On the way to a workshop on how to fold Japanese paper figures at the Design Museum in Holon, I asked my eight-year-old niece if she had ever been there before. She said no, but immediately boasted that she had been to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the Man and the Living World Museum in Ramat Gan. I asked her if she knows what design is and immediately regretted this, because I did not want to be seen as a serious and education-focused uncle, but as a fun person. Indeed, she glared angrily at me and said no, she doesn't know what the word design means.

I found myself speechless, something that does not happen often. Even so, it is not a simple question and there is no single agreed upon answer: Even the curator of design at New York's Museum of Modern Art did not agree to answer this question when I interviewed her several months ago. Luckily for me, my niece did not insist on hearing an answer and in the meantime, I hoped that on the way home, after a visit to the museum and the workshop, perhaps an answer would be found for her (and me ).

We arrived at the museum and surprisingly were taken to the nearby Mediatech building without seeing the exhibition by the Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto. There we met designers Eitan Shiloh and Hadar Kimchy, who created Papercat, a company that designs products from paper, and who ran the workshop engagingly and professionally.

In the workshop, intended for adult-accompanied children aged seven and over, each participant received an empty corn flakes box and step by step transformed it into a robot or a princess. If we overlook the expected gender issue for a moment, the 90 minutes during which the children made the figures passed quickly and the results were terrific.

One thing was nevertheless disturbing: There was no connection whatsoever between the workshop and the Design Museum, and it was unclear what is Japanese about a robot or a princess. Once again the image surfaced of the serious uncle who wondered whether the experience was meant to be didactic and relevant to the exhibition, or if it was enough for the children to merely experience without grasping the finer points, exercise their imaginations and, no less importantly, get through an hour-and-a-half in the August heat without complaining.

Happy ending

However, it turned out later that the winning combination of an educational and enjoyable experience was to be found in the museum itself, in the "Design Detectives" program where parents and children are invited to explore the museum and discover the world of clothing and textile design. During the program, the participants visit the Yamamoto exhibition with a museum guide and analyze the language of design by completing missions and answering questions requiring them to ponder, investigate and discover.

In this activity, also for parents and children older than seven, each participant receives a short booklet of assignments specifically tailored to the exhibition. Adults will also find them of interest. For example: "Yamamoto states that he designs clothes to serve their owners over a long period. Which design of his would you like to try on? When would you wear it? Why?" My niece did the last task without being asked. She went from one model to the next and determined with the decisiveness of eight-year-girls: "nice," and "not nice." Little by little she managed on her own to formulate some of Yamamoto's design principles, such as working with layers and using blacks and reds a lot.

At the end of the museum visit, she still did not know how to define design, but given that her uncle was also not entirely sure of the answer, you could describe the day as having been a particularly successful one.