Introducing Graphic Design to Kids

Well hello! We are here to bring big design ideas to small people by creating activity and sketchbooks that explore and promote great design. We also love to research and write about design, so here we are with our first blog post. Thanks for reading:)

We’re going to delve into all sorts of design in this blog but today let’s talk about how to introduce and teach graphic design to kids - we'll see how it is all around us, how kids react to it, and how we can foster new ideas in our little ones so they can create their own designs too.

Even though we're designers, we were surprised at how quickly and early our own kids picked up on graphic design in their environment without any intentional thought about it. My daughter is 4 and she can recognise a Volvo logo because we drive one, point out the Canada Post vans on our way to preschool, and the Disney brand identity, because…ahem… that’s how the movie Frozen starts. So since they are already noticing graphic design, let's talk about it!

Where to Begin

So how do we talk about graphic design and encourage critical thinking about it with our little ones, while also having fun? Well, we think graphic design is inherently fun, but you know, we’re biased, so we’ve come up with (and stolen) a few ideas, activities, and resources on how to recognize, appreciate, and practice graphic design with our kids.

To start, what is graphic design, and how do we describe it? Well, to distill it down to its essence, we tell kids that it is using colours, letters, and pictures to help people understand things. There are also a few more awesome answers here. And a graphic designer is someone who creates these colours, letters, and pictures, usually using drawings they make on paper and on the computer. They usually make a LOT of drawings before deciding which one they like the best, so we like to say there’s actually no mistakes in design, just lots of ideas and practice.

 

“Whether you realize it or not, most of the decisions you make, every day, are by design. Everything that is not made by nature is designed by someone.”

- Chip Kidd, Graphic Designer

 

 

Kids love to DO stuff so let's move quickly on to the graphic design activities!

1. What is Designed?

The first question we’ll ask is: "How do we know if something has been designed?”

This is a yes/no exercise that gets kids involved and thinking about things that have been designed and things that haven’t, start by giving them some examples so they can answer themselves:

  • A tree (NOOOOO!)
  • A house (YESSS!)
  • A hippopotamus (NOOOO!)
  • Lego (YESSS!)

And so on until they grow tired of this…

2. What Colour Does it Feel Like?

We’ll continue with some learning about colours and how they affect how we see and feel. Start by drawing the outline of a series of words and ask your little one to colour them in with what colour it feels like: ‘HAPPY’ ‘ANGRY’ ‘EXCITED’ ‘SAD’ ‘WORRIED' and ‘SLEEPY’ (if they aren’t reading yet just talk them through it one word at a time.)

Next, grab a box of crayons or colouring pens and ask them to pick a colour that:

  • Reminds them of summertime
  • Makes them think of a cat
  • Makes them think of (use their favourite character from a book or movie)

And you can do this in reverse as well, kids can choose a colour and tell you what it makes them think of. Then try drawing one of those things with a ‘wrong’ colour - ie. a purple cat, a green sun, and see what they think of those!

3. Size Matters

We can also look at how size can change how a word feels. How does ‘I saw a big giraffe’ compare to ‘I saw a BIG giraffe’. Try this out with a few small and big animals, and in reverse, write mouse in big letters, and hippo in small letters, see how it changes what the sentence looks like.

4. Make Your Own Logo

Now let’s test out some ideas and create our own designs. You can raid your kitchen cupboard for this activity - pull out a bunch of items (yay, adult-sanctioned chaos!) and ask your little one to identify the logos on each one. “What do they look like, why do you think they chose that colour or picture or shape?” Then ask them to pick their favourite food (in our house it would predictably be mac & cheese) and draw a logo for it themselves.

So, there’s a start for some new, hands-on activities to do with your little designers. Below are some more resources for introducing your kids to graphic design and getting them interested in creating their own designs:

Books

An awesome book called Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design by one of the world’s most famous book cover designers, Chip Kidd, on introducing little ones to graphic design.

Another great book, for slightly older kids, called ‘Graphic Design Play Book: An Exploration of Visual Thinking.’ Authors Sophie Cure and Barbara Seggio use puzzles and visual challenges to demonstrate how typography, signage, logo design, posters, and branding work.

Audio

There is a great interview with Chip Kidd here on how design shapes everything.

The Brains On podcast is full of interesting episodes on everything from how lightning is created to why animals fart, and includes some graphicly inclined topics like “Why Does Green Mean Go and Other Colour Conundrums” and “How Does Paint Stick?”

The ‘But Why’ podcast has a series of printable colouring pages kids can colour on while listening to the show, created by a range of different artists on topics like ‘Are Unicorns Real’ and ‘Why Do People Like Different Types Of Music?’

Online

We’re pretty big fans of making stuff in real life - to start at least - but also totally understand that screens are going to happen too. We do like Procreate as a drawing tool for kids, it is a pricey app (around $13) but good for professionals as well as kids if adults want to use it too!

Sesame Street has a free art-maker with a bunch of templates that will introduce your child to creating artwork and images on a computer.

Finally, I Shot the Serif (we’re suckers for a good font pun) is a free app you could use for car trips (or any time you need 10 minutes of distraction) - the goal is to shoot the font styles that are serif while trying to avoid shooting the sans serifs. There are a range of levels and this is a surprisingly fun and challenging little game.