Why channelling a kids-as-clients mentality pushes creativity to new heights
Words by: Simon Hatter, Founder as told to Jo Usmar, Editorial Consultant
There you are, about to launch the dry-run of an IRL experience that’s taken months of prep. You’re feeling good. You’ve planned this to within an inch of its (and your) life. Nothing can possibly go wrong. The ‘client’ comes in, looks at your beautiful creation – and kicks it. And, as if that wasn’t rude enough, then they start climbing it – and when they reach the top, they suddenly launch themselves from it. The audience collectively gasps and crosses themselves… and then exhales slowly as the client lands safely in the ball pit.

Your ‘client’ being, of course, a kid. And, while their response isn’t exactly what you’d planned, it actually worked out better because they’re already half-way up again for a second go.

Kids: a more demanding, judgemental, meticulous and fussy audience it would be hard to find. If it’s not good, they’ll tell you – following-up with a summary of how you could have made it brilliant, but just missed the mark. They’ll take your carefully drawn-up plans and metaphorically tear them to shreds (perhaps even literally) and use what you’ve created in ways you could never have imagined. They’ll yawn, wander off, stare into space and ask never-ending questions that will make you question the previous life decisions that landed you here: having to justify yourself to someone who doesn’t understand your job title, let alone your job.

It’s brilliant. And awful. But mostly brilliant.

Children barrage you out of all comfort zones, challenging traditional ways of working and shattering assumptions – with absolutely no hidden agendas, no politics, and no egos. As an experience agency with over seven years of play-related projects under its belt, HATTER has had to navigate this the hard way, but has emerged realising that all agencies can benefit from embracing a kids-as-clients mentality – here are five reasons why.

Air Max Day Dubai

1. Kids don’t sugarcoat feedback

Children can’t hide how they feel, ergo you will know immediately whether you’re on the right track. Cutting to the chase in this way can be brutal, yes, but saves time, forces you to work harder, and eliminates ego. Arguing with a 10 year old about why they should love your creation and defending your process is a waste of time – and you can’t take offence. It’s a great reminder that constructive criticism isn’t personal and that engaging with it is always valuable. (Caveat: only when the criticism genuinely is constructive, of course…).

2. They never follow the rules

You can design a customer journey that’s flawless on paper, only to realise that kids don’t care about how something should work, only how it can work. The example at the top of this article? Yep, that really happened. HATTER carefully designed a rock-climbing wall for a Nike activation only to have a kid face it and say, “I’m not playing your game,” racing straight up and leaping off into the foam. We started having to second-guess everything we created – and learn to embrace that rather than try to inhibit it. It’s opened up the possibilities of space in an entirely new and inquisitive way.

3. They won’t take ‘no’ for an answer

Saying, “You can’t do that,” to a child is a red flag to a bull – as it should be to any creative. Kids are still learning about consequences so don’t fear them yet. That’s why they’ll always push the big red-button labelled “DON’T PUSH” – which, when it comes to creative design, is an exciting prospect for us more world-wary adults. It’s an effective reminder that taking positive risks is what enticed many of us into this industry in the first place.  

4. Their imagination is limitless

Where we see a sofa, kids see a fort. Where we see a floor, they see lava! To create effectively for kids, you need to accept that they’re not mini-adults and put your Kid Goggles on. This reignites imagination and makes work fun. Our annual projects for Nike Air Max Day are great examples of us putting this into practice: we’ve invited kids into our unique science labs and music studios – always taking their engagement seriously and never for granted.  

5. They are naturally inclusive

Being comfortable addressing non-binary people with the correct pronouns? Happens everyday at school. Constantly mixing with diverse groups? This generation of Zalphas (9 to 14 year olds) is the most diverse in history. Understanding the concept of the metaverse better than their parents? 100% guaranteed. Zalphas are diverse digital natives who absorb complex cultural, digital and social constructs with ease as it’s not “new” information – it just is how it is. We should all be so lucky and can learn from this no-questions-asked inclusivity.

Channelling a kids-as-clients mentality is a great way of pushing creativity to new heights and remembering that experience is always subjective.

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