When Children Design a Better Future

frog Milan hosts 3rd Annual Global Children’s Designathon, working with kids aged 7 - 12 on solving big questions around the important issue of Water through design, play and prototyping.

Last year I had the opportunity to attend the Global Children’s Designathon in Amsterdam with my son, where we joined Designathon Works in confronting the issue of a Circular Economy and Sustainable Consumption with design thinking. The experience was so stimulating for both me and my son that I thought of bringing it to Milan. I knew that frog could add a lot of value to the program by applying the tools and techniques used in our everyday work, while also enriching our methodology by taking inspiration from how children approach design thinking.

This year, with the help of a team of passionate colleagues and external experts, frog organized the Milan chapter of the Designathon, bringing kids from different schools around the Milan region to work and play together in the frog studio in order to tackle one of the most pressing issues of our time: water.

For our workshop on water, we worked with 29 children aged 7 to 12, from 21 different schools, neighborhoods and towns. The goal of the workshop was to engage kids in working together to solve problems using their imaginations, and empowering them to influence the world they live in. And we couldn’t have been more excited by how each team gave their all to this cause.

“What I enjoyed the most was working as a team, collecting ideas to solve a problem that is important for the world.”
— Pietro, 11 years old from group PPR.

Inspire & Research: Making an Abstract Problem Relevant to Daily Life

We began by asking a series of questions that pushed the children to consider how they interact with water on a daily basis. Their answers were honest but practical, imaginative but tangible: brushing teeth, bathing, a clean shirt that needed washing, dinner that needed cooking, plants that needed watering.

“Last year I went to Tuscany and the sea was so dirty. I want to make something that clean rivers, to prevent polluted water from entering the sea.”
— Margherita, 10 year old from group HydroPower

The kids then gathered in small groups to explore the ask, focus on a specific aspect of the problem and reflect on impacted users, before diving in to identify solutions. With the help of our design, education and water experts, the kids received answers to their technical questions and guidance on the process. These facilitators and panelists, such as Massimiliano Vidiri (MM), the “Water Guru,” were key to the success of the day by providing teams with facts and details on how water systems work, applying vertical expertise with imaginative inspiration.

Ideate, Sketch & Make: Visualizing to Hypothesize, Building to Prove Ideas

With a clear understanding of the issue, the children were able to begin ideating. This is where the kids’ imaginations ran wild in coming up with fantastical solutions to the problem of providing clean, accessible water to everyone. And from these imaginative concepts, our groups moved on to sketching and prototyping in order to bring their ideas to with their very own hands. Using wood, cardboard, LEDs, sensors and other various recycled materials, the children built up their inventions, further refining the concepts through prototyping.

“It was difficult in the beginning to come to an agreement, everyone had his own idea. Only when we started sketching the ideas we were able to see similarities and to come to one single concept.”
— Anita – 8 y.o. group: Intelligenza sparsa

Show & Tell: Nurturing Imagination to Make a Difference

The final concepts and prototypes show the intricate thinking and processes behind each group’s ideas. These children were able to think and ideate complex systems: their inventions are not only objects per se, but so much more. They are interactions among people, animals, plants and other objects that connect systemically with each other to help the greater good.

Show & Tell: Nurturing Imagination to Make a Difference-PPR
Show & Tell: Nurturing Imagination to Make a Difference-CEROTTO E IL RACCOLTO
Show & Tell: Nurturing Imagination to Make a Difference-WATER CREATIVI
Show & Tell: Nurturing Imagination to Make a Difference-SUPER WATER
Show & Tell: Nurturing Imagination to Make a Difference-IDRO POWER
Show & Tell: Nurturing Imagination to Make a Difference-INTELLIGENZA SPARSA
Show & Tell: Nurturing Imagination to Make a Difference- WATERGIRLS

Check out all of the ideas!

By bringing frog’s human-centered design sensibility to children, we were able to play with possible futures. As designers, we aim to be curious, inspiring and thoughtful in order to solve pressing world issues every day, but it is the next generation that will inevitably have to confront these issues directly. Many children already possess these qualities, and only need the right provocations and tools to begin thinking, questioning, and solving for the future they deserve. In engaging each other through ideation, sketching and prototyping, they build the confidence in their ability to imagine and give form to the future they will live in.

This year’s edition of the Global Children Designathon saw 600 children (aged 7 to 12) in 18 cities around the world (including Amsterdam, Milan, Nairobi, Singapore, Vancouver and Dubai) working in parallel to create solutions for pressing issues around the cleanliness and availability of water.

The day after the workshop, the organizers presented a summative report of ideas from all 600 participants of the event at the Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils at the World Economic Forum, “The Global Voices of the Next Generation on: WATER.” This report synthesizes their visions and ideas for creating a better future.

frog Milan would like to thank everyone that made this year’s event possible:
Chiara Diana, our Milan host
Local sponsor MM Spa
Our facilitators Catalina Castellanos, Stefano Cardini, Mariano Cucchi, Sara Manzini, Stefania Marcoli, Elena Marengoni, Adriana Odor, Federica Pascotto, Marina Rachello, Silvia Remotti, Carlo Riganti, Gioia Rossi, Massimiliano Vidiri
Our panelists Francesco Bombardi, Matteo Penzo, Matteo Ragni, Nicola Colturani
The initiators and organizer Designathon Works
And especially, our wonderful participants.

We’d also like to say a special thank you to the frog Milan team, especially Elena Marengoni and Sara Manzini for helping the workshop synthesis and collection of insights during the day, and Catalina Castellanos for taking amazing pictures.

Chiara Diana
Chiara Diana
Chiara Diana

As Chief Design Officer, Head of Innovation team, Chiara is passionate about shaping innovation for complex product-service ecosystems, helping organizations embrace change and drive positive social transformations through design. She has worked with corporate clients including UBS, BT and Novartis, and international organizations including WHO, UNICEF and GSMA. She is a mother of two and the co-founder of Spazio, a magazine on creativity for parents and kids.

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