Anneli's TTTW Project
My journey of creating a Toy To Think With.
In the class, Toys To Think With, we will be designing, prototyping, and documenting our ideas. The first step in this process is the BRAINSTORM. A powerful name, brainstorm, and the piece of the project where I feel myself gathering the strength to create momentum. During this particular brainstorming session, many ideas came out, and I was inspired by our first class session, thinking about the toys I loved as a kid, and trying to think of the elements I wanted in this future toy. As you can see, there were many. And in this way, I tried to think of toys that currently exist (or that I had thought of before) that encompass all or many of these elements. These were the toys and games that I drew inspiration from. I then made a couple of sketches of some of my initial ideas, and saw that, in the case of the interactive Playmobil set, it is NOT simple. The second, the Bedtime Reading Bot/Stuffed Animal is a little more simplified, but I had a hard time thinking about how it could be customizable outside of the voice recordings. Lastly, I am thinking about a Detective Kit, but I have not drawn this idea out yet.
I have decided to make a detective kit! After talking with my group, I realized that how I was imagining the Detective Kit was actually the most simple idea that really best incorporated all of the elements I wanted, especially the ones about physical movement and getting outside. Right now I am deciding whether or not to add digital elements to this kit, or to keep it non-digital. I usually like non-digital, but I think it could be powerful to have a sort of camera or screen to encourage kids to capture and display the "evidence" they find to help them build their stories. This idea is meant to give four random prompts to encourage kids to get outside and "explore the mysteries" in their environment, weaving together a narrative that tells the stories they uncover. I am still working out the idea, and more sketches will follow as I continue to work on this step... developing the idea!
I know I want it to be a box, I don't know if I want any technological elements within this kit or not. I also am having the most difficulty with choosing how to create the scaffolded story element. I am inspired by the Story Cubes, but I also like the idea of the cards. I then started thinking about a slot machine style toy, or a bingo-like ball machine. But I kept getting excited about the Spinning Tops version. Even though these are the most similar to the Story Cubes, I still want to create them because, unlike the Story Cubes, they each represent a different element within the story. For example, one could be characters, tools, settings, evidence, etc. Rather than just ransom pictoral representations of nouns that you have to string together (or verbs, in the case of the Story Cube Adventure).
While creating these designs for the story element, I then started questioning whether I wanted to make this a Detective Kit or an Explorer Kit. A subtle difference, but it was really becoming a point of concern when thinking about the story themes and elements. I wanted to stay true to the idea of "exploring the mysteries around you and using them to construct a narrative" but I also liked the idea of detectives hunting around their environment to find evidence.
I talked to one of my colleagues who helped me think through the process. She asked me what the inspiration was for this toy and I explained (as I had to my TTTW group), that one of my favorite activities as a child was to just go out into the yard and let my imagination fly. I would use everything as a prop, constructing an entire imaginary world and writing poems and songs in the voice of the characters I took on. I would get lost in the river while pretending to be on an archeological dig, only to find a praying mantis and then switch to becoming a biologist who would study the eating rituals of this mysterious insect. While we kept talking, I realized that I wanted to allow the child to make the choice of what kind of adventure they wanted to be on. I want the story elements to be a scaffold, but they aren't strict rules. I then decided that Explorer was a more ideal direction for me than Detective. And to be honest, I also wanted to steer clear of only focusing on crimes and murders as themes.
These pictures are the design sketches of my thought process. You can see my many ideas, which did not necessarily come out in the order that they are represented on this paper.
My first prototype was shown in class today during crit day, and I got some valuable feedback (thanks everyone!).
In this prototype, we have two story spinning tops, a journal that helps form a narrative around who the characters are and the prompts of what one is searching for, a reusable map (and a guide to show the evidence found), as well as some helpful props (magnifying glass and evidence baggie).
There was a lot of feedback around changing the design of the story spinning tops. I especially like the possibility of putting different cards or faces onto the spinning top and then spinning it, giving children a more direct place in designing the elements of the narrative and imaginative play situation. I think this may also solve the issue of space, which I am realizing will be a concern if I have many 8-sided tops. Another theme in the feedback that I heard was how to make the box part of the story, where the box could also serve as the map, or somehow help spin the top in come way. I like the idea of the box being more involved in the design, and I will now think of ways to try and incorporate this.
My next step is to think about how to design the next prototype that includes the cards and spinning tops. I also want to start designing the box, map, and journal.
After a lot of sketches and playing with ideas, I finally decided to pick how I will create the story-element of the toy. This was the hardest part for me (as mentioned before), and I thank my colleague, Mina, for helping me talk through it. I also want to give a quick shout out to my group members, for helping me decide to do the Explorer Kit (formerly Detective kit), and for helping me synthesize my ideas and brainstorming more!
So, I have decided to do the Spinning Top version of the story element. I do not yet know if I will make them out of wood or 3D print them, but I decided that I wanted to do the spinning tops because there is something satisfying about suspense of wondering while the top spins. I also like that I can create different story elements with the different tops, and children will be able to carry them in their box (kit), carrying them with them and choosing to wither spin them all at the same time, or spinning them as they go along to decide a new element within the story as they are playing.
The spinning tops will be 1)Who You Are (scientist, doctor, archeologist, detective, etc.), 2)A Tool You Have/Use (shovel, magnifying glass, etc.), and 3)Prop Prompts (these are the things they will go out and find/explore, for example, it may say "something blue that you find outside). In my sketch I drew these as having 6 sides, but I may want to think about making them more complex so that there are more options.
I have also decided to not add any technical elements. I really would love to have something like a Poloroid to be able to capture photos for your evidence and documentation, but I will most likely make this out of cardboard for now to imitate what it could do.
Other elements that will be in the kit are: notebook, pencil, mini voice-recorder (undecided), mini-props (spy glass, shovel), reusable map that you can design and erase to demonstrate where you found the evidence to support your story, or to draw or use as a tool or prop.
Now that I have this direction down, I want to refine my design and think about the materials I will use to build the prototype. I also want to do some kind of design fiction, where the presentation of this kit is shown through someone's adventures or imagination (maybe a video, or the narrative of a child playing, and then you just see hands, the kit, and the environment). More to come on this later. Now it is design time!
Hopefully this video speaks for itself.
Now that I have my idea, I need to start researching other toys that are in this space. I not only want to look at child detective kits, but other toys that inspire storytelling and exploration. Because I want this kit to focus on storytelling and weaving a narrative, I also want to do research into things such as story cubes. How can I incorporate some of these elements, while still creating something unique?
I was recently at the Sandbox Summit at MIT and received a goody bag full of toys. I waited until I got home to rummage through the bag and look at all the exciting toys, which took a lot of patience. There among the packages of Play Dough and Highlights Magazines was a Creativity Can. I admit that my curiosity was piqued. The packaging was promising, with a simple can-shaped box, calming blue colors, and eye-catching slogans about creativity. I really wanted to open it, and my excitement increased as I attempted to pull off the cap of this rather stubborn "can". When I finally did get it released, I dumped everything out of the can, just like a kid on Halloween dumping their candy on the floor to take inventory. Sorting through the innards of my Creativity Can, my excitement rapidly deflated. I twirled the pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, and googly eyes through my fingers in disappointment. This wasn't a creativity can, it was a crafts can masked as a toy. Don't get me wrong, I love crafts, and the materials inside were great, but I just found myself wishing for so much more. I felt a little bit deceived.
So when asked to do this assignment that compares packaging to two similar toys, I decided to use this creativity can. Not because I wanted revenge on it (although, I admit I wanted to voice my disappointment a little bit), but rather because I was curious if there was another product that promised a creativity kit that delivered it in a different way, where I was not disappointed by the promises on the packaging. Upon my googling, I quickly discovered a subscription-based kit that gets delivered to the family once a month (or more if you buy a more frequent subscription). It is called Green Kids Crafts, and the packaging makes a reference to creativity as well. Since I did not have one of these in my possession, I had to do a lot of website browsing and google imaging to get a sense of what this Green Kid Crafts entails.
There were a couple of differences I found, and I want to them both justice. I also want to note that upon doing more research on the Creativity Can, my disappointment dissipated when I found out that these cans were not just free for me in my goody bag, but are actually free products for everyone, and when people make something with the contents inside the can and send it in, Faber-Castell makes a donation to charity that supports arts and elementary schools. When I read this, I actually felt a little guilty at my previous haughtiness, and I also really liked the move of having people post and share their creations from the creativity can on their website too.
But I digress. Let me get back to the packaging. I will start with the Creativity Can.
CREATIVITY CAN PACKAGING: Cardboard cylinder shaped like a can. Comes in multiple colors and packaging is relatively simple. There are slogans written in cursive about creativity like, "What will you create?" and "Anything is possible", or my favorite, "What can build a rocket and a child's confidence?" They give the answer right underneath with their logo. I think my favorite part of the packaging is the mock nutrition label (this is what got me so excited about what could be inside). Rather than ingredients, they list things like, "Increases problem solving abilities", "encourages family bonding", "Improves self-esteem", "become a keepsake", "prepare children for the future", and "put a smile on your face". Naturally, this is probably a bit of inflated advertising, but creativity can do all of these things, and so I fell for it. I also fell for the logo right above the nutrition facts, which has somewhat animated-style letters and a yellow background, reading "Creativity for Kids". For me, this logo is synonymous with all the fun bouncy ball-making kits that I used to get as a kid. So I was thrown into a state of nostalgia and I think that added to my high hopes for this product. Upon my research I saw that this was the basic kit, and they also have themed kits, which contain many similar materials inside, so I guess by calling it a theme, you are supposed to be inspired to build a house or make a story. I think this toy has potential, but I think if I saw these materials inside of a plastic bag rather than the creativity can package, I wouldn't be as excited to use it in the same way. In fact, I actually have all or most of these materials in my craft bag currently, and although they lead to some creative crafting, I have yet to call these crafts "keepsakes" that have "prepared me for the future".
GREEN KIDS CRAFTS: Comes in a rectangular cardboard box that is green and white. Sort of a loud box in the design, but very few words or promises of changing my life. Instead, they have one slogan about creativity, "earth-friendly creativity delivered" and then two signs that say that "1% for the Planet - member" and "green america certified business". So clearly, along with creativity, this company is pushing the green, eco-friendly movement. In no way am I against this, but I am curious how sending people paper and craft supplies from wherever in the world via trucks is eco-friendly crafting. Maybe they have an answer, my googling adventure did not take me so far to find it out, but it is definitely a different angle to shoot for than the creativity can. Upon opening the package, one is given a themed kit with certain craft supplies to complete different STEAM-themed activities (usually about 5 activities within one kit). Many of these activities seem to include getting kids to create experiments, design projects, and move physically within their environment to explore. Since this is one of the goals of my TTTW, I started to really like this kit. Additionally, the box from the packaging seems to play a larger role in this product than the Creativity Can. The box is the package that is shipped to the subscriber's residence, it holds all the projects, and it also has the instructions and information about the overall theme of the kit on the inside lid of the box. I had been thinking of putting instructions or some kid of story element on the inside lid of my Explorer Kit, so I liked that they did that with their packaging.
I think part of the packaging is also the website, and so I wanted to briefly describe the differences in the websites for these two products. The creativity can website shows the different types of cans, and describes that the product is for charity. I actually like that it isn't plastered all over the can, but rather is on the website. I also really like that they have a gallery of all of the creations children/families have made with the materials inside their cans. It is a lot more open-ended and takes more of a "blank canvas" approach to creativity. For the Green Kid Crafts website, I appreciate that they describe how the kit works and that their STEAM team is made up of educators and experts. However, unlike Creativity Can, they do plaster the "green" sign on their packaging, and talk about being eco-friendly, but they never describe how they do that, and they don't make it easy to find on their website. Also, they have no examples of kids' projects. Since the activities are more directed, this kit is less open-ended than the creativity can, but in some ways I think they also allow for more exploration and guided creation.
All in all, I think that the packaging for these two "creativity/art/learning" kits are very different in the way they present the product, and therefore I have a very different idea of what I will find inside upon opening the packaging. I would imagine that I would get more science experiments and planting materials than art materials, whereas the creativity can I would imagine I would get more art materials, open-ended prompts, building materials, etc. In the end, these kits are just bundles of materials where the only thing that is really different or novel about them is how people use them, and that is, in some part, prompted by the packaging. So it is clear that packaging matters, because it sets the story for how people might use the toys inside.
Taking into account the great feedback I received on our Crit Day, I decided to make the story elements into mini cards that can be chosen to be put on the spinning tops. In this way, children have more options to choose from, as well as make their own options.
I used a Lasercutter (a big thank you to Caroline Jaffe, who helped me use the lasercutter in the shop) to etch and cut out the wooden cards (see the time-lapse video above). I think the hardest part during this was to get the cards to the exact size that I wanted, and then converting the file into a vector so that it would be compatible with the software for the lasercutter. In the end, I made four different designs of the little cards, and after testing out one of them, printed the rest on some scrap wood.
Now that the cards are done, I am debating how I would like to mount them. They need to be removable, so I was thinking of magnets or velcro. Ideally, I would like to carve out the spinning tops or add something to them that would allow me to slide in the cards, but I am unsure if I will be able to create that function in time for this prototype. I think I will start with tinkering with the magnets. Luckily, I cut out extra wooden story cards, and have a couple extra spinning tops (purchased on Amazon), so I have materials to play around with. I plan to use flat magnetic sticker paper to test out whether the magnet holds. Then, if I like the magnets, I envision cutting open the spinning top or making small holes on each side and embedding one or more metal inside. Then sticking magnetic strips onto the cards and having them stick to the sides of the spinning top. Ideally, if I could carve out squares from the sides of the spinning top so that the cards will sit flush to the tops, that would look the best. However, since most of this requires some kind of carving, I will have to see what is possible.
Another option is velcro, which could be pretty easy, and requires purchasing some velcro to play around with. Again, I would somehow want the cards to sit flush on the spinning tops, so I would also have to do some type of light carving to embed the velcro, yet still make it stick (kind of like those Doug and Melissa wooden fruits and veggies that would velcro together and you could "slice" with a wooden knife as a kid).
After I decide how to mount the wooden cards to the spinning tops, I also need to start working on making prototypes for the box (and decide on a design for the box) as well as the other elements: journal, map, props, etc.
I sketched out a design for the box, putting in a lot of detail that I may not be able to accomplish for this first prototype. I wanted it to be modeled after an old suitcase or briefcase, but have the functionality of a lightweight, easy to carry box. I also wanted it to be a part of the toy rather than just a package that holds the toy.
My first challenge was finding the right kind of box/suitcase/briefcase. I scoured a number of Goodwill and thrift stores with no success. I almost gave up, until I remembered that my favorite craft store might have something I could use, plus I needed to pick up some velcro and magnetic sheets to do some tinkering with my story spinning tops.
I found this perfect suitcase-style cardboard box with a clasp and a handle! My plan is to design the inside with some decorative paper and cardstock that I have, which has maps and rustic-style designs. I also plan to make the inside lid magnetic so that the map (which I will insert magnets into, may stick on to the inside lid.
The size is slightly bigger than a tin lunchbox, but I think it will do nicely, and its lightness will help when lugging things around. I hope to maybe add some type of straps (maybe backpack straps?) so that kids can throw it onto their backs as they run around and explore. Leo brought up a great point during our group meeting yesterday, that I should have some kind of compartment for all of the small pieces (i.e. story cards) because they are easy to loose. I completely agree, and will need to think about working that out. (I also need to color-code the cards to that the characters don't get confused with the prompts).
I still have a lot of work to do for my packaging, but my ideas are starting to come together!
As I mentioned before, now I need to decide how to attach the story cards to the spinning tops. This design challenge sent me on a whole new though path of how I want to design the spinning tops themselves. I have originally bought a bunch of wooden tops online and they are a little smaller than my first prototype.
I then started to think of ways to carve into them and make room to attach the story cards. This let me to set up a time with Tom from the shop to get trained on the CNC machine. Since these tops are very small, this is a big challenge for the CNC machine, and it may not work. However, I am excited to get trained on a new machine, that even though I am not expecting it to work, I am excited to tinker!
I am also playing with the idea of 3D printing the spinning tops. I have two design sketches (sketched above), one with sliding guards and another with frictions snaps. Last night my friend Sam Woolf helped me design a model on the computer to 3D print (see design files attached below). I have never used a 3D printer before, so I am also using this as an opportunity to try something new and tinker!
If all else fails, I am planning on just velcro-ing, using magnets, or using double-sided tape for the prototype. However, I hope that one of these experiments with the CNC machine or the 3D printer can work because I want to go beyond my comfort zone with materials and try new things!
I plan on experimenting with the magnets and velcro today, and maybe along the way I might find a way to combine tools and materials in a new way.
I made these wooden tops using the CNC machine (thank you to Tom for training me and helping me figure out how to make the pockets).
In the photo with the three spinning tops, you will see the top to the far left is the first prototype I made. This first prototype was great because it showed that we could work on such a small and uneven surface with the CNC machine, however, it was quickly apparent that I would need to change my design a bit. The idea was to create a pocket that was roughly as big as the story cards so that they could pop in and out of the top. However, with the small surface and constant need to turn the top to drill each side, it was difficult to zero the coordinates each time and the clamps and extra wood used to hold down the top and protect the machine dented the wood and made the sides even more uneven.
On the second attempt, I decided to drill a smaller pocket and stick velcro inside so that the story card would sit flush on the top. This worked much better, and after many iterations, the pockets were relatively even!
If I were to decide to use the wooden tops for a finished product, I would change the depth of my pocket slightly so the velcro protruded more and the cards stuck better to the tops. I would also change the size slightly to have more stickable surface area.
Otherwise, I think they turned out fairly well!
I also created a 3D printed version of the spinning story top. This followed a similar idea as the first, where pockets that are roughly the same size as the story cards are used to hold in the cards.
Some challenges included: converting inches to millimeters, fixing the 3D printer before ever even using it (three times), printing the top in two pieces to that is was flat and built upwards, getting the first piece off of the glass bed (it was stuck for several hours), fixing the 3D printer again, and sanding down the cards to fit into the pockets.
In the end, I am happy with this version. I anticipate that if children were playing with this, however, this might not be the way to go because the cards can sometimes either get stuck, or be too loose. I also like the aesthetics of the wooden tops more. But I think the 3D printed version is a wonderful prototype.
It also spins really well, so that is nice!
1. Who did you design this toy for?
This toy was designed for children, typically ages 7-11. Although this is a large range, I think that there are children on either end of this age range that would either be younger children and able to keep up with the literacy skills needed (or be happy playing and drawing pictures rather than creating narratives with words) as well as older children and still want to engage in imaginative play (just maybe in secret so no one would know how much fun they're having and they can still keep their cool image). If I am being honest, I also created this toy for the child that still lives within me. I had an extremely active imagination as a child, and I was happy to spend hours going on adventures and creating stories, which has largely influenced who I am today. I wanted to create an outlet for those who are comfortable with their wild imagination, as well as those who may be intimidated by the "blank canvas" of an open backyard to support and scaffold exploration and narration.
2. Why did I design this toy for them?
I mention this above, but I designed this because I wanted to help children construct narratives around imaginative (and/or dramatic) play. I wanted to scaffold it so that those who are intimidated to get started have some prompts to support them, and those who are comfortable diving in can feel free to do so. I also wanted to build something that gets kids up and physically moving throughout the world, experiencing all of the mysteries and marvels in their own environments. Storytelling is extremely powerful, and I wanted to build something that can be playful, exploratory, involve physical movement, be child-driven and self-expressive, and encourage storytelling.
3. What are children learning through play?
Again, this is mentioned above, but children are learning storytelling (and through this, language development, literacy skills, socio-emotional development - see research by Vivian Paley), narrative development (such as elements of a story), scientific and cognitive development (through exploring objects around them, using adjectives to describe those objects and understand them more - see research by Lev Vygotsky), creative thinking skills, critical thinking skills, and physical development. If this is played with two or more children (which this game can be played solo or with others), it can also contribute to social development through engaging in co-storytelling, collaboration, role-taking, etc.
5. How are they learning through play?
By constructing a narrative through imaginative play and exploring the mysteries within their own environment, children are exercising their creative thinking skills, language and literacy skills, and physically exploring their surroundings. Through this play, children have an outlet to creatively express their ideas, share their findings, and create personally meaningful stories using open-ended prompts.
6. What does the play look like?
The child picks four character cards and puts them along the four sides of the spinning top. The child then spins the top and whatever character it lands on is the character the child will be. The child does the same with the prompting story cards. These are things that the child is in search of. The prompts are open-ended, such as, "wiggly" or "colorful from outside". The child can then engage in imaginative play and go around their environment on a sort of "scavenger hunt" where they act as their character and search for objects. They then have a notebook (Adventure Journal) where they can document and share their story. It starts off as "Today I am a...... I am searching for something...... And here is my story." There is also a reusable map, an "evidence card" where they can draw pictures and describe the objects they found, some props (spy glass, evidence bags, digging brush, etc.). Everything comes in a small briefcase-like box that the child can take with them on their adventures and use as part of the play. To see this in action, view the Design Fiction section of this Build-in Progress project.