Position Paper at a CHI 2024 Workshop  : PlayFutures: Imagining Civic Futures with AI and Puppets


Designing Civic Futures with Kids using Puppets & Generative AI

Design Research, Child Computer Interaction, Performance Studies, Design Futuring, Civic Research

My Role

  • Design Researcher
  • Visual Design


  • Puppetry & Performance
  • Participatory Making
  • Thematic Analysis


  • Puppet Making Kits
  • Art & Craft Supplies
  • GenAI Art


  • Workshop on Feb 2024


Dr. Noura Howell, Dr. Michael Nitshche, Dr. Sumita Sharma, Ashley Frith, Jennifer Morrison

1. Overview

PlayFutures is a workshop for kids aged 10-12 yrs old on art making & storytelling with puppets with the help of Generative AI. We will be learning about AI -Art to re-imagine civic spaces in Atlanta, Use AI to imagine future stories, make puppets and act out those stories to discuss our ideas of the future.

What is Design Futuring?

Design futuring is a process of imagining future scenarios to inform design decisions and anticipate potential alternative realities in the future.

2. Problem

Problems to current approaches of design for the novel technologies include:

[1] Kozubaev et al (2020). Expanding Modes of Reflection in Design Futuring. 2020 CHI

3. Need

There is a need to accommodate multiple perspectives in designing products of the future. Inspiration for which can be taken from literature from areas of speculative, participatory, and inlcusive design:

Dunne & Raby [1] discuss strategies for public engagement through critical and speculative design, emphasising the importance of collaboration with experts to add insight and validity to design propositions.

Howell et al. [2] argue that a plurality of perspectives is needed to engage imaginations that depict a diverse unfolding of potential futures.

Hyysalo et al [3] investigate the effectiveness of collaborative futuring with participants in generating valuable and significant information for planning purposes. This approach to futuring enables a more democratic engagement with the communities involved, which is beneficial from a normative perspective .

To which the questions arise:

3. Approach

Approaches to making design processes more inclusive include works from:

These fields stems from areas of work being explored in Digital Media design and also areas of work I learnt from scholars at my program.

Artist - Designer Perspective

Gaver et al. [4] discuss looking at design research of new technologies from the creative traditional lens of an artist-designer, rather than a scientific or engineering perspective.

Critical Making

Ratto's perspective on critical making discusses the importance of engaging a materiality and the physical act of making in order to challenge and critique dominant modes of design and production [5].


Schechner's approach to performance studies highlights the importance of engaging with the embodied, experiential, and relational aspects of cultural practices, which can be applied to critical making and design futuring in order to create more engaging, inclusive, and impactful futures [6].

Criticality & Theatre

Ventä-Olkkonen et al [7] dicuss that critical design and making, along with the use of Theatre of the Oppressed, can be effective approaches for addressing the problem of bullying in collaboration with children.

One approach involves inviting children to critically consider future technology design for all and envision and design better AI/ML applications that are ethical, inclusive, and fair. Design futuring approaches are used to engage children in envisioning the future and designing inclusively [8]


The idea of puppets came up when we were discussing what mediums could work for exploring critical thinking. One of our collaborators had extensive experience in working with puppets previously. But, why puppets? Because:

4. Research Question

How can Digital Media aid critical making and performance to bring in reflections about novel technologies in future?

The novel technology in question:

Generative Artificial Intelligence is the talk of the town with this period being relevant for calls from scholars for AI Literacy, Explainable AI and Critical Development of AI. This was an opportunity for us to explore how generative AI could be our focus.

Additional Questions

  1. How might GenAI Art facilitate children's understanding and engagement with local civic issues in Atlanta?
  2. What insights can GenAI Art provide about hopes, fears, and priorities of Atlanta's youth on the future of their city?
  3. How do future scenarios of children with GenAI Art reflect current sociopolitical and environmental landscapes of Atlanta?
  4. How might GenAI Art catalyze intergenerational dialogue on future urban planning and community development in Atlanta?
  5. How can we co-create futures with generative-AI with kids?

6. Workshop Prep

7. The Workshop

Playfutures is a workshop that is a workshop that enables kids to create puppets and perform with them to enact scenes from the future. The aim of the workshop is to encourage children to critically reflecton co-creation with AI and also novel technologies fo the future and how they can shape it.


  1. Kids age group 10-12
  2. Workshop in Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  3. Focus of local community issues.


6. PlayFtures Workshops Design

The workshop is currently designed based on pilot studies run in July 2023 with 5 kids at Decatur Makers. The analysis for the studies will be published.

Flow of the Workshop

Puppet Kits

Workbook Design

7.  Workshop DAy

8. Contibutions

a) Design Research

Performance as a design method has been analysed, this work would contribute to it and also as a way of looking at performance to design futures. It is an investigation into how performance studies, play, theatre and performing arts can be a bridge between a certain user group and doing participatory interventions with them.

b) Designing for Kids

The research contributes to existing work on Child Computer Interactions (CCI) and Critical AI Literacy with Children. It also looks to look at ways of participatory practices to do reflective design with kids.

c)  Design of Future Tech

As a design research method, this looks to investigates the design research done for creation of digital media of the future.

9. References

[1] Dunne, A., & Raby, F. (2013). Speculative everything: design, fiction, and social dreaming. Cambridge, Massachusetts, The MIT Press.

[2] Noura Howell, Britta F. Schulte, Amy Twigger Holroyd, Rocío Fatás Arana, Sumita Sharma and Grace Eden. 2021. Calling for a Plurality of Perspectives on Design Futuring: An Un-Manifesto. In CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Extended Abstracts (CHI '21 Extended Abstracts), May 08-13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 15 Pages.

[3] Hyysalo, S., Kohtala, C., Helminen, P., Mäkinen, S., Miettinen, V., & Muurinen, L. (2014). Collaborative futuring with and by makers. CoDesign - International Journal of CoCreation in Design and the Arts, 10(3–4), 209–228.

[4] B. Gaver, T. Dunne, and E. Pacenti. 1999. Design: Cultural Probes. interactions 6(1), 21--29.

[5] Matt Ratto (2011) Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life, The Information Society, 27:4, 252-260, DOI: 10.1080/01972243.2011.583819

[6] Schechner, R., & Schechner, R. (2013). Performance Studies: An Introduction (3rd ed.). Routledge.

[7[ Leena Ventä-Olkkonen, Netta Iivari, Sumita Sharma, Nina Juustila-Çevirel, Tonja Molin-Juustila, Essi Kinnunen, Jenni Holappa and Heidi Hartikainen. 2022. All the World is our Stage: Empowering Children to Tackle Bullying through Theatre of the Oppressed in Critical Design and Making. In Nordic Human-Computer Interaction Conference (NordiCHI '22), October 08-12, 2022, Aarhus, Denmark. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 20 Pages.

[8] Sumita, Sharma., Netta, Iivari., Leena, Ventä-Olkkonen., Heidi, Hartikainen., Marianne, Kinnula. (2023). Inclusive Child-centered AI: Employing design futuring for Inclusive design of inclusive AI by and with children in Finland and India.,  doi: 10.48550/arXiv.2304.08041