um, I know Sonia, your background is, is in this space, but where did it originate from and what was the premise and what was the objective behind the policy?

[00:34:10] Sonia Livingstone: So we began by recognizing, uh, that by design solutions are becoming very popular among policymakers and the kind of whole multi stakeholder world of, of thinking about, um, online experiences. So there's a lot of work going into safety by design, how to make a product safe before it ever reaches the market, privacy by design, um, security by design that Kirko worked on, um, before.

But those are like. the hygiene factors. Sure, you want the, you want the space to be safe and private and secure, but what, that's not good. That's just, that could be boring. So we thought, playful by design, we put that concept into an already sort of expanding policy area and say, we also have to design for what good could look like and what would be, really support children's.

So in our Playful by Design Toolkit, which I think Ruka might say something about, um, it's designed to have lots of prompts for designers to help them think, How in my design can I be welcoming to a child on a... On a website or in a game, how can I, what are the, what are the levers I can pull to enhance their imagination?

Um, what are the ways in which I can enable open ended play instead of constantly pushing them in the same direction? Um, so it was about thinking of the design levers that could go into promoting those bigger goals, um, that are about the positive as well as It's dealing with the problems,

[00:35:50] Gerry: So what you're talking about there, like security by design, um, I might have mentioned safety by design and even functionality by design as 

[00:35:58] Sonia Livingstone: um, uh, 

[00:36:01] Gerry: would call a good service, playful by design, a good service. And Lou Downe, who is a great friend of mine and a great friend of the podcast, wrote Good Services.

He was formerly the head of service design for the British government.

[00:36:13] Sonia Livingstone: uh,

[00:36:15] Gerry: to playful by design.

[00:36:17] Sonia Livingstone: uh,

[00:36:19] Gerry: who are listening to this, or change makers generally, who are listening to this podcast, how do you want them and how do you see them using the toolkit in their, in their practice?

[00:36:32] Kruakae Pothong: Perhaps I'd say, well, um, we, we, I hope that they'd use the toolkit to expand their, um, initial sort of understanding of rights that tends to be, or could be restricted to, um, the safety and the. Protection agenda

[00:36:55] Gerry: I don't know.

[00:36:55] Kruakae Pothong: and then expand it to, um, more not goal oriented, but, um, agency oriented, whereby they think about they themselves with the role to provide for the opportunities for kids to explore, to grow, to develop, to express themselves within the safe boundaries.

Um, as, as. As supporters for kids to participate and engage actively in the world. So I'll give you an example of one of these cards. And um, here is the what if prompt cards. Um, it's, it's, it's geared at sort of engaging particular way of thinking that expands that thinking of, and it says, What if a child could rebuild the environment with friends?

So this connects to that imaginative aspect, um, that we want to promote in, in Playful by Design as well. So this is a 

[00:37:55] Sonia Livingstone: And we, and we wanted the, and we wanted the cards themselves to be playful. I mean, we have designed them that the designer, we don't want them to be boring and dull, but they are full of like. Wacky ideas and mind expanding suggestions for the designers. And so we have designed some games for the designers, which we call the kind of play board so they can play together.

But also they could, some designers have told us they just keep the pack by them on their, on their desk.

And every now and again, they flip through and something says, what if, you know, you were going to design, um, a world, an environment? I don't know. What if you're going to design a world where children can play with their grandparents?

How would you, you know, what would that look like? How would you do that? How would you make it safe? How would you make it, you know, fun? How would you deal with multiple, um, you know, groups at the same time? So, it's full of what ifs, it's full of how can you do it? Prompts, yeah, but it keeps in mind what the goals, um, are, which is to make it better.

[00:38:55] Gerry: Yeah. So it's that whole divergence piece of identifying new ways of incorporating the mindset.

[00:39:04] Kruakae Pothong: And the way we design the different processes and the way to cut the cards, if you like, we appeal to designers processes, way of thinking, which is convergence, divergence, and then convergence again. So there'd be a moment of reflection, deep thinking in terms of, Oh, okay, well, I've chosen to. Um, put this feature in, does that work?

Why did I put this in?

[00:39:28] Gerry: Yeah.

[00:39:28] Kruakae Pothong: sort of thing. And then if your answer to that question doesn't quite complete, then you might ask yourself, okay, maybe I need to expand my thinking a bit. Let's pull out a what if card and then narrow it down to, okay, well, how do I, how, you know, do I really affect this, put the, make, create this experience for the child?

[00:39:50] Gerry: Yeah, if you imagine Playful by Design was adopted by every change maker in the world, right? And I hope it is. I encourage you to click on the link in the show notes and check it out and support the work. Imagine everyone was using it. What's the hope? That you would like to see trickle through in five, ten years time from the work that you've done.

What does that look like in terms of the benefit to the development of the technological world?

[00:40:25] Sonia Livingstone: Children will be happier and more productive and more generative online and parents will have stopped panicking about what they, what's going to happen to them in digital spaces. So children will be, because they really think it's their space, but they don't feel welcome.

[00:40:42] Gerry: With the children don't feel welcome.

[00:40:44] Sonia Livingstone: Online. No, they think they're always being told you shouldn't be here.

You're too young. You've lied about your age. Um, um, there are weird strangers here who have ill intent. Um, so they don't always feel welcome. No. So they would feel welcome and they would feel empowered and they would feel that they can, they can do what they want to do. But I think also, um, the, The design world will have to change and I don't think, um, people often think you can either serve children or you can make a profit.

I think we will have, um, a generative process by which, um, companies discover they can make profits in different ways. They can make profits by better serving children rather than by exploiting children. And that's, that's the kind of big business change that I think has to happen because everyone knows the business model is a problem and actually it's exploiting everybody.

So this is one way of trying to encourage everyone to think a bit differently.

[00:41:40] Gerry: government policies that need to change there to allow designers to kind of Not disrupt, but uprupt the, uh, that age group. So, at the moment, the reason why businesses aren't going there is, is regulation. correct?

[00:41:58] Sonia Livingstone: Um, well, regulation can be, can take people in multiple directions. There could be, so there's a lot of regulation under discussion, um, in Europe that, um, And now being developed that could, um, ease this task.

So I could say, um, against monopolies might be a starting point. So that it isn't just the big companies that dominate the landscape and there's more chance for independents and creatives and startups.

Um, but also I think once it's clear that you have to regulate for safety, um, then I think a lot of places will become better for children. And then what we need is. And, uh, a diversified market so that parents and children can begin to make choices that actually serve them. interests. And some of the kind of regulation against addiction, I mean like against loot boxes, against gambling like processes, some of the data protection regulation is really helpful, just to make sure that you don't enter a game world and have all your data kind of sucked up and Um, used against you.

You know, there's lots of different kinds of regulation that are coming together. We've brought them all together in our work in the idea of child rights by design, which says think about the whole thing. Imagination, play, safety, privacy, security, everything. It all matters online. Um, and there's lots of different kinds of regulation that frames that is changing.

And it's got to be, it's got to be complied with. It's got to be made, you know, real.

[00:43:35] Kruakae Pothong: I would say the one thing that The regulations that Sonia have spoken about doesn't quite cut it or capture it well enough is the regulation that motivates, um,

[00:43:49] Sonia Livingstone: The business models.

[00:43:50] Kruakae Pothong: design practices that encourage agency. support development to promote wellbeing. It's more of a protection agenda and prevention agenda. It, it takes more than just the regulation to motivate or for, to motivate business to see the value in, um, in providing opportunities for agency, for creativity, for imagination and expression.

[00:44:23] Gerry: Do you, uh, and I get, I know I'm asking some binary questions here, but do you have suggestions on, um, who's doing well out there? Like, so, uh, for people to follow on and learn more about, uh, playful by design, but like, if there are parents out there and they want to, uh, encourage, I know we mentioned Minecraft and, um, that other one I can't remember.

Um, what other, Apps and games that you feel are open ended in their approach and they've utilized the same sort of mindset that you include in Playful by Design. Are you okay to give a shout out to any of those other businesses where people can continue their learning?

[00:45:10] Sonia Livingstone: Well, I might, um, mention

[00:45:13] Gerry: SonjaLivingstone. co. uk.

[00:45:15] Sonia Livingstone: No, I don't. I have no business interest at all. I, um, uh, part of our work was done in, um, in, um, with, uh, support from Lego. And I think Lego has, um, tried pretty hard in this regard. Um, one of our commissioners, um, was from the BBC. I think Children's BBC and I would say Public Service. Broadcasters. One of the interesting, um, relationships that we've formed, I might give a plug to, is, um, Andy Robertson's

Taming Gaming. 

[00:45:46] Kruakae Pothong: going to say that. Yeah.

[00:45:46] Sonia Livingstone: I don't know if you know that, but he's like, he, he kind of curates an apparent space on, for games, all games.

And then he's taken our playful by design criteria, and he said, OK, on these criteria, these are the games that you might like.

These ones kind of

[00:46:01] Gerry: Okay, awesome.

[00:46:02] Sonia Livingstone: So, Taming Gaming is a kind of a, and it's, and it's very parent friendly.

[00:46:07] Gerry: Okay, I'll find a link for that and I'll put it in the show notes as well, you know. I've got a deep connection with Playmobil, 

[00:46:15] Sonia Livingstone: mm, mm, 

[00:46:16] Gerry: Playmobil Pro Kits. Um, they don't have any, uh, digital games yet that I know of, but the physical games. So, are there other, um, Games that are kind of integrated because I'm really interested in the artificial reality kind of space at the moment.

We've got some stuff with Nintendo. Have you any of those recommendations? It's okay if you don't. I'm putting you on the spot here.

[00:46:42] Sonia Livingstone: Okay, do you want to say something about the value of hybrid games? Kids love hybrid games and, you know, we thought a lot about Pokemon Go, which was not a good example, but points to something that children do because it was so commercialized and, but it, on the other hand, it pointed to what children want and where there is, I think, a space for, um, development.

[00:47:04] Kruakae Pothong: So one in one of our, um, consultation sessions, a parent mentioned an application that allows you to scan a plant or a butterfly or something. Um, and then it gives you that information. So we take it as an example of a product, not necessarily built for children, but could be harnessed in this hybrid way.

So you have that. Um, intersection, if you like, between the digital and the physical, and it also takes kids out and about in the physical world, rather than locking them into the screen and so on. And it, it, it encourages and fosters that relationship building between parents and child. And the parents enjoyed it,

[00:47:53] Gerry: that's awesome.

[00:47:54] Kruakae Pothong: it.

[00:47:55] Gerry: That's a really good example. Another one. I don't know if you've experienced the, um, the Mario Kart, uh, artificial reality where you build your own track in your house and you use your Nintendo switch and the little car that you buy is a physical car. It's got a camera in the front.

So the child's. Explores the creativity of building a track and then, you know, they create all these obstacles to navigate and you literally use your controller to move around your own house with the car. And my 6 year old and 4 year old, their minds were blown, which I don't know is a, is a good thing.

But, um, they had so much fun building a track and what they could use 

[00:48:39] Sonia Livingstone: love the, yeah, so I love the sound of that. And what I would say from the point of playful by designers, then we would have the questions for the designer, but also for you. So, um, do they get addicted to it or do they feel they can stop when they want to?

Um, does it take their data or does it respect their privacy?

Can they chat to other people? with other cars on the road? And is there a kind of a safety question? Um, so, you know, those might be, so Playful by Design always has this kind of list,

[00:49:10] Gerry: This framework almost. 

[00:49:11] Sonia Livingstone: yeah, and a 

[00:49:12] Gerry: How would you find out, Sonia, what data has been tracked by something like Nintendo Switch or similar consoles?

[00:49:20] Sonia Livingstone: they, every company, I think every company does have a privacy policy, but a privacy policy online can be a lot of pages. I've trawled through many. They're meant to be readable by the user, and if the user is six, it's meant to be readable. readable by your six year old.

[00:49:38] Gerry: Wow, 

[00:49:38] Sonia Livingstone: Doesn't meet that criteria, doesn't meet that criterion, but that's what I mean by, you know, we have some regulations, but they've got to be complied with.

But very often you read it and it says we're going to protect your data, we treat your data responsibly, and then it says, and we share it with third parties, and we won't tell you.

[00:49:56] Gerry: They won't tell you. So with GDPR then, like, I'm in Ireland, so like, that's, that's a huge grey area and 

[00:50:04] Sonia Livingstone: it's, a huge gray area and I think until the regulators really think this is a problem and parents really care about this stuff, I don't think they're going to prioritize it over some of the, you know, the big data breaches or data leaks that because they've got limited.

So I think if parents care about where their kids data is going, they should make their voices heard. 

[00:50:25] Gerry: Who do they make their voices heard to?

[00:50:28] Sonia Livingstone: to the, um, uh, data protection, um, authority to the. Irish ICO, in, in your case, Information Commissioner.

But there is a Data Protection Authority in every country.

Um, it's hard, I know. These, these parents are not used to writing to regulators saying, Hey, I don't understand, you know, where my kid's data's going on Nintendo.


[00:50:50] Gerry: Nintendo Switch, yeah.

[00:50:52] Sonia Livingstone: Yeah.

[00:50:53] Gerry: Look, I got on.

[00:50:54] Krukae Pothong: way around that would be by. So there are, you know, if you, you don't need to read too much into the privacy policy, you could just look into the, the setting. Does it allow you to set, say, no, no, no external connection or something along that line? Does it offer that control?

[00:51:18] Gerry: okay.

[00:51:19] Kruakae Pothong: not, balance that against the kind of risk you foresee in the way it could be used.

And I underline the ways it could be used rather than just the way you intended it to be used. Thank you.

[00:51:33] Gerry: that's a really good point. Like, they don't make it easy to find those things 

[00:51:36] Sonia Livingstone: don't make it easy. 

[00:51:37] Gerry: it's either within the console or within the browser. And if you're using online or within the application and there's two different settings and which one is overriding, which, and that's part of. I guess safety by design as well, like, you 

[00:51:51] Sonia Livingstone: In Ireland, and a number of other countries, there's also a children's commissioner. I think the children's commissioners are quite kind of public, available, um,

[00:52:01] Gerry: I have to say Ireland has been very good. I lived in Australia for a very long time. I'm home five years and we do have conversations about these things on the news. So, um, it is, uh, I think they're, they're talking about an awful lot more. Um, I was about to say a few minutes ago, I could talk to you, both of you for probably a week, I'd say, before I could come up for air.

Um, yeah. But if people want to reach out to either of you, um, I'll put a link to Playful by Design, uh, into the show notes of this episode. Um, how might they get in touch with you if they wanted to ask more questions?

[00:52:39] Sonia Livingstone: So all the work we've been talking about is done by the Digital Futures Commission. Um, and so Google Digital Futures Commission, we have a contact point and we can put that in the show notes as well. But we're very, we, we, we do answer the the

[00:52:52] Gerry: Yeah, you do. You got back to me 

[00:52:54] Sonia Livingstone: In fact, that's how we met you.

[00:52:56] Gerry: Yeah, yeah, you got back to me very 

[00:52:57] Sonia Livingstone: Yes. So we, um, we are responsive and.

[00:53:04] Gerry: Look, I always end every episode with, this is ITD, by thanking you for your time and your energy and your vulnerability being put on the spot and having these open and free flowing conversations. So listen, thank you for giving me your time. I truly appreciate it. I know our listeners will really enjoy this conversation as well.

Listen, best of luck with everything to do with Playful by Design. I'm delighted to, to kind of get my hands on these cards, 

[00:53:28] Sonia Livingstone: yes, 

[00:53:29] Gerry: explore it and play with it. And I encourage everyone listening to do the same. So listen, thank you so much and welcome back in the show whenever you want again.

[00:53:37] Sonia Livingstone: All right, brilliant. Thanks a lot. That was

[00:53:39] Kruakae Pothong: Thanks a lot.

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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