Computing Profession

Design Adventures in a Children

Judy Robertson

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I am very excited about a new project I am starting with the Sick Kids Friends Foundation, a Scottish charity which raises money to support the children’s hospital in Edinburgh. It’s an artistic residency (with Madeline Balaam ) with the aim of working with children at the hospital to produce a cutting edge interactive technology installation. As the hospital is in the process of relocating to a new building, there is also a longer term goal of advising on how play technology can be an integral part of the new design. In both cases, the goal is to support children’s development through play. Play is an essential part of childhood – a right– necessary for learning and social development, and enjoyment. This is particularly important for patients in hospital who may be there for lengthy periods. The Sick Kids hospital makes great efforts to help their patients to play as much as possible even when they are very ill. The question is: how can technology help with this? How can technology be successfully integrated in such a challenging environment with so many design constraints? What’s the best way to make the design process user centred? And how on earth do you do it with a budget of £3K (for the installation, not the new building!)?

There are a number of constraints which make this design extremely challenging:

·         Infection control. All toys/books in the play spaces have to be wipe-clean to avoid to spread of infection.

·         User characteristics. The users are patients, their parents, nurses and play specialists(trained nursery nurses with specialisms in hospital care). The patients may have restricted mobility due to surgery, may be weak, in pain, or anxious. As only parents are allowed in some wards to visit, the children may be missing their brothers and sisters, grandparents, friends, teachers or classmates.  Parents are likely to be worried and upset.

·         Age range. The wards could have patients from day old babies to sixteen year olds all using the same play spaces.

·         Time spent in different wards. The length of time in the play spaces varies considerably between wards and patients. In the Accident and Emergency and out-patients space, patients and their parents are likely to be there for around 30 minutes.  A&E gets 39000 patients per year, so this is an incredibly high traffic area. There is an acute receiving ward in which patients spend a shorter time (e.g. 3 days) before going home or being transferred to another ward if necessary. The other wards such as infectious diseases, oncology or neurology are likely to keep their patients for longer (in the surgery ward, we heard of a patient who had been there for 6 weeks, but unfortunately there will be others who are there for longer).On these wards patients can visit the play space supported by the play facilitator or parents as they are able. The play specialist also visits bedsides to take toys and laptops to children who are not able to leave their bedsChildren who have been in the hospital for a long time can get very bored and feel they have played with all the toys already.

·         Space. The hospital does not have much free space so the playrooms are small. This will not presumably be so much of an issue in the redesigned buildings

·         Internet access.  Internet access is restricted by filters for child protection reasons.

·         Potential theft. There is a concern that expensive, mobile equipment such as laptops will get stolen.

Over the next few months, I will be blogging progress on the project. I’d love to have your ideas. If you have any design ideas or tips from similar projects, please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. If you’d like to support the Sick Kids Friends foundation, why not visit and get six year old Jack to draw at your command?

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