Squiggle_Helen_Toys to Think With

Squiggle_Helen_Toys to Think With

by helencsmith | updated May 10, 2016


The video is my initial attempt to describe my idea for the 15.390 New Enterprises Class ( I also had to answer other questions- like why you would want to work with me ;)) 

Basically I want to make a mess with my body! 

My idea is to have a toy that allows kids to program their movements into digital visualizations. What do I mean by that? I mean that if I do a leap maybe I've told Squiggle that I want a poop emoji to come up on the screen. Maybe if I move my arms quickly I want the paintbrush to have a wide stroke, slowly a small stroke. Perhaps if my heart rate goes about X amount everything turns red! At the end of "Painting" I could export my visualization for further editing or share my new "rules" and how to train Squiggle with other users.  


March 30, 2016 at 11:13 AM
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Check out https://www.madewithcode.com/projects/dance ! This sounds awesome :-)
9 months ago
I love the idea of engaging people in creating art with their body, all the projects you linked are awesome (thanks for sharing!) I can't wait to see your prototypes! I'm also still in the inspiration/research phase, I guess we need to start sketch something! :)
8 months ago

I first got inspiration for my idea from my involvement with MIT Hacking Arts where I led the Performing Arts panel and had my eyes opened to the innovation happening at the intersection of movement and technology. As a former dancer (well, lifelong! dancer) and abstract painter, I wonder how I can combine these two loves. I'm driven by a couple of things:

1) Celebration of the abstract-

In both dance and art too many kids (and adults) are pushed to lines, to rules, to rights and wrongs post kindergarten scribbling. I think in part because my grandmother was an abstract artist and my home was full of it, I didn't grow up needing to "see" something in a painting. I could appreciate it and be moved by the color, the lines, the emotions that emerged when engaging with a piece. I similarly found freedom in modern dance. 

2) Putting the A in STEM- creating STEAM

I am so excited by projects like Scratch because of the integration of creativity and coding in a seamless way. I would like to be able to extend this type of integration in movement/the arts. I would like to see kids become excited about learning how to code as an extension of expression. I believe a whole new set of kids will be motivated and inspired by their new "writing tool" when it is related to their interests. 

3) Engaging with the world alone or in groups

I think there is a lot of power in toys that can be used both individually and with others. I envision Squiggle as a one- and multi-player activity- either in person or virtually as creations are developed together- or exported and edited.


March 30, 2016 at 11:17 AM
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April 4, 2016 at 6:11 PM
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April 4, 2016 at 6:11 PM
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April 4, 2016 at 6:14 PM
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April 4, 2016 at 6:16 PM
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April 4, 2016 at 6:30 PM
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April 4, 2016 at 6:32 PM
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In my mind I was seeing a toy that could be used either with very little human input- e.g. jump in front of a surface and fun visuals come up- or that could be highly editable- with the toy "learning" your signature moves and being trained to put a specific image up when you do a specific image- or that would instead respond to things like BPM, speed or style of movement.  

This raises a lot of questions: 

Who is target age for this toy?

What is the main goal? 

How would someone interact with the toy? What is the design fiction surrounding the toy?

April 26, 2016 at 8:08 AM
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Goal: Help 2-4 year olds understand their bodies and explore motion and get initial exposure to abstract art. 

How it would work: Parent can plop kid down and kid can run around experimenting- perhaps there are a few knobs on a robust controller that allow the kid to change the overall theme of the images, but no true programmability. (Although this makes me think that it could be really interesting to use a kid's toy as a way of introducing parents to code..... I'm sure that already happens via Scratch... anyway I digress) 

Next questions for pursuing this idea:

- Learn how to program a simple thing in Kinect- would short kids' bodies be an issue?

- What types of visuals do kids find engaging and don't want to give up on yet?

- What do we know about attention in kids of this age? Are there other specific motor functions that we would want to encourage? 



April 26, 2016 at 8:16 AM
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Goal: Introduce kids to programming thinking through using their bodies and art as the medium. 

What could it look like? An ipad/phone/computer app (How much access do kids have to this?)) in which they could tell Squiggle how they want it to react- I'm envisioning something like Scratch- like if my BPM is over 80 then turn the brush Blue, or use this image of me. 

I see both setting up this interface and then just dancing/moving without going back to the app or doing constant iterations/recordings. 

Side notes: Would this actually be potentially used more for imaginative play than for dancing? Is it kind of like amplifying snapchat features and allowing kids to "wear" or "hold" or "move" different objects around? Are there ways in which it could be used for play together instead of having someone looking at the wall/screen/themselves all of the time or is that a real risk? 

Next Questions:

Do I really know anything about 7-12 year olds? (No) 

Where would someone use this and in what context? Have I completely made up an improbable scenario? (Probably) 

Would dance studios be more interested in this than kids? 

April 26, 2016 at 8:28 AM
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Goal: Help older teens create choreography/integrate movement and art, plant seeds for more creative coding work in the future

The idea: Focus on the programming interface - help guide people into starting from Scratch-like ease to working with Processing/Isadora and other commonly used tools. 


- How different would this be from what's already out there? 

- Who would be the actual market for this? Dance studios? Schools? 

April 26, 2016 at 8:52 AM
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I like the idea of pursuing Option 2 or 3 the best but for the purposes of this class I think it would be helpful to keep it simpler. Getting to work on Option 1 would also provide a foundation for future work on other options. 

Next Steps:

I have secured a Kinect. I need to next work on learning how to work with Processing and also do some research on this age group on what their bodies can do, what are the signs of development, if there are existing toys in this space, has there been any documentation of kids interacting with similar exhibits/works that were or were not intended for them?

April 26, 2016 at 8:57 AM
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It's great that you are exploring the toddler age range, I'm also leaning toward that (cute) audience! :) I'm reading a book about Montessori method that include a chapter called "the impact of movement in learning and cognition" that include many literature references, I can bring it to class tomorrow. Also, consider that you can create simple prototypes using Scratch and a webcam, like in this project: https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/10123832/
8 months ago

My next steps: Learning how to work with a Kinect

April 26, 2016 at 8:58 AM
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Placeholder for the research I need to do on toddlers- on what their bodies can do, what are the signs of development, if there are existing toys in this space, has there been any documentation of kids interacting with similar exhibits/works that were or were not intended for them?

April 26, 2016 at 8:59 AM
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I have done a screen capture of work I did with the Motion Visualizer referenced in my research (http://philboltt.github.io/ccl-2015/) which used motion capture data from Steph Hutchison  as a start to think about the visualizations possible from taking selected points of the body, drawing a curve, and then showing forward motion and "painting" the steps.

This is more involved and faster than the movements of a toddler would be, but it gives a crude initial view of how these movements could be "painted"

April 30, 2016 at 3:38 PM
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I read a cahpter in Montessori- The Science behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard about how cognition is developed through movement/touch 

It's actually not clear how much can be learned if movement/response is not linked to a physical object- although it makes me think about adding some basic cause and effect- e.g. if toddler hits red button on the toy then the movements are represented as red. There could be a few different iterations on this- including some that are combined motion and style and a "clear" button or something like that. 

May 3, 2016 at 4:31 PM
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This was famous viral tweet that started off a change at Target- basically pink vs blue building sets [insert angry emoji here]   I read an interesting article that said that in the 70s there was actually less gendered toy packaging- as a business student I can believe that- micro-targeting/knowing your customer can be effective but then lead down a bad path when it gets out of hand. This is really discouraging to me that it seems like we are regressing rather than progressing. A Planet Money podcast talked about the fact that the initial decline in women enrolled in CS in 84 (?) was because of the introduction of the personal computer and the targeting towards dads and boys- overtime this contributed to men coming into CS programs who already had tons of experience programming at home which made the women feel more out of place/behind/ increased the drop out rate. This is a bit of an oversimplification but I think it highlights the importance of thinking about it from the beginning. 



May 4, 2016 at 10:28 AM
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May 9, 2016 at 1:52 PM
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I designed for toddlers 3-4- initially for American market but ideally global, especially as it does not require language. Although I would like it to be completely inclusive, I understand that implicitly I've designed for kids with parents/guardians/teachers who are likely tech-literate, can afford to spend money on toys - for now it's unclear how much this toy would need to market for - e.g. less than LittleBits but maybe similar to MakeyMakey which immediately puts it out of reach for certain socio-economic groups. 


May 9, 2016 at 1:55 PM
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I designed Squiggle for toddlers to celebrate and encourage appreciation of abstraction in movement and visual arts and to encourage movement and interactivity through discovery of cause and effect between the physical body and virtual worlds. I hypothesize that just as children have learned and grown from consequences of reaching out and pulling something/moving something in physical world (a la Montessori), this also applies to the virtual world- particularly as our interactions with virtual content accelerate. 

May 9, 2016 at 1:58 PM
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- Their bodies can control/change what they are seeing 

-  Association of color in physical space with color in virtual space

- Simple cause and effect 


May 9, 2016 at 2:00 PM
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Through stepping or touching the colored felt and seeing the color change on screen they are learning cause and effect and connection between color. As their bodies move and the butterfly moves in that direction they learn that they can control/change a virtual object with their physical selves (but also that one cannot touch/hold that virtual object)

May 9, 2016 at 2:02 PM
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I need to prototype with kids directly to see what confirms/contradicts what I imagine (i'm sure a lot contradicts :)) but I see this play happening predominately inside near a  light-colored wall (for the projection) - a simplified version could be in front of a computer, but I prefer for it to be with wall. The kid will likely be moving back in forth- closer to wall/farther away, doing some running and jumping. Given toddler attention spans this is likely to be played ~10-15 minutes at a time. 

May 9, 2016 at 2:06 PM
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May 10, 2016 at 11:32 PM
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Unfortunately Scratch wouldn't let me do video with semi-transparent view so you can see the motions going into playing with it 

Every time they hit an edge they change colors randomly and start with a small and growing trail. If the two sprites hit each other they each randomly turn a different color. 

May 10, 2016 at 11:35 PM
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May 10, 2016 at 11:37 PM
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