An exhibition in Paris reopens the debate on design as a tool for bringing out creativity in children

How can creativity be stimulated in children using design? An exhibition at the Philia Gallery in Paris (until December 10) tries to answer this question in a concrete way.

Thanks to the Design Brut | project Philia & Kids at the chapel of Notre-Dame-des-Monts in Paris, for five months a class of six and seven year olds, accompanied by their teacher, was introduced to sculptural design by two contemporary designers, Antoine Behaghel and Alexis Foiny from Behaghel Foiny Studio.

Design furniture for children (designed with children)

The furniture they designed was then crafted by a cabinetmaker from locally sourced olive wood and presented in the Notre-Dame-des-Monts chapel to the children, their parents and the local community.

The goal is to bring design closer to children all over the world, thanks to a traveling exhibition that will touch more countries and more communities of designers.

But is it true that design helps bring out the creativity of children?

Answering this question is not easy but the history of design gives us the experiences of many masters for whom childhood and its curious approach to life is an infinite container of creative inspiration.

Luigi Colani, designer and inventor of radical objects since he was a child

The legend tells that Luigi Colani, designer and inventor of radical objects, began 'doing' design as a child.

His family did not have the money to buy toys for their numerous offspring and Luigi worked hard to invent and build them. Probably the Luts games were very good. And it's a pity we didn't get to see them. But traces of that construction of objects of desire are evident in all of Colani's work, which translated unbridled fantasies of science fiction worlds into functional objects and means of transport.

Colani was a pragmatic visionary. A quality that most of the masters of the project share. And it is an attitude that the memory of a little Luigi Colani who invents and builds games explains very clearly. Inventiveness and creativity are qualities which, together with the opposable thumb, have transformed any primate into an evolutionary success of unexpected proportions. Imagining and looking for solutions are physiological cognitive actions and, thinking of design and its teachers, one cannot help but doubt that a designer is an adult who hasn't forgotten how to play.

Achille Castiglioni and the curiosity of children

Achille Castiglioni loved to repeat that being curious like a child is an indispensable quality for a designer.

There are images that portray him as he explores objects and tries alternative uses for them that clarify his way of working better than a thousand critical essays. An amused, curious, ironic look. And a presence in doing that is really typical of children. A look that is immediately project. The same attitude that Enzo Mari has when he invents the "Proposal for a self-design" in 1974, an invitation to think and build on their own like children do when they play with makeshift objects, transforming them, adapting them, rethinking them. And for children and their wonder, Mari always has a thought of respect and amazement. The "Sixteen Animals", a Noah's ark made with a continuous cut in a wooden parallelepiped, is a project born by giving oneself rules and limits, as one does when playing "let's pretend that...".

Obviously the undisputed protagonist of a hypothetical design pedagogy is Bruno Munari

His poetics in art and design works were often inspired by children and designed for children and teenagers. His "Abitacolo", from 1971, is basically a delicate and informal suggestion for a private space/house, whose functions children and teenagers can independently define and experiment with the use of modules and geometries. The very numerous books for children and teenagers created by Munari have similar functions: to propose with delicacy and great respect the tools for research and understanding of reality that allow for autonomous self-expression. An independence in seeking solutions which is the very condition of evolution and change.

The books and workshops, as well as his proposals for experimentation and investigation of reality, have been structured and officially transformed into a "method". And, as often happens in Italy, Munari's practices have long been an integral, albeit informal, part of the Italian school. And not only. The idea of ​​a pedagogical "method" inspired, refined or contaminated by the same curiosity and investigative and experimental autonomy of design is present in almost all the most advanced and efficient pedagogical proposals. Montessori schools, devoted to the idea that children are able to learn through doing, support what Munari insistently preached: "If I do, I understand". And the most innovative minds of the last decades have come out of Montessori schools: from Bill Gates to Mark Zuckerberg.

Caring for children and recognizing their innate design skills is a living legacy among contemporary designers

And there are many examples of designers who, having become parents, discover that inventiveness and creativity are transversal codes, spaces for fertile and joyful communication first with their own children, and then with children in general. Matteo Ragni in 2008 started a project of self-production of wooden toy cars which quickly turned into a programmatic manifesto for a transversal and collective sharing of design skills. An idea definitely inspired by the thought of Bruno Munari and his ability to recognize the need for dialogue and relationship with the inventive gaze of children. Just as, going back a few years, we come across objects, collections, projects in which conversation with childhood and with play are the very core of innovation and invention. The entire Family Follows Fiction collection, developed by Stefano Giovannoni and Guido Venturini in the 1990s for Alessi is the recovery of a playful attitude, loudly irreverent and ready for laughter and lightness. Just as, returning to the masters, the rigorous typological research work of Richard Sapper has often led to the birth of objects in which sensoriality and a certain aptitude for reinventing solutions speak directly to the childish parts of the adult world. The "Whistle" kettle and the "Bandung" automatic teapot are amazing games, indeed.

Design at school?

It is not easy to imagine how and if design can be integrated in a formal way among the skills to be absorbed during the very first years of training. And perhaps it is even better to think that the tools of the project, with all their irreverent and at the same time constructive impact, remain carbonara practices, islands of freedom in which the institutional school fortunately does not enter.

And yet... you can't ignore that endless list of innovators who have shaped the contemporary world, all coming from schools that clearly and unequivocally suggest investigating the world in freedom, experimenting, trying, making mistakes. And finding extraordinary solutions.