The Museum of Childhood
Previous research during third year taught me that one of the biggest challenges of designing for children is understanding a child's perspective and assuming that they are just smaller versions of adults with the same needs and pains that your design needs to solve. As this is not the case. I intend to delve deeper in to this research from next week and found a good resource called Designing for Children's Rights Guide, which is available online here. It has principles to follow when designing for children, as well as methods and tips on how to research, test and concept with children in mind. However for now whilst I am conducting interviews and observations, I thought it was also important to try and get myself in to the frame of mind of childhood and 'find my inner child', to get an understanding of my target user group. So I decided to visit the museum of childhood in Edinburgh.
Life & Play
As you first walk in there is history about life and play which caught my attention. It wasn't until the 1950's that the child-centred home first appeared, where children were expected to be "seen but not heard" and it highlights that children now have more free time in which to get educated and play.
Around the corner, the museum highlights particularly the importance of play. The information board in the museum states that children "naturally play for enjoyment and it also helps them to discover the world, understand relationships and prepare for adulthood." It also looks at a range of play, from imaginary and created by the child or prompted by other world's which are featured in books, films and television and with the development of technology, so have the toys, games and playthings changed. Interestingly it also notes that the environment in which children play is typically subject to geographic and economic circumstances of their parents. With "21st century children's play increasingly moving from the outdoors to an indoor experience".
What does this mean to my project?
This has made me realise I need to research further in to different geographic regions (loosely on what that means globally, but mostly urban vs rural) as well as understand why economic situations of families matter. But the burning question really is why is there this change in behaviour from outdoors to indoors? is it safety? is it lack of spaces? lack of time? etc... and is this something I want to embrace by bringing the benefits of outside play inside or to go against and create something to encourage children to go back outdoors again. I guess that decision will be based on further insights as to what has caused this change.
The original toy
Dolls are the foremost candidate as being the "original toy". Archaeologists have evidence that places them as such and dating back to the ancient Egyptians. Of course back then they are very different to what we think of as dolls. Traditional dolls were often of spiritual, magical or ritual value as well as children's playthings. (see image taken at the museum below for examples). It wasn't actually until the first world war that dolls became so prolific within western culture, due in large part to children being sent away and separated from their parents. The doll was seen as something to keep them company and comfort them when they needed.
I was lucky enough to bump in to my friend Hannah, who manages the visitors assistants across various museums in Edinburgh and she showed me around the rest of the collection. She explained to me that the reason for the amount of dolls in the doll room is interesting. The way in which they are made represents what is popular or what trend or fashion is within society, this isn't limited to materials though, sometimes it can be characterisations of popular on screen characters. But it does also include the materials used for the body, how they have been constructed and their dress. It was really interesting to see the variety of dolls and it got me wondering if it is true that dolls reflect the time in which they are designed, does this apply to all toys? For now my thinking around my project has been looking at the prospect of eliminating the screen from the equation, is this the right move?
Are digital toys just a sign of our times?
Is trying to change the trend and remove the screen all together the best way to explore getting kids more active, or is involving screen based devices and activities, finding out what makes them so popular and addictive and using that to blend across digital and traditional play? I think the main insight from this visit is this. That perhaps technology can be used in a way that encourages children to be more active. Either outdoors or indoors, either way it will burn calories and help to develop skills and behaviours that active play encourages. The rest of the collection at the museum of childhood was interesting and brought back a few memories. Particularly of toys I remember myself such as Teddy Ruxpin and Paddington Bear (childhood toys of mine that my Dad has still kept, Paddington was passed down through generations too as he was an original from the 50s I believe!). Teddy Ruxpin is credited as being the first ever storytelling bear and I remember being absolutely fascinated with the world of Teddy Ruxpin and his adventures, the animatronics made me really feel that my Teddy Ruxpin was alive, my friend and we were sharing these adventures together. Although I'm pretty sure I cried a few times where I accidentally snapped his cassette tape and probably ended up with a telling off for not being careful, because those tapes were expensive! (for my parents)
The rest of the collection got me thinking about the extent of toys and games and the different types of play and I am wanting to investigate the following questions which I plan to do via a combination of desk research and also a survey:
What are the different types of play? What are their features, benefits and how are they achieved?
Can these be merged? Is it possible to get the same benefits of screen/digital play in to a physical play setting?
How much movement needs to be made by a child for it to count as "active" play?
Can the outdoors be brought indoors?
Why are the current generation of children spending more time indoors?
With early audio toys such as Radio Rex and storytelling animatronic toys such as Teddy Ruxpin, computer consoles such as the spectrum being around from the 80s, is the change in children's play behaviour caused by technology, or is it something else?
I also need to prepare all these insights and present them next week to my peer group to show my research and insights so far. I think the main insight I will take from the context aspect is that toys depict popular culture, trends and themes in society within the location they are designed. This is an essential point to note because ultimately I want my product to be used and if it falls outwith these constraints, would it be successful in its task to get children more active, if my goal end user isn't interested in it? Is this an area where disruptive innovation can work?