Playful 13: Designing with playfulness

Duncan Fitzimmons. Director at Vitamins

A small and nimble design agency; they work across a wide range of industries and applications and everything is multi-disciplinary.
Look to create a sense of magic and wonder in everything they do. The talk is about how they do that and how playfulness is involved.
Samsung came along; about designing a phone for the elderly market. They were concerned about that, had seen some of the phones, not really what they wanted to do. But how they could make it better. When doing research, the audience gave ‘expected answers’. So they looked to add playfulness to research around Europe. So they gave bananas, with stickers and string etc and got people to design what they wanted using that.

Some of the issues are about how people use the phone and the barriers to using it, how they explored the phone. Some of their ideas, they made sure user manual was clear and engaging. Designed as a hardback book, with step guide into set up. Everything was all in one place – the phone was embedded IN the manual, and you worked through the book as you set it up.

For Battersea performance group, challenged to make a cheap device that makes the audience think their mind is being read. They created something that changed based on galvinistic skin reaction. Some of this transferred to their work on snowboarding/Nokia. They created lots and lots of sensors and just played with them, to understand what could be done. Went to snowdome, did they work on snow? They then knew what was possible, then went to talk to snowboarders, the fans, to find out what people wanted to see in performing etc. Created a set of sensors that could be worn, then streamed data to Nokia phone. Data can be reviewed, can be visualised so that spectators could see what happens. Gave extra insight into the performance; were they confident, how did they feel.

Another project with experimentation, the folding wheel project. look back to 1870s, a patent was filed for the wheelchair as we know it. It has not really changed a lot since then – and there are lots of problems with travelling with them on planes. Use of materials and refined ergonomics. The chair part folds, but the wheel doesn’t. So how do you fold a wheel? You experiment. They played. The structure could fold, but what about the tyre? how can you fold this. The mockup, they develop prototypes. The product went on sale on February. Won transport design of the year.

Latest one they are working on, has had the longest period of playful development. A calendar and project planner they have designed for themselves. To fill gap between large scale software and the low level ones that don’t have enough power. Projects last between 1-3 months, they have 4-12 people. They had no tools. They created a Lego wall planner. They have a view of next 3 months. They can book in time. Easy to tell at glance what is available at the time. To tie it into what they are using, such as shared Google calendars. They can take a photo, send the email and that then uploads the data onto their calendars. They started with lego on wall, added it, a full journey of discovery. They needed to know when key deadlines – so 2 bricks high wall planner. Easy to plan time. You can’t move things into a place where there is brick. By being tangible, it makes it easier to work with.

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