Before the end of third year, I had a very clear idea that I wanted to design a physical digital product for children. It was during this time that I spoke to my brother (who has a toddler of his own) about his concerns about how technology is changing childhood, which gave me the idea to look at the future of play.
It wasn’t until the start of semester one, when I was somewhere in France, having just cut short a running adventure from London to Rome, that I realised I wanted to combine the theme of play with two things I love; being active and exploring. I really couldn’t have anticipated at this time with this starting point and following my research and design process I would be presenting a project such as Play.world at degree show.
I wanted to ensure quite early on that I approached my project in a way that could apply some of the design thinking methods I had been reading about for my dissertation. I was reading "Change by design" by Tim Brown from IDEO, and wanted to approach the research stage in a way that would allow me to use the three key elements described by Brown as key for creating solutions for people's unmet needs they often don't realise they have of observation, insight and empathy. In addition to this, I wanted to apply a design thinking strategy to the entire end-to-end process. I was reading "Designing for Growth" by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie. Here they outlined 4 key questions that drive the design thinking process; what is? what if? what wows? and what works? I feel that I have employed these methods to both the research and design processes and it has really helped me to develop a deep understanding of the people I am designing for, as well as understanding my project in different ways at different stages. I feel that as a work in progress, I haven't been able to answer the question "what works?" at this stage, and feel that I am a many iterations off getting to this stage. However, I am overall really happy with the outcome of this project, and excited to carrying on working on parts in the future.
Very early on, I set myself aims that I wanted to achieve both for myself as a designer, for the project and as a person. For me, people and design are my strongest areas of my practise. However, I didn’t want to shy away from using technology and set myself the task of challenging myself to take this year as an opportunity to learn new things.
Aim: To really understand the needs of children and their parents, designing something fun and delightful that can really help to get kids more active and reduce parental guilt about screen time.
In depth research is really key for me, and I wanted to ensure my research process was something I could fully enjoy and involved:
Observation with a young family that I lived with for six weeks
Interviews and surveys
Finding my inner child!
Research trips to Copenhagen, Yalp in Holland, and Lego House
I always think of the people I am designing for being at the heart of my project, so I wanted to really gain a true understanding of multiple potential users of my product. This has meant including children and their parents from the start, and something which was very important to the development of play.world.
I was initially alarmed by the notion that 75% of children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates. To me, this statistic is unfathomable. I started asking why is it that who is seen as the most precious in society (our children) would spend less time outdoors than those who have been locked away from society because of their actions. Especially when the benefits of being outside and outdoor play are so well documented. However, it was from speaking to parents, and the unique opportunity to live with and observe a young family for six weeks that allowed me to gain insights and develop empathy with families that really steered the project.
I was able to understand how busy family life is – making outdoor play sometimes difficult to schedule in. As well the advice surrounding their child’s screen use, has them concerned and confused. In addition to this, many parents also commented how they would love to get their kid’s more active, but video games such as Fortnite make it difficult to get them off the computer and out of the house. This really steered the direction of my project, as initially I had wanted to create something that would encourage more children to be outdoors, or to use the time they are outdoors more constructively. However, after synthesis of my research, I thought it would be interesting to explore how ‘digital enchantment’ can be used with a more active approach in mind.
During the design and making process of play.world, I decided to involve families again by holding a game co-design sprint, as well as multiple rounds of testing from a roleplay type prototype (which involved giving some of the children a costume and narrating parts of a story to them, asking them to act it out), through to end user testing of both the app and game. These sessions were essential to the further development and direction of the project and helped me to discover insights that have informed the project to date.
It was also really promising to gain positive feedback from one of my test families that had been less involved in the full process. They identified that one of their children would play Fortnite all day if they let him, to the point where they have created a GoHenry account for him that associates his pocket money with tasks and goals. They have set it up as a way to reduce his screen time, by rewarding him if he sticks to his two hours per day. This family highlighted that play.world could be used in conjunction with these types of app as a way to get children who game frequently, more active. By setting up a task in the GoHenry app that rewards them if they meet their play.world goals. It was also really positive that they highlighted they would feel relief to have a product like this that could help burn off the energy of their younger child, and encourage the eldest to be more active, in a way they knew would be constructive and that teaches their children about the world.
It is this emotional connection to the project I really hoped to achieve this year, where the problem I was tackling could be identified by a potential end user as something relieved by my solution. This testing session affirmed to me that this goal has been achieved.
Aim: To become more adept and conscientious about creating a coherent design language across physical / digital products and experiences, and to gain more confidence in my visual design skills.
The design process has been one of constant experimentation, feedback and iteration. There are many elements which have needed to be designed for this experience to come together. This includes:
The gestural and movement interactions
The suits, including construction and print patterns
Illustrations and animations within the app and game
The font (to keep the child’s story book aesthetic)
I do feel that with the amount of design work, including original content that was created to generate the experience has unfortunately led to some areas becoming neglected. One of the biggest drains on time as a resource was the print patterns. After realising before Christmas that the dying process for the limbs would not be consistent enough, I thought that printing the patterns digitally would be the best solution. However, the type of fabric I needed to print on meant this could not be done within the university due to it being a jersey fabric. The alternative was sending this to an external printing company, but this would have made the prototyping process to costly within my budget, and therefore not feasible.
As an alternative to digital printing, sublimation printing was recommended to me. I knew that it would be a cost-effective way to get the vibrancy and consistency of print I needed but that I would need to make some compromise on the fabric type because I originally used a cotton jersey, which doesn’t take heat pressed dye very well. Eventually, after many printing and construction prototypes, I found the right fabric. But this did cost me a lot of time that I feel would have been useful to have used in areas of the project that are weaker areas such as the technology and game play. That being said, the experimentation and iteration process has been invaluable in the development of the visual design of the app and the game play, and helped to really encourage me to take real pride in the design details (such as the personal touch of the name tags) and in to crafting this experience – something which was really important to me.
I have worked really hard to develop a personal design language and style, incorporating both my artistic and illustrator flare with my design skills, as well as to pay attention to the details. I experimented with a lot of different techniques, especially after an early tutorial with Graham where he suggested I focus carefully on the art direction of the project, and this got me thinking about the “thinglyness” of a book. Ultimately I wanted to create an adventure story, so I was really heavily influenced by children’s illustration books and decided to keep the hand drawn feel to accommodate this. I really enjoyed the process of drawing out the different characters and backgrounds by hand, scanning them and digitally playing with the contrast and colour in photoshop. To keep even more so with the book theme, when cutting out the individual elements in photoshop, I wanted to create a feeling of collage by making it look almost like it was cut out with scissors. This was inspired by Graham showing me Charlie and Lola, and the nature of how these cartoons are animated to look in this way. This is a part of the project I really enjoyed, as it helped me to gain more confidence in my artistic skills, as I believe should be apparent throughout my deliverables.
There are aspects of the project that I feel need more work, particularly the game play. However, as an interaction designer I wanted to focus on creating moments of magic within the experience and on how the different elements interact with one another. As well as how my users interact with those, rather than developing a video game. There are however plans to develop the game play and content further, with play.world being invited to the V&A as part of the community engagement programme in June at the family fun day. I am really excited about this opportunity, and excited to carry on developing this project further.
Aim: Become more confident using technology in a way that it not only facilitates but also enhances the overall experience.
One thing I can definitely say is that I have experimented with a wide range of technology and that it has been a challenging year, filled with many steep learning curves. At this moment in time, there are still a few issues that need to be resolved and that have been a real hold up when it comes to usability testing of a fully functioning game. I have however been able to test the vast majority! Luckily, I had anticipated this could be the case and scheduled time in way in advance to ensure other deliverables were completed, so that I could focus on what needed to be fixed at this time.
I spent a lot of time trying to work with Unity because I originally believed from tutorials and information I found online, that this would be the best platform to use. However, I really struggled connecting any controller input (such as Arduino or my phone) in to the game engine. I spent a large portion of my tech time teaching myself about the Unity game engine from both the design and technology aspects, and whilst I learnt a lot and do not consider this a wasted experience, it did mean that my technology breakthrough came a lot later than I had hoped, which has caused delays to other areas. One of the biggest downsides to this was not having much time left to really refine the interactions to the point I would have liked. Although currently the experience is set up to be triggered by movement at set times throughout. Unfortunately, this doesn’t allow for a lot of agency by the user, and means it is currently one set journey that can be experienced.
One achievement with the technology that I am really proud of, is being able to get the rocket ship animation from the Launch screen to the game screen. It may be quite a simple interaction that many people would find easy, but it was quite a challenge for me personally, and I am happy that I was able to create this. It was one element of “magic” I really wanted to get across, where the app and game could link, and in testing hearing the “wow” and “oohs” from my testing participants was a really good feeling.
In terms of my app, I decided to use Proto.io as this is a prototyping tool that I am already adept with. It is a great way of creating animations. During my internship over the summer I had been using Sketch (which I really miss having access to), but this way of working taught me about the benefits of creating artboards first which has really helped me be able to visualise the iteration process and make quick changes. Also, something that came in really handy when my proto.io file stopped working.
This has been a really challenging and ambitious project, one that I believe is still a work in progress, and I will continue to work on after submission. It has been a really rewarding year that has taught me so much and given me more confidence to find myself as a designer, and the types of work and projects I would like to work on in the future.