Pooki is a toy designed for all children, but is particularly attractive to Autistic children.
Pooki is designed to help parents, especially parents of Autistic children find a toy that suits their child, rather than hoping their child suits the toy. Using research data, every aspect of Pooki is designed with a purpose and function. Pooki provides children, in particular Autistic children with an engaging product that will aid them in emotional, social or cognitive development.
When it comes to what toys are currently available for Autistic children, it is observed that many toys often generalise all Autistic children into one broad category. Every child with Autism has unique genetics, causes and triggers, not one child is the same as the next. This created a need for a toy that truly reflects the research that has been undertaken into what makes a toy attractive and beneficial to Autistic children; At the same time, removing the stigma that is often associated with 'special toys for special children' by creating a toy that all children can play with.
The design of Pooki was not developed and produced overnight. Pooki utilises both primary and secondary research data, to design a toy that is truly beneficial for children, in particular Autistic children. Taking into consideration of the factors that can affect the experience a child has when interacting with a toy, by using methods such as body storming, user profiling and even just simply giving my prototypes to children, I was able to tease out the nuances and details that make a toy worth playing with.
Catering to Different Children With Customisation
Understanding that all children are different, Pooki is designed with customisation in mind. One toy that works and is attractive to one child, might not be for another, thus utilising an ambiguous form, children are encouraged to rotate and play with the form that they feel most comfortable with. To cater for different levels of sensitivities (colour, texture etc…), the fins that attach to the body (via a magnetic joint mechanism) come in and 2 different textures: soft silicone (In 5 different muted colours, as muted colours shown to be more attractive for Autistic children) and hard wood (4 different colours and wood grains). Fins can also be removed if the child prefers to play without them. The fins in themselves are designed to be ergonomic, making it easy to hold by both toddlers and older children. Many different shapes and sizes were explored, but the subtle pebble shape was most popular among children and most suitable for the shape and size of the toy.
Communicating with Pooki
Emotion is a very abstract concept, one person's definition of happiness is different to another person's. It is often difficult to communicate that a curved line and two dots represent happiness. Therefore, I made a decision to give Pooki a blank face. This in turn encourages parents and children to draw on their own interpretation of faces and emotion. This helps with social, cognitive and emotional development. Further, this also provides parents and children with an alternative method of communication. The face plate is constructed out of recycled aluminium sheet offcuts, which are then anodised in two colours (silver and gold) for easy cleaning. Pencils, pens, markers and also crayons can be used to draw or write onto the aluminium plate, and cleaned with a warm cloth and small amounts of diluted soap if stains are stubborn.
Weighting the toy
Research suggests that weighted toys promote a sense of security for Autistic children. It helps calm them down when their surrounding environments makes them feel uneasy and uncomfortable. When a child picks up Pooki, they will realise that there is a slight weight to it. The weight abides by the Australian Toy Standards and not surpassing 10% of an average child's body weight. To any child, the weight is present, but will not interfere with normal play, but to an Autistic child, this slight weight can help lead them to a sense of calm. The weight itself is safely contained within the toy, therefore parents can be reassured that children won't be able to take out the weight.
Maintenance of Pooki's body and it's fins
As the toy is designed for children, cleaning was also a big consideration in the design process. The fabric chosen, is a luxurious blend of merino wool and bamboo fabric, which not only has antibacterial properties, but is also easy to wipe clean with warm water and fast drying, so that the child can quickly get back to playing. The colour chosen is of a darker neutral shade, so that any stubborn stains will be less noticeable. However, for future refinement, the body can potentially be customised with different colours to suit the parent and child. Pooki's fins are also easy to clean, with the silicone surface able to be submerged in warm water and wiped clean, and the wooden fins can be wiped with a warm cloth, and refinished with a light brush of natural linseed oil, to restore the quality and the colour of the wood. With constant use, the most common component of Pooki that can suffer from general wear and tear are Pooki's fins. Thanks to the magnet mechanism, when the fins reach it's end of life, fins are easily removed and replaced with either a new colour or texture, or simply the same one that the child feels most comfortable with.
Looking Towards the Future and Awards
During the end of year Monash Art, Design and Architecture graduation show, Pooki was awarded 'Best Product Design' of the 2015 graduating Industrial Design Class. Pooki was almost nominated for 'Best Research'. I was also nominated for the Graduate of the Year award, upon completing my honours year.
Looking forward, I would like to further refine Pooki to be even better than what it is. Certain manufacturing processes will need to be revisited, like designing for a larger manufacturing scale and larger numbers. As a result, I hope that one day I will be able to take Pooki to market, so that more children can experience Pooki for what it is.
This project is really taking the special needs for Autistic children and making that a basis for a new toy.
Especially looking into the dialogue between the parent and the child and involving emotions, and talking about emotions in a new way.