RISD Thesis: Users and Concepts
The interaction with a group of elementary school children introduced me to the natural curiosity of children, particularly evident in the exploration of the environment and their explanation of natural phenomenon. They are full of energy, talkative and curious, create games with simple rules and enjoy doing arts and crafts. Their experience outside of home and school include going to the beach, zoo and aquarium, playing outdoors and going to the pool. They are very group-driven; often what one person wants becomes what the group wants.
A design solution for them must involve discovery and education, and include good smells. In the group I interviewed, the requests were cinnamon and ice cream.
- Full of energy, talkative and curious
- They invent games with simple rules
- Very into arts and crafts Incredible imagination
- Group driven
Blow bubbles, go to the zoo, play outside with dog, jump on trampoline, going to the pool, swinging at the park.
Good smells, dolphins, ponies, seahorses, octopi, sand between toes.
Needs from Product:
Must be fun but also engaging to their imagination, allow them to discover and explore without being too explicit.
In my collaboration with this group, I noticed they are focused on social interactions and creating “best friends.” They understand their personal environment; so individually they test being independent, but are constantly looking for role models.
They exhibit curiosity for the scientific and fascination for ocean and outer space related artifacts. Their outdoor activities include going to the beach, pool parties, riding horses, playing baseball and soccer.
This particular group was very focused when engaged directly, and according to their feedback priority must be given to customization, expansion and self-expression. With regard to color, it must veer away from pink and blue if it is to appeal to both genders.
Going to the beach, pool parties, tubbing, riding horses, playing baseball and soccer
Nike, Legos, Friendship Bracelet, Star Wars, Japanese erasers, Sony, Nerf, Bead Bazaar
Needs from Product:
Self-expression. Must be color and gender neutral. Fascinated with ocean and space. Allow for expansion and customization.
- Creating collaborations and “best friends”
- Test being independent, but looking for role models
- Very focused if engaged
- Have curiosity for the scientific
- Understand their personal environment
Concept: Krechür and Hêroe
In hopes to understand the current trends and desires of the preschool demographic and prepare for the children focus group, I decided to pay a visit to some local and national toy stores. I got a chance to get some face interaction with people on the floor and even bought a few things to bring to the focus group.
The first meeting took place with the fourth and fifth graders. After introductions, one of the first questions I asked was: “What favorite toys are you currently playing with?” The opening answer came from the smallest girl across the table, “I am not really into fantasy right now.” I knew at that point these kids were more aware of themselves that I had believed.
She went on to express that she does not like flowers, butterflies or the color pink in her products. However, she does like to learn, read and draw, particularly the outdoors. This opened up the dialogue for discussion on the outdoors, almost everyone agreed they enjoyed time outdoors, particularly playing, and exploring.
On a hunch, I inquired more on the subject of exploration. Both genders were fascinated with the vastness of space and the mysteries of the ocean. Enlightened by this fact I ask the class if they had considered the professional occupations of deep-sea divers or astronauts, to which I received a resounding response of “they are so cool!” I looked at the outspoken girl and said: “You know, they have girls in space as well.” Our time was up, and the class was excused to go on recess.
The proceeding group collaborations took place with two groups divided with members from kindergarten to third grade. My primary observation was that younger students were much more group driven. As we continued into the development of ideas, I realized that my instructions also needed to be simple to follow.
Watching the younger children play outside, I noticed they were mostly entranced in a moment of discovery. The most common question in the playground directed to adults began with the word “why” or the phrase “what is…”
I asked them what their favorite place for discovery is, and the response was: the park, the zoo and the aquarium. The next was “What is your favorite animal?” While one person said sea horses, another one yelled out dolphins, however it was the last answer that caught my attention, “octopus” a girl yelled. She had seen one at the aquarium, and when I asked why it was her favorite animal, she mentioned: “Because they squirt ink out their butts.”
In the midst of concept sketches, I couldn’t stop thinking about my interaction with the children. I knew that with regard to sunscreen, they disliked getting sticky and the gooeyness of the lotions. From a medical standpoint, I knew that they needed to apply sunscreen to the back and neck. In our conversation it was clear that the parents were in charge of applying the sunscreen, and the kids knew what the outcome was if they were to not apply sunscreen.
For younger children, education and discovery was the driving factor, as a designer, I saw an opportunity to capitalize on the education regarding the sun and effects of ultraviolet rays, however, I needed to pay close attention to the approach, as an eight year old student stated: “You do not want to freak out some kids.”
One evening I was in the studio, while Bill Moyer’s interview of Joseph Campbell played in the background. This was my “A-HA!” moment for the creation of Krechür and Hêroe, their names, of course, are homage to this exact interview. I needed to create a hero figure for the older class, however, in order for there to be a hero, there needed to be a creature.
Krechür is a vinyl representation of an octopus targeted at the kindergarten demographic. There are two reasons for the shape inspiration, first because of the direct conversations led in class regarding the octopus, and second because as David Fontana explains in his book The Secret Language of Symbols:
One of the commonest symbols among Mediterranean civilizations, the octopus is related to the spiral and represents the unfolding of creation from the mystic centre. Along with the crab, it is sometimes associated with the astrological sign of Cancer.
Krechür is primarily a water toy, however it may also be used without water. The design allows for mobility in all five legs with the option to stand or sit the toy down. When squeezed and released, the vinyl body will take in water; when squeezed, the water will be expelled through “its butt.”
The body of the toy is treated with a UV reactant coating, which will change colors when exposed to the sun. This color changing reaction creates an opportunity for the parent to explain to the child the effects of the sun, the importance of sunscreen and needs for limited exposure.
In later stages of development, children expressed a need for exploration and showcased a behavior that teetered between dependence and independence. For this group I developed Hêroe. A refillable sunscreen bottle, the shape is directly related to the dialogue with the kids and the observation of character gestalt in researched toys. Its shape is a combined abstraction of an astronaut and a deep-sea diver.
At the mid-point in the development process, I decided to pay a second visit to the school and gather opinions from the ultimate product users.
I paid a second visit to the students, this time with 3D rapid prototype models. Imagine the look on a child’s face when you show them a physical model that represents their exact ideas they shared just weeks earlier.
Having a physical model helped focus the dialogue, particularly on what they wanted the product to do, as well as the changes they foresee.
For Hêroe, they wanted the bottle to be portable so that they can carry it with them. The original concept focused on a roll-on application, this idea however quickly changed to spray, because as they out it: “Spray equals no sand.” A locking mechanism is in place to prevent the vinyl head of the bottle to be pressed unintentionally. The user must lift up the visor 150º to release the locking mechanism and enable the spray action.
When I inquired about the Hêroe’s shape, the response was: “I like it because the shape could be anything, is not just for boys or girls”
The children expressed an understanding of color and the correlation to danger. Due to the suggestions during the co‑design session, the mask is now treated with UV reactant paint that when exposed to sunlight will change colors; red, yellow and green, the same colors they experience when facing a traffic light.
The backpack now contains a net for storage of a stickers and information booklet, in which instructions of use and application of sunscreen is explained, as well as the website for accessories and further sun education and a carabineer was introduced for transportation and portability.
In addition to the models, I also brought in blank printouts of Hēroe. The children quickly scramble to grab a blank and proceeded to color them in, each student showcasing their very own personality in the design. After a quick “design crit,” we spoke about having an online store where each kid could order their own Hēroe, as well as purchase any extra accessories. In addition one could create an online social community, to share Hēroe creations with friends, and where information about the sun and ultraviolet exposure would be readily available.
Krechür, originally exhibited small eyes, which I placed purely for aesthetic reason, immediately the children pointed out that there was no reason for the presence of the eyes, unless they were to be bigger and exaggerated.
Our session ended, and the children went out to play. As I was packing my belongings, a nine year old came running inside and said to me: “If that spaceman product comes out, I will buy it!” Then he turned around and ran back out.