Our initial idea was to design a solution for building forts for children. Often times, this process can be messy and is not easily accomplished unless the correct materials are at hand. Kids need access to sheets, furniture, and other things to help their imagination expand and grow.
We observed Xiu’s two children, 6-year-old Damien and 8-year-old Sihe, and another child, 8-year-old Jada, in Conway House, on January 6th, to see how kids played when their one job was to build. At first the kids asked a lot of questions like “What do we build?” and “What should we use?” After telling them to do whatever they wanted, their imaginations began churning. At first, they built mazes to challenge one another by moving the furniture around the room in different patterns. Someone added a blindfold to increase the challenge as seen in the photos below. Eventually, the maze game evolved into a hot-and-cold game where one child would hide something and the others would have to find it. When the seeker was close they were hot, but when they were far away they were cold.
The kids interacted in a way that was always fun, upbeat, and happy. No matter how many times the game switched into something new, they were all playing along. The energy and imaginative levels never seemed to crash or fade away. It was as if we were forgotten as they ran around us. It was their world and we were just there to see it.
After observing them play for about a half hour, we asked them about playing and building. They stressed the fact that they prefer games where they can use their imaginations instead of structured games such as board games. This method of play, they said, gives them their own space. One of their favorite things about building spaces for themselves is that it separates them from adults and allows them to interact with each other. We then began to analyze what we saw to find insights.
Through developing an empathy map, patterns began to pop out. The kids liked to work together because it is fun and exciting. One important pattern is that the outcome of the play is not important. The kids do not care if they have built the biggest and best maze, what matters is that everyone playing is having a good time.
From there we developed our point of view statement that young, spunky, happy kids who like not having rules need a way to build a space to connect with each other because they want to have fun and just be kids. During ideation, we developed ideas like a teleporter into a new world, an imagination combining machine, conversation starters, global play time, and a changeable tent. The changeable tent became our ideation to prototype and develop into a product.
We started to expand on the details of our prototype. Our product began to take on the form of a system of magnetic poles and connecting units that could be put together to become buildings to form a country. Over time, we added a system of cards that would be added to the game in order to add to the play. These cards would have different questions like “Who is the king?” and “What kind of food is there in your country?” Instead of creating a game or story that kids have to follow, the cards would simply be something to add to their story.
Our initial prototype was titled “My Country” as seen in the two photos below. It contained the cards, a form for the poles, and directions. The directions were extremely simple; build, come up with laws, and play. We structured it for ages 5 and over and for one or more players. The design was intended to allow kids to use their imagination to form a country of their own.
During the testing of our prototype, we saw the fall backs and limitations of our initial ideas. The tester pointed out that the directions of developing laws for the country may not be fully understood by our intended user. It became evident that the idea of having the user develop a country was extremely limiting given the possibilities with the changeable formation of the poles. Furthermore, the cards were questions that could be answered quickly and did not necessarily continue play as there was no need to pick them up. The colors, many pictures, and the customizable ability of the poles were all seen as good features.
Using these criticisms, we developed our final prototype, “Imagine That!” as seen in the photo below. The contents of the game were adjusted slightly. It now contained a form for the poles, a form for a sheet, a parental system, new cards, and ideas. The pole system remained the same, but all other aspects were changed, added, or eliminated.
We added a form of a sheet, which could be used by kids to cover their buildings, as costumes, or anything else they may imagine. The sheet is washable, so kids can use any washable paint or marker on it and use it again when they design something new. Instead of having to find sheets, the immediate access to this sheet would allow the game to be played anywhere at anytime both indoors and outdoors.
Instead of cards that asked the user simple questions, the new cards led to more building. Some cards now say things such as “There’s an earthquake! You have to rebuild everything!” or “Oh no! Someone is feeling sick! Build them a hospital and take them there!” The new card system would expand their imagination and lead to more innovation and design.
We added a device into the game to connect parents in as well. This device, after being turned on upon opening the box, would remind the parents once a day to let their children play. This way the parents could arrange for their children to connect with each other by playing together. We changed the game to 3 or more players to allow the kids to connect with one another through the game. The parental system helps to get parents thinking about the social life of their children.
Finally, we shifted away from a system of directions that would lead the kids into developing countries and instead, moved toward a series of ideas. These ideas showed images of different designs that kids could attempt to build using the poles, but does not limit them in any way.
The games new form gives kids the opportunity to build their own space away from parents in many different forms. Instead of needing furniture to build their forts, they just need to connect the poles in whichever way they want. The cards allow them to build on what they have imagined and the parental reminder system would incorporate parents.