Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Kano Lets Kids Make Their Own Computers, Design Their Own Games

©2013 Kano

Raspberry Pi is back in the news this week, with the announcement of an incredibly cool new Kickstarter campaign aimed at financing the production of a spiffy, child-friendly "kit" for building a desktop computer fuelled by the tiny, single-board Pi. Kano - "the computer everyone can make" aims to make the activity of building your own computer as much like playing with Lego as possible, and in so doing, teach kids about the inner workings of computer systems more generally. The designers claim that the kits are intuitive enough that a child can put them together without needing instructions. Once the computer is built, it comes with a Linux operating system and is pre-loaded with a number of programs and games, including a version of Minecraft. Oh yes, and the entire thing is open source.

In less than 18 hours, the project reached its funding goal of $100,000. When I viewed the site earlier today, pledges were nearing the $1million mark. Incredible! The following excerpt is from Liz Stinson's review of the product (or, product idea?) for Wired online
Today, children grow up surrounded by shiny objects that look and act like magic. There are screens that respond to touch and computers that can do just about anything a five-year-old can dream up. But even though kids have been immersed in technology since birth, it’s rare for them to actually know how it works. 
A new kit called Kano is hoping to change that. Released last week on Kickstarter, the Raspberry Pi kit merges basic computer science concepts with gorgeous, functional design, turning just about anyone into a computer maker. Each kit, created by London startup Kano, is comprised of bits and pieces that are constructed to build a functioning computer that can be hooked up to a monitor. On the Kano OS, kids can reprogram Pong and Minecraft, compose music, learn to code and even just word-process—all through a computer they built themselves.
Although the campaign has reached its goal, you can still pledge and thereby pre-order your own Kano kit on the Kickstarter site. They also have a Kano Lab package in place for classrooms and backspaces that includes 10 kits, a daylong workshop and a digital curriculum pack.

While no mention is made about it in the campaign video or accompanying description, I couldn't help but notice some signs of gender inclusiveness in both the product design and its marketing. The aesthetic design of the kit is cute and playful, and appears to be purposefully gender-inclusive. For instance, the logo/user icon is androgynous, they stayed away from typically gendered colours (i.e. pastels for girls, red/black/grey/blue for boys). The tagline and descriptions emphasize that the computer is for everyone. Although the video itself is initially dominated by men and boys (likely a byproduct of the fact that the creators and the source of inspiration for the project were men and a boy respectively), there are plenty of girls featured throughout as active users of the kit.

What I especially love is that they've included (or at least attempted to include - I haven't seen the actual kit yet, so can't say for sure!) multiple points of entry in the kit design -- including storytelling -- without labelling these in essentialist terms. This is noteworthy because the dominant discourse in computer and game design is that 'girls are drawn to stories' and 'boys are drawn to challenges'...which of course is just gender essentialism and ignores the many boys who love telling stories and the many girls who thrive on being challenged. A truly gender inclusive design will attempt to include different preferences and play modes, without labelling these as "for girls" or "for boys"....an approach which Kano has apparently espoused, and which is a really refreshing position to take. The contrast with Goldie Blox is palpable, and has me thinking that there might be a compelling study in comparing the marketing and discourses surrounding the two projects.