The Reactive Colours Project: Demonstrating Participatory and Collaborative Design Methods for the Creation of Software for Autistic Children

By Wendy E. Keay-Bright.

Published by The Design Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper demonstrates the importance of participation with end-users and interdisciplinary collaboration with experts, to the design process. The context for this study is interaction between autistic children and computers in education. Whereas computers in education are conventionally associated with task-based learning, my research uses the computer as a tangible interface for embodied play activities. I make two claims with regard to the participatory design process. (1) There is, I argue, an important relationship between the participatory design process and the design of play for autistic children. End-user participation in this context allows the highly particular responses and reactions of autistic children to be recorded and included in the evolutionary design process. (2) The interdisciplinary approach to collaboration presents a challenging paradox for designers, as it requires both imaginative and empirical design methods. Whilst it is often critical to have statistic analysis to satisfy scientific approaches, it is of equal importance, within this area of research, to understand the idiosyncratic behavioural patterns of individuals on a spectrum of autistic difference. In this paper, I (a) set out my work on the computer as a tangible interface for embodied play, (b) demonstrate, through examples of the Reactive Colours research methods, how autistic children claim the embodied play environment as their own, and (c) describe how this appropriation by the children and interdisciplinary collaboration is incorporated into the design process. I also indicate the benefits which the tangible interface has for enhancing the learning capacities of autistic children.

Keywords: Participatory Design, Interdisciplinary Collaboration, Tangible Interfaces, Play, Autistic Spectrum

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp.7-16. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 547.013KB).

Wendy E. Keay-Bright

Senior Lecturer, Principal Investigator, Reactive Colours Research Project, Cardiff School of Art and Design, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, University of Wales Institute, Wales, UK

A graduate of Graphic Design and Animation, I began my career on the popular children's TV series, SuperTed, before becoming a freelance animation producer researching and producing animation content for BBC One, HTV West and S4C. It was during this period that I began working with children as co-designers; the productions for which I was responsible pioneered the notion of children as creators of original programme content. A fascination for technology as an experiential medium has provided the motivation to undertake research at a high academic level, alongside teaching responsibilities. All my research has involved users directly, as well indirectly through web technologies. Reactive Colours© and ReacTckles© represent my most recent research activity which has been awarded funding from the NESTA Learning Programme. My responsibilities include research, project management and design. I have presented and published my work internationally, most recently I taught multimedia design at Sichuan Fine Art Institute and presented my research at Xi’an People’s Hospital in China. I am a member of the Higher Education Academy.

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