What do children’s drawings tell us about consumer society

Drawing is one of the children’s favorite activities. From scribbling to the most accomplished production, their drawings tell us about their environment. However, children are immersed in consumer culture and academic works converge to ensure that consumer society is particularly investigated by them when painting.

Based on this observation, researchers interested in the field are increasingly using these graphic media to capture what children learn and understand about consumption.

Collection of child’s drawings for research.
Find drawing as a child’s language, Introduction by the author

Due to their cognitive abilities, children primarily process information via visual items. Thus, in the course of the workshops, researchers asking 7- to 12-year-olds (the concrete operating stage, according to developmental psychologist Jean Piaget) to draw products or consumption situations, all came to the same conclusions. Children recall a lot of details, testify to the good interpretation and memorization of specific attributes that classify products and distinguish brands: logo, graphic charter, mascot, packaging …

Similarly, when side by side with young participants, the researchers observed a remarkable application of children to reproduce the colors and shapes that characterize the brands.

consumption contexts

Moreover, even when the researcher does not ask the child for specific instructions, it is not uncommon to find one or more signs in the drawing. They are then mobilized to enhance the realism of the productions, which undoubtedly demonstrates the importance that children attach to them in their daily lives.

Some participants added logos to emphasize their understanding of the link between branding and advertising. The presence of products and brands associated with promotional messages in children’s products shows the extent to which these various elements are resources in building their consumer culture.

In addition to their knowledge of products and brands, children know how to distinguish between the contexts in which they are consumed. Thus, they represent the physical places of consumption but also the resulting social environments. They are able to distinguish products that are consumed at home – and thus attract their family members – from other products that are used outdoors.

From the state of the meal seen as harmless, the snack has moved to highlight family life with periods of confinement.
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Read more: Lunch: Back to the Snack Favor


For example, in a meal taken in the canteen, there will be several tables and chairs to denote the meal taken in a group setting. We will also find many children to report disproportionateness caused by these meals eaten together. Another example, if we ask the children to draw a snack without detailing the instructions, they will produce drawings where they will imagine themselves eating, where they will represent their snack, but they can also draw a Christmas snack where various crafts will be displayed and underlined. The casual and festive character of this meal.

Each situation drawn is then linked to exemplary products, demonstrating their skills in identifying the “right” things and the “right” people according to the circumstances. An inventory of objects associated with characters (family, peers, teachers, etc.) also indicates that children are aware of the symbolic and social dimensions associated with consumption very early on.

world of transformations

Children live in a world of transformations and this awareness appears in their drawings. After immersing children in standards and values ​​that strive to make consumption more responsible and virtuous, children seek to convey them in their drawings.

Due to the issues related to a healthy and sustainable diet over their health and well-being, children are often approached on this topic by researchers and consumer professionals. The drawings made provide access to their food repertoire and individual preferences. It also discloses which products and brands are associated with healthy eating or well-being factors for them.

child drawing
Tips for healthy eating seen by a young participant in one study.
Find drawing as a child’s language, Introduction by the author

In addition, the drawings show that children know the symbols that the food industry uses to tell consumers that a product is healthy: use green or yellow colours, reproduce labels or a Nutri score… Then their drawings are asked to activate the correct levers to encourage changes in behaviour. Some children also offer themselves some solutions to adopt in their products: “Give good points, avoid publicity, and make sweets that do not harm the teeth” …

In the same spirit, our pilot study on children’s environmental awareness, conducted on 42 of them between the ages of 7 and 12 (17 girls and 25 boys) shows that the main causes of global warming they identified are consumption. Black and gray are used to manufacture smoke from cars or factories. This indicates that they have internalized the fact that human activities are polluting and that this endangers the planet, which is represented in the form of a sad face sometimes covered with tears.

If children show strong emotional reactions to global warming, their drawings paint few solutions to combat the phenomenon. No doubt we must see the difficulty they, just like adults, have in developing in a consumer society under pressure.

From acting to fantasy

If the drawings reflect the way children control consumer society, they also make it possible to capture their imagination, define their aspirations and analyze the contradictions with the existing. For example, as part of research on distribution signs, 95 children were asked to represent “the perfect shop, their dream shop” using an A4 sheet of paper, 32 pens, and 18 colored pencils and pencils.



Read more: On Screens, Helping Children Become Conscious Consumers


The researchers noted that all children unleashed their creativity, freeing themselves from rational constraints in favor of playful, poetic, and even magical considerations. The stores are designed as places that enhance the charming shopping experience and make them feel welcome and thoughtful. These products, rooted in divergent thinking, are undoubtedly sources of inspiration for managers who want to innovate by keeping in mind the expectations of their young clients.

The imagination of consumption has also been invoked in the context of a study of children’s depictions of ingesting insects. Children present insect-based recipes in their drawings and indicate, from this point of view, that their consumption arouses less disgust than adults, and therefore this can be visualized in the near future by activating the correct levers.

Far from being a regular thing for parents to be proud of, children’s drawings are a cultural production and as such constitute scholarly resources to access and represent their practices as young consumers. Analyzing the productions of these children can nurture reflections, tailor actions at a stage with their point of view, and will likely increase their well-being in a consumer society making them play central roles as pastors and future citizens. And few followers.

Adults are now revisiting this “natural” activity for children through design approaches that consider coordination (by drawing or modeling) as a transformative tool that allows them to capture imagination, innovate, or build a desirable future around consumption. Undoubtedly, “a good drawing is better than long speech.”

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