Advancing on My Design Concept

Taking the advice from my three mentors, I took the time to break down my design concept even further. Here are the results:

Current Elements of Physical Model:

The overall model consists of contained space, shapes, forms, colors, textures, levels, heights, and removable parts. I am going to advance on this design by figuring out which ones are really necessary and which ones I can combine in order to simplify the overall design.

The ‘mat is an element of contained space, limiting the boundaries and adding material to the design that might be restricting the possibilities of use. It could be the main part to remove from the design, leaving the tiled pieces as the main focus.

The ‘three stages of tiles‘ consists of moveable parts and is the most important and impactful element of the design. However, having the three separate stages might be too much. It makes the design far too complicated, increases the amount of parts required, and is too defined at this stage of the design. I will continue focusing on this aspect in order to pull out the individual elements from each stage and then further break those down.

A Breakdown of the Three Stages:

Stage One – Consists of textures, two-dimensional flat pieces, hard and soft pieces, rearrangeable parts, elements of varying resistance, and an overall tactile focus.

Stage Two – Consists of textures, three-dimensional pieces, various angles, different heights, curves, edges, hard and soft pieces, and shapes.

Stage Three – Consists of three-dimensional pieces, removable parts, cause-and-effect factors, interacting parts, and an audial element.

Important Overall Elements:

Having gone through the lists above, I narrowed down all the elements into the four most crucial elements to continue developing.

1. Texture. Varying textures enhance the overall sensory experience. They allow varied levels of surface resistance and an eased transition into the surrounding environment once the child’s mobility is gained. Lastly, having their limbs be in contact with a number of different textures heightens their sense and awareness of their own bodies. The textured surfaces are stimulating for them.

2. Varying Resistance. This element has the possibility to make certain tasks harder or easier for the child, depending on what is needed at the time. Too much support and resistance does not allow the child to advance, while too little support and resistance does not help them when they need it.

3. 3D Elements. While the two-dimensional elements are helpful, they can be combined with the three-dimensional forms to have fewer elements with a greater purpose. The three-dimensional elements can be incredibly helpful throughout this entire development process. They can be used for basic purposes in the beginning and for more advanced, creative purposes as the child develops physically (and in effect, mentally as well).

4. Removable Parts. The parent and child can use this element together. In the beginning, the parent can rearrange the parts for the child and as the child develops physically, he/she can play a bigger role in the setup of the design. This allows the product to advance in stages along with the child. In a sense, they are growing and advancing together. Lastly, it further enhances the child’s  fine motor skills once the gross motor skills have been developed. The child is able to move the individual elements around on the floor and take them apart using their hands, depending on the future design of each piece and how detailed they will become.


Meeting With My Advisors

I met with all three of my thesis advisors this week so I could show them my model and hear their opinions.

My panel of thesis advisors is made up of two industrial designers and a pediatric physical therapist. I think that throughout the process this will benefit me in gaining a well-rounded perspective on my approach, allowing me to better understand the overall form and function required. Combining insights from both ends will make my end product a successful design.

Advisor: Stan Rickel

Stan broke down my play space design into three elements: the mat itself, objects, and more complicated objects. He realized that there is a process of going from two dimensional forms into three dimensional forms.

He told me that it reminded him of an obstacle course or a board game. There are individual moveable parts that can be assembled in different ways so that the child could interact with them. The child becomes part of the game.

The floor becomes anything they want it to be- aside from helping them physically, it is a great environment to allow them to be creative and use their imagination.

It integrates cause-and-effect, sensory integration, creativity, play, parent-child interaction, and physical therapy.

Advisor: PT

I explained my entire design to PT before she told me her thoughts. She mainly focused on stage two when she analyzed the potential of my design. Stage two is where the three dimensional forms are introduced, the “propping” stage.


She told me that the wedge shapes are shapes that are used by physical therapists during their sessions. The angled shapes are used to help children with different levels of support and positioning. If they need to be propped at a certain angle to play, the parent can lean them on the shape with the correct angle.

For example, certain shapes can help the child ease into a quadruped position (on hands and knees). The form can bear some of the added weight to ease them into doing it on their own eventually. They are especially good for “tummy time”, a critical stage in the beginning of every child’s development.

She also suggested an additional factor in which cut-out shapes are added to each piece. The cut-outs can be used for more focused support on different parts of the body, such as places where they can put their arms inside while their stomach lies on the top surface or a spot where the child can sit down and be surrounded by material around them. If the holes had larger opening on the side, they can be used as a “crawl-through” piece. The interior space could be lined with a more distinct texture so that while the child crawls through it, they could reach up or around them to feel the lining.

PT also had some advice for the auditory element, the cause-and-effect part of the design that would serve as a reward in the end. She liked that I did not revolve this design around technological elements, although they do have their place in designs for children. She informed me that there are many cause-and-effect children’s products currently available that are very technology based. They can be useful at times but overall they create limited room for growth and creativity. Technology should be used within limit, as long as it does not interfere with the child’s ability to move beyond it. Also, when it comes to technology, the gratification is so immediate that there is not that much work done to get to that stage. Children do not have to try as hard and the end results are the same.

When looking at it from a different point of view, however, technology does have its place. When it comes to the technology in general in these types of products, children with extremely limited movement can easily work with technological products with ease and less effort. An example would be a capability switch that can be attached to electronic products so that they can be turned on and off with the slightest touch by children who struggle with motor skills.

Overall, PT said something that stuck with me. She said that “technology has overly infiltrated play.” I have thought the same thing since the beginning of my thesis project and am trying to find a way to design a product that is as helpful as possible to these children without having to rely on the abilities of technology.

Advisor: Alex Lobos

Alex gave me really helpful advice after I explained the concepts behind my design, which gave me some direction in how to move forward with it. I knew that I was trying to tackle too many aspects at once while attempting to keep the design simple; unfortunately, it did not turn out to be as simple as I had anticipated. He started off by telling me that it would help to define more purpose, or direction, to keep me from going off track. I also need to go through my research and figure out exactly which tasks I need to help my user with so that I can tackle more specified problems as opposed to trying to solve too many things at once.

When discussing all three stages of the design, Alex had me think about which one of the three was the most important. Which stage alone has the most potential to help these children? In the end, Stage 2 (the stage when the physical shapes are introduced and can be moved around to be used for many purposes) is seen as the one that can be most impacted by a designer. It is the point in the process where I will be able to have the most power helping them since it is when they are the most dependent on their environment. I can still combine the other two stages’ findings into the second stage, such as bringing in the textured surfaces from Stage 1 and incorporating the cause-and-effect element from Stage 3.

A break-down of his advice:

1. To take a step back and see what I have already designed, which I should then break down into important elements (i.e. surfaces, form, layout, and color).

2. To find the components that will help the most with reaching the final goal. Must break it down to the most potential surfaces (i.e. hard vs soft or textured vs smooth).

3. To define to what degree each part of the design is helpful with for each stage of the child’s physical advancement.

4. To pick a few milestones (i.e. reaching arms outward, lifting head, and crawling) and deconstruct them, then figure out design strategies for each one.

5. To figure out the most minimal amount of parts that can make the most impact. Must remove all potential failures – simplicity is key. 

Beginning to Toy with Physical Deliverables

I have continued to gain further insight about what can help children with abnormal muscle tone by continuing to read books about sensorimotor development and books that focus on why motor skills matter. All of my research, combined with what I have observed from watching PT work with different children, has taught me about the regular stages of physical development in a children compared to those who have hypotonia and hypertonia.

One big takeaway so far is the importance of engaging the senses during activity time. As I have mentioned before, different materials have different effects on the child, especially when used in the correct way. This insight triggered my first design concept, which combines the design ideas that I have previously mentioned.

Design Concept: Transitional Sensory Floor Mat/Play Space

A motor-skill enhancing play space that advances and keeps pace with the child’s development.

Design_Concept1BThis concept is geared towards newborns to 3 year olds with abnormal muscle tone, but it is a universal design that really any child can use and have fun playing with. It combines my end goals of advancing on physical therapy sessions at home, engaging the parent to play with their child, and making sure that the child has fun in the process. It also helps the child develop while learning different levels of motor skills and focuses on sensory integration.

The elements of this product would be a rectangular floor mat covered in velcro and three different stages of removable tiles. It is a modular piece that can be configured in many ways, making each time they use it exciting and new. It also allows the parent to be hands-on with the child, setting up a sort of “environment” that they can watch their child interact with, enabling the child to develop physically and creatively.


First Stage:

It focuses on the child when they are highly immobile, working on advancements such as turning their head and lifting their arms outward. The tiles come in different surfaces that contrast each other: hard and soft, smooth and textured. The tiles can be placed however the child needs it to be at that moment, taking up different amounts of surface area. For instance, softer textures such as carpeting allow increased resistance as opposed to a smooth and hard materials that have no grip. Depending on the resistance necessary for the activity that they are working on at the moment, the parent can adjust it accordingly. There are also various textured surfaces that can be used when the child is lying down. Due to their lack of mobility, children with abnormal muscle tone do not have the opportunity to explore their environment and feel different things in their surroundings. So I thought that bringing these textures to them within reach would be helpful to integrate them into what they would otherwise be missing out on.


Second Stage:

It focuses on the child when they are gaining some mobility, working on advancements such as rolling onto their side, sitting upright, lifting up into quadruped position (on hands and knees), and initial phases of crawling. The tiles used for this stage, developing from two-dimensional to three dimensional from the previous one, would incorporate different shaped, textured voluminous pieces that could be arranged by the parent to further advance on their child’s motor skills. Depending on what part of the body they are focusing on, the parent can adjust the shapes to either fit around their child or to give them different levels of support. They can be stacked and rearranged in different ways all over the mat and while the child slowly advances in their development, they will have a slightly easier time moving around it to use the different parts more independently. It will help them by giving them different amounts of support in different areas of their body, as well as allowing them to interact with the pieces of different shapes and sizes.

Third Stage:

It focuses on the child when they are have already gained more mobility, working on advancements such as creeping, crawling, and standing. There will be tiles with different parts coming up from the base, ones that can be arranged into a system that works on more focused motor skills. I imagine the parts interacting with one another to create different functions, such as having areas to grab on to, ones that a ball can be rolled through, and ones that have smaller parts to pull on. I invision it as a simplified version of the “Mouse Trap” board game I used to play as a child:Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 11.59.03 AM

Different elements are combined to create a system that teaches cause-and-effect. The parent and child can combine them together and then the child can work his/her way around the mat trying different techniques. This stage is designed to enhance the skills that they have yet to focus on while having fun at the same time. Another addition I thought might be useful in this stage is to introduce an audial element. Children respond extremely well to different sounds, such as the voice of a parent or a favorite song. This could be used as a kind of reward when the child finishes one task. Once the task is complete, a trigger effect would cause a recording of the parent’s voice or a part of their favorite song to be played, giving them a larger sense of accomplishment. It will make them want to go through the process again so that this effect will be repeated.

While this concept is just an initial idea, I believe that it has the potential to be advanced upon to become a better, more focused design. I will be meeting with my advisors to show them my progress and to gain some further insight into how I can move forward with this design.