IDC 2020 workshop

What insights do design case studies with marginalised children offer to the larger Children-Computer Interaction (CCI) community? And what are the challenges faced in the process? These are the questions we explored in our IDC 2020 workshop, “What we Learn When Designing with Marginalised Children,” on Friday 19th June 2020, which we summarize below. We use the term ‘marginalised children’ to refer to children and young people whose perspectives tend to be neglected in traditional research and society at large and can include but is not limited to issues surrounding class, disability, racialisation, abuse or hospitalisation. Whilst it is possible to extract methodological and artefact-centred knowledge from existing design cases, it can be difficult to utilise and build on some of the more complex and multifaceted issues that these generate.
In their case studies, participants evoked their challenges, conversely highlighting what researchers in this area can offer to the CCI community.

Recognising children as part of a larger community

Participants in these research projects are never seen as isolated actors that one can bring to a research lab for a design session. Designing research to include marginalised children necessitates developing tools and approaches to meaningfully involve other people in children’s lives (siblings, educators, parents, therapists etc). This is far less developed in the wider CCI literature and a workshop participant, Nicole Kuhn, suggested we learn from Indigenous research methodologies.

Demonstrating impact

We often purposely work with small communities on qualitative projects. Impact should not only be measured in terms of technical innovation, but also by the way technology has enabled participants (both children and the adults in their lives) to develop new skills and capacities. For this we need to look at long term impact, which might also help the field of CCI to grow up: we’re all concerned by how novelty effects impact our findings and the importance of long term research!

Establishing long-lasting relationships and researcher training

It follows that work with marginalised children requires researchers to purposefully develop relationships with the communities we design with and for. This work of building relationships to understand practices should be shown and better recognised. Another advantage of focusing on relationships with participants over an extended period of time is that this enables early-career researchers to slowly build their ability to conduct research with marginalized populations while protecting participants. Currently, the training researchers receive prior is highly heterogeneous and shaped by short term, limited funding, which does not facilitate best practices with marginalised groups.

Understanding marginalisation and making sure we stay truthful to participants’ meanings and actions

Any research presents communication challenges, but designing with marginalised children brings this to the fore, as often researchers and participants have very different backgrounds and ways of communicating. Many frameworks and methods to understand communication beyond verbal means have been developed in fields such as social psychology and in related social science fields, such as multimodal communication. But there is a need for the community to be more precise when laying out the theoretical background for their inquiry and analysis. 

Another key workshop discussion centred on the discomfort experienced by researchers working with participants whose experiences and values differ widely from their own. These are topics often left unsaid in research publications, often due to discomfort. Connected to this, the workshop discussion also acknowledged tensions raised by attending to researcher discomfort at the expense of focusing on the participant.

Bridging expectations

The concerns outlined above are often tied to the difficulty of bridging expectations and perspectives between participants and researchers, as well as between researchers and their respective research communities and fields. On the one hand, participants highlighted there isn’t a clear HCI agenda for research with marginalised children, and that too often, HCI projects are technology-led rather than participant-led. Despite committees on understanding users or conferences focusing on the social aspects of technologies, there are few venues in which to publish about the marginalised groups we design for, resulting in limited opportunities to shape HCI research agendas and practices. At the same time, the research and professional fields from which we borrow (for instance, social sciences, social psychology, rehabilitation research and professionals) don’t necessarily have interest in technologies as an object of research or the background to evaluate these contributions. CCI, and more generally the field of Human-Computer Interaction, welcomes contributions with a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, but we might need stronger structures to help deeply interdisciplinary work to thrive.


  1. To work with marginalised children and communities, we need to favor long term engagement;
  2. Working towards transferability rather than trying to describe how our work is generalizable is a more productive way to think about impact;
  3. Impact goes beyond publications or counts of people attending public engagement. Impact on participants and their communities should also be studied and celebrated! 
  4. Analysing moments of discomfort is a good approach to understand divergences in stakeholders’ perspectives and values;
  5. This area of research calls for working with interdisciplinary teams (e.g. clinicians, community leaders/reps etc).

Resources shared by participants

An article to help understanding how we impact our participants’ voices.

Frameworks and toolkits for design and evaluation



  • Main contact: Seray Ibrahim is a research fellow at the UCL Institute of Education and a Speech-Language Therapist. Seray’s PhD research investigated communication in children with severe speech and physical impairments with the view to informing ways of designing technologies for communication.
  • Émeline Brulé is a Lecturer at University of Sussex. Her research focuses on inclusive design.
  • Laura Benton is a research associate at the UCL Institute of Education. Her research focuses on education technology design for children and she has worked on several projects using design approaches such as participatory design and design-based research, including iRead, iLearnRW and ScratchMaths.
  • Anthony Hornof is a Professor of Computer and Information Science at the University of Oregon. He works in two very different areas of human-computer interaction: (a) predicting aspects of usability through the development of computational psychological models of the human as an information processor, and (b) developing assistive technology with and for people with severe cognitive and motor impairments.
  • Oussama Metatla is a Senior Lecturer and EPSRC Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bristol. His research interests include multisensory interaction, sensory and cognitive impairments and co-designing with and for people with disabilities. He currently leads a project focusing on inclusive educational technology for mixed-ability groups in mainstream schools.
  • Erin Beneteau is a PhD candidate at the iSchool, University of Washington and a Speech-Language Therapist. Her research interests include communication interactions between children, their families, and technologies. Her thesis research focuses on creative pursuits and people who use assistive technologies.
  • Nikoleta Yiannoutsou is a Scientific Officer at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission and a honorary Senior Research Fellow at the UCL Knowledge Lab. Her research focuses on the design of digital technologies for children’s learning. Her recent work at UCL involved design based research of multisensory technologies with visually impaired children.
  • Katta Spiel is a Postdoctoral Researcher in Playful Physical Computing with KU Leuven and University of Vienna, where they investigate the play preferences of neurodivergent people. Their broader research agenda centers marginalised perspectives in design with a focus on gender and disability.