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:


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.



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.




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.


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.

Gaining Some Professional Input

I sought out pediatric physical therapists in order to gain some more insight about my thesis topic. While the internet and library have been great resources so far, I really needed to meet with someone in person for additional guidance and to find out if I would be able to observe multiple physical therapy sessions. My searching brought me to a local pediatric outpatient therapy center made up of experienced pediatric physical and occupational therapists that primarily focus on early intervention. That is how I got in contact with the physical therapist (who I’ll be referring to as ‘PT’) who agreed to help me throughout this process.

PT has already given me some general guidelines when it comes to toys and objects used to work with children with abnormal muscle tone. All of the human senses are targeted during physical therapy sessions:


Vision leads to all movement. One big visual stimulation for children is color; black and white are early visual cues. For newborns, their visual field is best within 8-9 inches. Their initial visual field is not so strong.

Vision can also be used as an incentive to help them gain physical strength. For example, positioning of a toy or object can be key. Placing it forward in front of the child will cause him to move his head forward as well, strengthening the head and neck muscles.


Children respond to voice, physical touch, heartbeat, and rhythm of breathing. If the child gets worked up, speaking soothingly or breathing rhythmically helps calm them when you hold them. (also applies to Touch)


Children with lower muscle tone do not have great movement. They are unable to crawl or move around to explore and touch objects in their surroundings. Incorporating texture into the designs they interact with is highly important to expose them to what they otherwise would be missing out on. Materials in their surrounding environment are also important for them to get used, such as the furniture around them and different floor textures. For instance, being able to feel the difference between hard/soft and warm/cold gives them a better sense and awareness of their body.

Within our first meeting, PT gave me really helpful advice that has altered the path of this thesis topic. Hypotonia is very specific and can limit the amount of users for my product, as well as making it incredibly difficult to create a universalized design. Instead of just focusing on children with hypotonia, I will be designing for newborn to 3 year old children with abnormal muscle tone, including both high muscle tone and low muscle tone.   A design will be created that can cover both extremes since they actually have many similarities.