Multiple people have told me that it would be great to add an element to my end design that would allow parents to track the progress of their child. I have been thinking about this for a while and will continue to do so until I decide the best way to go about it. I want to keep my design as simple as possible without adding unnecessary details. Adding a technological element like this would increase the production and manufacturing cost, as well as making it too complex.
I have also been coming back to the idea of adding different sensory elements into the design, such as lights and music. However, I am determined to stick with the adage of ‘less design is more design.’ After discussing this with PT she helped me realize that the addition of these features can create a sensory overload in the child as well, especially those in my user group. Children with physical disabilities are often very sensitive to things around them. When working on their physical development, the frustration with their inability to do certain activities can be enhanced by other noises and distractions going on in their surroundings. Adding extra technological elements can create that sensory overload, causing them to be overwhelmed. Therefore, I am going to try to keep my design as minimal and useful as possible. If I decide to add additional features, I will make sure that they are completely necessary and will find the best way to incorporate them into already existing elements of the design.
PT and I were discussing this and she mentioned a product that triggered a new design idea. She said that the gertie ball is a product often used by physical therapists during sessions to enhance motor skills. Adding less air to it makes it easier for the child to grab and hold on to it, while adding more air makes it more stable so that the child can actually sit on it. What stood out to me was when she told me that there are certain gertie balls that are made with a heat-sensored material that changes colors when held. Based on the pressure that the child places on it, the color will change due to the change in heat.
I ordered one of these balls on Amazon in order to test it out. You can watch how it works in this video that I took:
I looked more into the technology, which I learned to be known as thermochromism, and found a US toy patent that also uses it. The patent states that the material “will change color as the temperature of the body changes.” A child is able to change the color of the toy by raising or lowering the temperature, doing so by placing it in heated or cold water or air. The heat of a child’s hands is also able to be used to change the temperature, causing a noticeable change in its color. Generally, the material goes from a darker color to a lighter one as the temperature of the material is raised.
The use of a material that changes color due to temperature might have the ability to track the physical progress in the child. The harder the child grabs onto the product the more his/her body temperature will cause the material to change color, allowing the parent to actually see the physical ability of their child progress. The more they develop physically, the greater their motor skills will advance, allowing them to grasp and hold on with greater strength over time. It can be a simple way to utilize the material to create a product that can both initiate physical development as well as track it over time.
Thermochromism also has the ability to enhance the visual and tactile sensory experience for children that will use this product. The color change will create a unique visualization that will keep them interested and since it can be changed as the child physically interacts with the product, it will teach them about cause-and-effect as well. It will intrigue them to continue engaging with the product once they see the visual effect that they are able to have on it.
I want to incorporate textures on specific areas of the product, leaving some surfaces smooth. Overall, the textures can be placed in a number of ways. They can be incorporated into areas where the child has the most physical contact with the piece for a more heightened sensory experience, one that would enhance their proprioception, or ‘awareness of one’s own body’. Another option is for the textures to be used near those areas in which the child would be in contact with the most, promoting them to reach outward towards it in order to initiate stretching and increased movement.
After a lot of research into material options, including silicone and both BPA and phthalate free synthetic rubber, I have found that material textures in children’s products come in many variations. Including textured surfaces is a very important design detail that will enhance the child’s sensory experience when using the product. It has been difficult choosing specific textures to use and exactly where to apply them. One aspect I am certain of is to use textures that vary in both size and shape to create multiple sensory experiences that can also initiate progress in fine motor skills. These are just some of the texture options that I have sketched based on research and exploration:
Placement of the textures will prove to be a key factor. After looking at other products and going through my research, I have come up with an idea of where to place the textures on the pieces. When it comes to the smaller scale textures, such as ones with small bumps or ridges, the material will be less protruding and more subtle. My idea is to place these textures in areas where the child’s whole body will be leaning against the piece, or right near those areas. They can be used for a sensory experience that will be a little more understated. Specific areas of placement can include areas that they will be lying down on top of, areas they would lean against to use as sitting support, as well as areas they would use to lay over for ‘tummy time’.
When it comes to the larger scale textures, such as ones with soft and flexible spikes, the material will protrude out more in comparison to those of smaller scale. These textures will increase the raised surface area that the child can grab or hold on to. They can be placed in areas that the child is most likely to be in contact with on their own; specifically, areas that come in contact with the child’s hands and feet. They can be implemented in areas that hang over the child so it causes them to reach up in order to feel them, as well as in areas that they would be able to lay their feet against. This would greatly increase the focused sensory experience during playtime.