More Thought About Texture & Material

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.

Material

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.

Gertie Ball Colorchanging

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:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zf1bSrfo7p4

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.

Texture

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:

TextureOptions

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.

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Testing Size: Making a Half-Scale MDF Mock Up

At this point, I decided to push forward with my latest 3D print advancement in order to scale it up. The 3D print is only about 5 inches long, which is helpful in identifying the form but not so much the function. I wanted to see how stable the piece would be in a larger scale, as well as to see exactly how big the final product should be. This latest print has a simple curved form that varies in thickness from one end to the other. It is able to be placed in four different positions while staying upright and each position is useful for different activities. The main position it stays in allows it to subtly rock and spin since the widened base has a slight curve, which is enough to initiate movement while keeping safety in mind:

Form6bForm6a

I proceeded to take the CAD file for the model into a program called 123D Make, which allows you to turn your 3D model into a two dimensional build plan. The program takes the three dimensional form you have created and slices it into layers upon your direction. I was able to choose the direction and width of the slices it would be made up of based on the material it was cut from. In addition, I hollowed out the inside so that I could fill the end piece with sand in order to test the shift in weight when placed in different positions.

In order to choose the size of the larger scale model, I researched the average measurements of a child in the age range of my user group. It turned out that the average height is about 31″, so I decided that the overall length of my first test piece would be 36″. I figured it should be a little bit larger than the child so that they can sit on it and interact with it without it being too overwhelming to them. Since the CNC has limitations due to the material choice, I had to create an 18″ half scale model. It would still allow me to test the function on a larger scale than the 3D print and pave the way for future iterations.

I chose MDF as the material to use for the model because it comes in large sheets that are easy to sand once the pieces have been assembled. After setting up the material onto the CNC, it was time to start cutting out the pieces. 123D Make works with the CNC router so the new file had to be transferred to the machine, allowing it to then follow the line paths that were programmed.

After all the pieces were cut out of the MDF sheets, the assembly process began.

I had to remove all of the unnecessary material from the interior and exterior of each part. I numbered them in size order to keep track of the way in which they would be glued together.

I was left with only the pieces required for my model and I continued to work on each one by hand. I used a hand file to clean up all of the edges to give the overall piece a smoother finish at this stage. Although somewhat time-consuming, it saved me time later on in the construction process.

During the sanding process, my thesis advisor, Professor Stan Rickel, and I discussed the best way of going about assembling the pieces. It required multiple wooden dowels to be placed through pre-drilled holes in order to keep the pieces from shifting during the gluing process.

I proceeded to widen the pre-drilled holes after all of the sanding was complete so that there would be room to apply wood glue around the dowels to keep them securely in place without falling out. I then split the parts into two piles and glued the pieces into two separate halves. This would enable me to fill the piece with sand before gluing the two halves together. I hoped that the sand would create the weight-shifting ability I wanted in the final design, however, the MDF was too heavy a material for it to really make much of a difference. I would like to test it out with a foam model, which would allow the sand to make more of a difference due to its lighter quality.

Both halves were carefully glued and clamped to ensure a close fit. I left them to dry overnight, added the sand to one half in the morning and then glued the whole piece together. I gave the piece more time to dry this time since the next step would entitle sanding down the entire surface to shape and smooth the exterior.

I clamped the entire piece securely onto a table in the industrial design studio’s sanding room. Using a hand grinder, I went over each section of the piece so that there would be a continuous surface over all of the glued pieces. I had to continuously rotate the model and re-clamp it to ensure an even surface all around. In the end, the room was completely covered in MDF dust from the excess material removed and my piece had been sanded down to the necessary form.

When the time came to finish the surface of the piece by removing all of the sanding marks, Stan happened to be in the industrial design studio with furniture designer Wendell Castle. Wendell uses a wood stacking technique similar to this in many of his pieces, so he took the time to give me advice on how to complete mine more efficiently. I carefully removed the markings from the hand grinder so that the curves would have a better flow and a smoother surface.

After the piece was completed, I began to take notes of its qualities. A thinner wall would be better, allowing there to be more hollow space inside for the sand to partially fill and allow a more noticeable shift in weight. When it came to size, this definitely help me see a more realistic scale of the final design. Even though it was just a half scale representation of what the final form would be, it allowed me to see that at full scale the piece would be too large. Instead of 36″ long, it would be sufficient for the piece to be minimized to approximately 25″ long. A smaller size will allow it to be used properly without being excessively large. In addition, no extra material will be wasted and the proportion to the child will be more in scale.

Less Design is More Design

Meeting with my Advisor: PT

I brought my current 3D prints to show PT in order to look at them with her. Instead of looking at them from the perspective of a designer, it really helped to hear from a physical therapist how she thought the forms might be able to help children with abnormal muscle tone.

In the case of adding a slightly curved area in which the child might be able to sit on, PT suggested that I focus on creating a curve that will subtly add leg support when the child is sitting. By creating a downward slope in the angle of the sitting curve, it increases the amount of flexion in the hip, reducing the potential for the child to slide out of the chair. This is a safety concern since they sometimes lack the control required to hold their body upright on their own. The quick diagram below might make it easier to understand the difference between the two positions:

Janet_11-11

However, once the child is able to sit in that on their own, they will not necessarily need that section of the design anymore because they will be able to move. This seating position restricts other movements so if it used in the final design, adjustments will be required. The downward angled slope in the seat base might not need to be as drastic nor would the seating curve need to come up very high off the ground. A lower seating area would allow the child to keep their feet touching the floor underneath. This design aspect will need to be used for other activities as well since limiting parts of the form to such a specific function might make using the design at home harder for both the parent and child.

PT told me that babies usually curl up their legs instead of stretching them outright. In order to allow them to sit with their legs upward, the sitting curve must be wide enough to give them the knee room required to do so. If a physical therapist is working with the child in a home environment, the parent might remove a seat cushion from their couch, sit the child in the corner, and put a cushion in front of them between their legs in order to add something to support them from falling forward.

This last bit of information gave me the idea to create a sitting curve wide enough for the child to sit on with their legs comfortably positioned outward. There would be a structure in the middle sticking upright for the child to use to lean on for added support, such as this diagram indicates:

SittingSupportAfter explaining this new idea to PT, she gave me some incredibly useful advice in which she started off by saying that “at the end of the day, parents should be the toy of the child.” By not adding support pieces, it leaves more room for the parent to help the child. The parent is able to come in and give both mental and physical support to their child during play as opposed to the design doing all of the work itself. It enhances their interaction instead of assuming that the child is able to use the toy on their own. As time passes and the child becomes more independent, the parent being there is no longer a ‘need’ as much as a ‘want’. The parent is able to use the design with their child, thus increasing their quality time together. In the words of PT, “the time you give to your child gives back way beyond your imagination as they get older.”

Less design is more design. Essentially, leaving more room for the parent to help the child allows for an overall greater parent/child interaction during playtime.

3D Print Form Study

Using Autodesk Fusion 360, I have been able to create CAD models in different stages. I started out creating an abstract form with subtle curves and parts that stick outward in order to see what overall form these features can create. Although more research will be done in order to identify the exact curves and angles necessary in the final models, I am just playing around right now creating forms with varying angles and multiple positioning options. This form study will help me analyze different shapes so that I can then break them down into a list of features that I can move forward with as I advance on the forms.

The overall goal was to create models on CAD which I could then transfer to the 3D printer in order to create 2-4 inch ABS plastic models. At this point I am focusing on the form of each of the pieces; once I advance further, I will be making larger scaled models to test out the function. These small models allow me to easily see the forms I have created in different positions as I compare and contrast them to one another.

With each printing stage, I have printed one or two small models that share similar characteristics. I made sure to advance on the previous ones each time I made a new set in order to see how it might better my end design.

Stage 1:

I created and printed two forms that have a curved surface to initiate a subtle rocking motion on one side, extended areas that the child will be able to lean over and use as support for different activities, high and low points to enable visual tracking, curved areas to use for sitting on, and an overall form that initiates movement. I wanted them to be pieces in which the child is curious to explore by both moving around them and by moving the pieces themselves in order to view different areas. They were created with no definite shape in mind; that ambiguity allows for a more creative mindset when being used by the child. I want to create forms that trigger the imagination in order to increase the fun element in these designs and to make the child more interested in using them.

Another important element I have been focusing on is for the pieces to be able to be placed in multiple positions, both to give each piece a more useful function and to engage the child a little bit more. The design will be created in a way that will allow the child to carefully move it around in different positions without sacrificing the stability necessary to support them when they put their weight on it. Taking advantage of the three-dimensional quality of these pieces will allow me to focus on combining curved surfaces on all sides that can work together for an effective design.

These first two models did not quite support themselves in different positions as well as I had hoped. 3D printing them allowed me see the problems with positioning that are harder to see when designing them on the computer screen. In addition, the parts that stick out on these models are too present. They became more linear than I anticipated and I will continue to work on more simplified forms with subtle curves that still execute the functions required.

Form1Form2

 

Stage 2:

The two forms that followed took into account the problems that were present in the first set of forms. I attempted to make the curves flow more consistently while keeping a variety of surfaces present. Although one of the forms was successful in being simplified, the other one became too complex and is not such a strong variation on the previous ones. However, the main quality that these forms both followed through with was advancing on positioning options that are available. They were able to be flipped over multiple ways and were able to stand without falling over. This helped me realize that there do not have to be as many surfaces sticking outwards for it to hold its form; instead, I just have to take advantage of the few surfaces I do use and manipulate the angles and soft edges for it to be able to stand stably in different ways.

Form3

Form4

 

Stage 3:

This single form took on a manner of simplification. It is able to be placed in about five different positions, limits the amount of extended parts, is able to give a slight rocking motion for the child to work on their balance and stability, and its minimal design alludes to different forms that might be found in nature. I believe that the ambiguous design will enhance the final forms and I will be able to create a set of pieces that will work well together.

As stated before, I will be developing the exact curves and angles necessary to help the child with different activities, such as strengthening their core muscles and sitting upright. Figuring out a general form that is made up of all of the other features the final piece will encompass will be used as a basis later on as the development of the design progresses.

Form5

Although irrelevant to the actual function of the pieces, I really like that all of these forms allow the imagination to run wild, somewhat like a rorschach test. When other people saw these forms, they asked me if they were models of different sea creatures such as starfish, seals, whales, octopuses, and many more. These forms, although based on no apparent object or animal, will allow the children to advance on not only their physical development, but their creativity and imagination as well. It will enhance the “fun” element that I have been looking to incorporate since the beginning.

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.