London Design Festival 2022: EPIC Child-Centred Design

London Design Festival 2022: EPIC Child-Centred Design

September 2022


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Ambessa Play exists as a direct request from displaced kids to design suitable educational kits. We therefore must centre their expertise, experience and vision throughout the design process. We’re attempting to move beyond the ‘user’ as a subject but as a partner.

We read as much research as we could about human-centered design, participatory design research, applied ethnography, co-creation and co-design. There are many wonderful design philosophies out there but we couldn’t find anything that considered the theory of self-efficacy or encapsulated child-centred design, so we have titled our own approach as ‘EPIC child-centred design’ because 1) we think it is 2) it’s an easy acronym.

Our EPIC child-centred design:

1) Is it educational?

2) Is it playful?

3) Is it inclusive?

4) Is it circular?


There are multiple definitions of what constitutes as 'educational', we see this in the variety of education offerings today (or lack of). Ours is simplified by this quote from Richard Feynman: 'What I cannot create, I do not understand'

We’re curious as to what happens if we consider self-efficacy in design, in an attempt to foster science self-efficacy amongst children.

 Self-efficacy is one’s belief in their capabilities to execute a task (Bandura, 1986). A growing body of research suggests students with high self-efficacy are more likely to place greater effort in and persist with their work (Zimmerman 2000; Pintrich & Schunk, 2002). Self-efficacy is also recorded as a principal basis of learning across a variety of subjects including mathematics (Parker at al., 2014), science (Ballen et al., 2017) and reading (Schunk, 2003).

According to Bandura (1986), the four sources of self-efficacy are:

  1. Mastery Experience: Positive mastery experiences are the best way to enhance self-efficacy. Small successes with direct experience in the area can help lead to heightened self-efficacy.
  2. Vicarious Experiences: Self-efficacy can be influenced by watching successful models who are similar to yourself (more persuasive if similar).
  3. Verbal Persuasion: Verbal feedback for example ‘You can do it!’ can be helpful if specifically task-related. This includes both outward feedback but also from your own voice (self-instruction) for example ‘I can do this!’. This makes sense, encouragement is motivating and leads to greater effort, than doubtful voices.
  4. Psychological and affective states: Self-efficacy is also influenced by emotional arousal. Being anxious, viscerally agitated and tense affects one’s perceived self-efficacy (it’s easy to doubt your ability which affects your performance).

"Beliefs of personal efficacy constitute the key factor of human agency. If people believe they have no power to produce results, they will not attempt to make things happen" - Bandura


There is an abundance of studies about the importance of play for development, connection, joy and so on (Nestor & Moser, 2018).

  • Motor skills
  • Discovery based learning
  • Sensory Integration
  • Pedagogical Play
  • Task oriented problem solving
  • Social-emotional growth

It is important that children learn through play and are encouraged to play beyond building the kits. This also relates to psychological and affective states, in the theory of self-efficacy. If the information [for example the manual] we provide is complex and results in stress, as one child in our workshop says 'it will feel like school'.

Our own design process: This also serves as a reminder for how we should make the design process as playful as possible.

We also loved this poem by Loris Malaguzzi

Children have a hundred languages
They rob them of ninety nine
school and culture
work to separate
making them think without their body
and act without their head
making conflict between
play and work
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
inside and outside


Whilst running science workshops with 300+ children in 2019, we received a specific request to bring back toys designed for them in mind. It only makes sense to co-create with children. 

According to Save the Children, child-centred design is considered a combination of service design, positive recognition and children’s rights.

  • Children’s rights: These are the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). For example, participation in design must never be harmful to the child.
  • Positive recognition: This refers to self-esteem and agency (not too dissimilar to Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy).
  • Service design: A process consisting of nodes that aid designers to discover, define, develop and deliver.

Our business model: For every kit we sell, a displaced child receives one for free. One for one models can be inferior (see TOM shoes and local shoe sellers). It doesn’t make sense to offer someone that isn’t designed for the user in mind.

Prioritarianism: Our thesis is to design focusing on the needs of the most marginalised child (a displaced child with no access to school or electricity). Design in toys, yet alone technology, is rarely framed in this manner, instead the role of technology in international development is oversold (see One Laptop per Child). We’ve seen solutions that result in a designed product or service but simply airdropped into a country in the majority world. We want to test what happens if we use ‘locally-situated’ design.

Beyond 1:1: We could find this model doesn’t work and donating a percentage of profits to local educational charities works better, or any other model instead. We’ll routinely assess our impact metrics.

Diversity: We imagine (or hope) our kits will be used by a diverse range of children, so it makes sense to create a co-design team as diverse as possible. This includes children who are displaced, but also children of various socio-economic levels, race, gender, abilities and ages (Martens, 2012).


Function: The kits must be functional as well as educational. Once built, it must serve as a useful item that is not discarded.

Materials: Wherever possible, we aim to use sustainable materials and zero-waste packaging.

Waste: 8.5 million toys are thrown away annually in the UK (Gov UK, 2018). Children have asked us through our design workshops to upcycle the packaging for play activities (i.e. cut out silhouettes of animals to use for shadow games). Inspired by Patagonia’s ‘REIMAGINE’: we should: 

  • Reduce: Only make toys based on pre-order amounts to reduce waste.
  • Repair: Offer individual components for repair so a customer doesn’t have to buy a new toy entirely or throw theirs away. We must offer a service to fix toys that are broken.
  • Reuse/Recycle: We should take in toys that are no longer needed and where possible, recycle or reuse the kits.


  • Ballen, C. J., Wieman, C., Salehi, S., Searle, J. B., & Zamudio, K. R. (2017). Enhancing diversity in undergraduate science: Self-efficacy drives performance gains with active learning. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 16(4), ar56.
  • Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1986(23-28).
  • Bandura, Self-efficacy: the exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman, 1997
  • Druin, A. (1999, May). Cooperative inquiry: developing new technologies for children with children. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 592-599).
  • Druin, A. (2005). What children can teach us: Developing digital libraries for children with children. The library quarterly, 75(1), 20-41.
  • Gov, UK 2018:
  • Martens, M. (2012). Issues of access and usability in designing digital resources for children. Library & Information Science Research, 34(3), 159-168.
  • Martens, M., Rinnert, G. C., & Andersen, C. (2018). Child-centered design: developing an inclusive letter writing app. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 2277.
  • Nestor, O., & Moser, C. S. (2018). The importance of play. Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention, 11(3), 247-262.
  • Parker, P. D., Marsh, H. W., Ciarrochi, J., Marshall, S., & Abduljabbar, A. S. (2014). Juxtaposing math self-efficacy and self-concept as predictors of long-term achievement outcomes. Educational Psychology, 34(1), 29-48.
  • Pintrich, R. P., & Schunk, D. H. (2002). Motivation in Education: Theory, research and applications. London: Pearson Education Ltd.
  • Schunk, D. H. (2003). Self-efficacy for reading and writing: Influence of modeling, goal setting, and self-evaluation. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 19(2), 159-172.
  • Wang, J. (2019, February). From Self-efficacy to Human-Computer Interaction Design. In Journal of Physics: Conference Series (Vol. 1168, No. 3, p. 032060). IOP Publishing.
  • Zimmerman, B. J. (2000). Self-efficacy: An essential motive to learn. Contemporary educational psychology, 25(1), 82-91.
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