Material Consideration

I have known since the beginning that I want to use bright colors in my final design concept due to their positive effect they can have on children’s focus, as well as making a design for children more playful, especially when it comes to one that has more of a developmental focus. For example, PT told me in our last meeting that there are many developmental devices that require straps in order to hold children in a certain position. These childrens’ parents do not want to see their child “strapped down”, so bringing in bright colors can help eliminate that scary element for both parent and child.

When it comes to material consideration, I am still thinking about different options while focusing on both the manufacturing process and the requirements that this product will need to meet. I have been leaning towards the idea of using silicone for the end product, but having it be made from solid silicone will be incredibly heavy in both cost and physical weight. So why not take advantage of the abilities that silicone has to offer?

Idea #1:

The form will be hollow in certain areas, specifically at the “appendage” parts that stick out, and the silicone wall will be very thin at those points. The hollow spaces will be filled with either a gel or water, cut off internally from the rest of the piece so that it will not leak out. These softer areas can be used as head, leg, arm, or core support underneath the child as they play. The different densities will create different sensations for them while they lie down and play or practice working on developmental techniques such as “tummy time”. The center of the design will still be solid in order to keep the rigidity and support the rest of the parts.

Another possibility is to have these hollow regions filled with air, just like gertie balls that are commonly used during physical therapy sessions. There would be a way to adjust the amount of air that is inside, allowing different densities to be achieved depending on how much it is filled.

Idea #2:

The entire form will be hollow, consisting of an external wall of silicone and an internal space filled approximately halfway with sand. When the piece is rotated in different directions for different uses by the child, gravity will cause the sand to fall down in to the base, keeping it sturdier and allowing it to sit more firmly on to the ground. The child will be able to work on their motor skills by gently pushing the piece over and the sand will give in to this movement, helping enhance the shift that they are already causing to occur. They will be able to feel and slightly hear the weight shift as they slowly turn it over.

The additional element of sand has the ability to create a stronger support system for the piece as a whole, as well as enhance the overall sensory experiences that the child will engage in while playing.

OrganicDesignConcept2

 

I will continue to play around with different organic forms by making CAD models and using them to print small 3D form models for stability and rotational testing. I want the design to be able to function on more then one side, allowing for a greater variety of use by the child in each of the forms.

Advice to Move Forward With

Meeting with my Advisor: PT

PT gave me some really positive feedback once I explained my new design concept to her. She liked that I am taking a new direction and thinks that the forms have the potential to be successful while also being fun for the child. She has been really good at keeping my concepts on the more functional side while I throw in the creativity aspect to come up with functional forms that can make a difference in these children’ lives.

Her main advice was to narrow down the age range. Although I started my focus on newborns until three year olds, my design has the ability to be more productive if it has a more focused direction. For example, I have been trying to create a form that has the ability to give head support to a newborn learning to use his/her neck muscles while also being able to rock back and forth so a toddler can work on his/her leg muscles. I think I am trying to get too much usage out of an object that can be designed in a ‘supernormal’ way. In other words, I do not want it to have any unnecessary parts or be over-designed.

PT suggested that I stick with the age range of about 8 months to 14 months, the age in which they already have slight development, so that the design can focus on the advancements from that point forward. I am unsure if this is the age range that I will be sticking with but I am going to take her advice and look at the stages of development so that I could narrow it down.

The first thing that PT really liked about my concept was that I broke away from standard, geometric forms that are often used in her physical therapy sessions. The organic forms reminded her of a product that she sometimes uses with the children and she immediately went to grab it for me so I can look at it in person:

bilibo_organictoy

Bilibo, which is available at moluk.com, is a developmental tool used to increase gross motor skills and enhance creativity in children. It is such a simple form that it lends itself to endless possibilities in use depending on which direction it is placed and how the child chooses to interact with it. Although it is very different than the concept I am currently designing, it gave me confidence that a simple design has the same amount of opportunity as a more complex design, if not more so in some cases.

Looking at the form sketches, she thought that it was great that the child would be able to climb on and off the pieces to help with their motor development. When PT looked at my concept, she said she could envision a child using it that already has the ability to creep on hands and knees and is learning to crawl. She liked that I was trying to incorporate a slight rocking motion using the curved edges; that motion can help with balance, motor reactions, and visual development, specifically eye tracking. In addition, she suggested that if I create back support for a sitting position, the support should be upright, not leaning, in order to get the child’s main weight over his/her hips.

I mentioned the idea of using silicone as the final material. Choosing material for a product is extremely important, especially when it comes to a design for children. She agreed with me that it would make it a firm, sturdy structure while still managing to keep it rather soft and child-friendly. One piece of advice for me was that if I choose to use silicone in the end, I must make sure that it is hypo-allergenic. She also said that when designing the surface textures, I must make sure to not make the textures too fine. For example, although it is still made from silicone, adding a stringy texture on the surface would make it pretty hard to clean when the time comes. Especially since this product will require cleaning quite often due to the fact that it is designed for children and will be dealt with rather physically.

Pursuing A More ‘Organic’ Design Form

This new design approach aims to create more unique, purposeful forms that break away from the standard geometric shapes I have been focused on. In addition to the aspect of  appearing much more interesting and playful, I am also able to manipulate their forms to a greater extent so that they can carry out multiple functions at the same time. They will read more easily as a design for children, based on form as well as carefully chosen elements such as color and material, which intensifies the fun aspect that I have been trying to achieve.
OrganicDesignConcept1These sketches are just initial ideas for this new concept and will continue to be advanced upon as I proceed to define specific purposes for each one of the parts. I thought of tasks such as a requirement for added head support while lying down as well as under arm support when learning how to crawl. I want the forms to have zero completely flat edges to support them; instead, carefully chosen curves and protruding “appendages” will create a dynamic support system so that each one can be rotated into a number of positions for different purposes. They will be used throughout the initial developing stages, including the child learning to turn his/her head and learning to sit upright. Varying heights and densities can be targeted as a support system as the parent works with the child on developing physically.

When I was focusing on the geometric forms, I was conflicted right off the bat. I kept on imagining them being made from that standard gym mat material and could not break away from that mental image. However, when it comes to these new, curved forms, I am excited to experiment and see how the right material can enhance the design. I will be looking into using silicone as the material due to its range of densities, ability to be molded into different thicknesses, and safe quality that needs to be key when designing for children. Removing all of the edges has already led the way towards a safer design path, so why not utilize a material that can advance on it? Also, silicone will easily lend itself to being formed into different textures throughout the surface, such as a ribbed texture and a bumpy texture in different sizes.

This sketch shows the idea that I had of being able to rotate each piece in any direction while still keeping the functions that they need:

OrganicDesignConcept1a

For example, a curved U-shape on the floor can be used for surrounding support when learning to sit upright and a single part sticking outward on the floor can be used as under arm support when doing “tummy time.” The usable surfaces change depending on how the shape is positioned on the ground and a design aspect I will really focus on is how to keep it sturdy in every position.

I foresee limiting this design concept into about four separate parts, ones that work together to create a unit but can each be used as a stand-alone piece. They will subtly target different areas that need improvement and each one will be a necessary component to the overall design.

Meeting with my Advisor: Alex Lobos

I sat with Alex to explain to him how my initial tiled mat design has advanced to this newest concept idea. After going into the details of the new design, Alex told me that he really thinks that it would make the child’s tasks more reachable and in addition to that, it is a visually effective design that reads a lot more as a design for children.

He also helped me realize what I need to continue working on at this point in order to move forward. I have to narrow down exactly what the child needs to accomplish and to design shapes specifically targeted towards meeting those needs. For example, the act of pulling upright into a sitting position requires friction and softness at the base, something on the side to grab on to, and a large amount of stability in the right area. I will go through each important milestone and break them down to see how design can initiate a specific action or how it can help a child follow through with one they are working on at the moment. In addition, if a visual cue will influence the child to turn his/her head in a certain direction, a stimuli can be added for the child to be directed towards.

Alex agreed that one of the greatest limitations of the geometric forms was that they were all one note; it is difficult to ask them to do so many things at once. These new, edgeless forms are curvy, yet parts will extend outward outside of the focused mass in order to create a stable system that can support it in any position that it is in at the time.

Each form needs to work in such a way that it can be used in any direction, as though you can throw it and no matter which side it lands on, it works. These shapes, although seemingly random, will each carry out a specific underlying purpose, but will be able to work for much more than that.

Playing With Different Forms

I am going to branch out from the current concept design in order to play with different possibilities for my future design. Although I might end up advancing on the first concept, I feel it is best not to limit my options at this point.

Sticking with three-dimensional shapes, I will be pursuing a concept that combines multiple texture options in the same form so that the overall number of separate pieces can be reduced. They will be multi-functional forms that have multiple angle and height options so that they can be used for different purposes.

Concept Development Sketch

The geometric forms on the left can be opened up and re-arranged to create new forms, as seen on the right, from the same number of modules. There can be increased surface area, a larger variety of angles to lean on, and greater height differences. This new combination of different heights and angles can be used for different purposes depending on what physical advancements the parent and child are working on at the moment. Having the ability to advance from simpler forms to more complex ones, the geometric shapes can be used for all levels of development.

Meeting with my Advisor: Stan Rickel

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I sat with Stan, my thesis advisor, in order to gain some further insight into my most recent concept development. He advised me to break away from the standard, geometric forms that I have been inclined to using. In his opinion, these limited shapes are too common. Although I will continue to test out this concept using physical forms, Stan suggested that I try to find more irregular shapes to use, ones that can be used both individually and as a unit. Instead of creating forms out of the top of my head, Stan also said that it might be a good idea to look at already existing shapes in my surroundings and see how each of them could influence new forms for my design.

I have been drawn to using geometric forms since the beginning due to their straight edges and abilities to become modular. I did not consider using softer, more organic shapes because I could not see them being able to be used stably in different directions without having any flat edges to support them. In my mind, softer shapes were limited to completely rounded forms that had no ability to support and stabilize the child while they were being used. I did not consider that I could manipulate the forms to perform the exact functions that would be required, such as adding thicker parts to certain areas for greater support and creating curved edges so that they can be laid down and keep their stability while in use.

How can I create fun, curvy forms with no defined flat edges that can still be firmly positioned on the floor and can be used on all sides for different purposes? In addition, how can I manipulate various textures and densities with the use of specific forms and material choices?

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In order to begin this new exploration, I started to look at previously existing abstract forms that contain zero flat edges and rely on curved surfaces to enhance their shape. I took the time to look at all of the possibilities that can occur when they are turned over in multiple directions and when different amounts of weight are added to alternate sides. I will continue to experiment with these more natural forms so that I can tap into their potential for my design concept.

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