Especially during the first years of childhood, the abilities, interests and personality of young children evolve at a rapid speed. While seeking new learning challenges, young children tend to outgrow certain ways of playing - often within months. Toys that are no longer attractive to play with pile up over time, as many parents feel the need to offer new play opportunities to continuously foster their kids' development.
The Stokke PlayPad is an multifunctional play platform that can grow with the development of the child by providing a wide range of different activities in one single device. Placed on the floor the PlayPad creates an interactive play environment, where pressure sensors embedded in the surface work as input for different play experiences and visual (LED) as well as audio feedback help to facilitate a variety of playful interactions that children can understand and enjoy. The PlayPad is designed to fit the life of young families - it is flexible to move around, child-proof in its materiality, easy to set up and convenient to store away after play.
The spatial setup enables both independent play for children as well as shared play where parents or siblings can join in easily and participate. By placing different discs on top of the speaker, children or parents can switch between a wide range of play modes available. Each play disc activates an individual preset for sensors, speaker and lights that enables the selected play activity on the PlayPad. The different play activities range from free and explorative play for the youngest to musical experiences or preschool learning games. The variety of play experiences the PlayPad can offer keeps it attractive to play with throughout childhood and the wooden play discs allow families to upgrade and collect new activities over time - so that they can offer their children more play with less toys.
The PlayPad is a multifunctional play platform that evolves with the changing abilities of children during early childhood. It bridges the gap between analog and digital play and provides a vision of how technology can enhance playful development during early childhood if integrated in a meaningful way.
This project was carried out in collaboration with Stokke.
the starting point for this project
the research process
introducing the Stokke PlayPad
early ideation sketches
insights into the process
product & interactions designed for young children
topview of the PlayPad
how to select different modes
different play experiences explained
age-appropriate play options
product details / look & feel
little user standing on the PlayPad
Background / Intention behind this project In this project I worked on the topic of playful development in early childhood and explored the possibilities and potential benefits of physical / digital interactions as well as the purposeful implementation of technology in this space. Together with my collaboration partner Stokke I went on a journey to discover meaningful product solutions that suit both the needs of growing children in different development stages and their parents raising them.
The main way children learn and develop during these early years of childhood is through the act of playing. Play allows children to practice essential skills, to express themselves in a multitude of ways, to test, to experiment, to fail and win within a safe environment. Play prepares children for future learnings and is known to raise happiness and wellbeing - especially when it happens in combination with human interaction.
As all these facts are widely known amongst educators and parents, most young children are getting offered an overwhelming amount of toys and products to play with. But as the child's abilities and interests evolve rapidly during early childhood, kids tend to "outgrow" these play experiences quickly and unused toys pile up over time.
With my final concept, the PlayPad, I tried to address this issue and created an adaptable play platform with a product experience that can evolve with the children during different development stages of early childhood and that helps to facilitate playful development in a fun and interactive way. Process: User research, collaborative ideation & working with prototypes
Within this project I went through a thorough research process that involved a series of interviews with parents of young children and early childhood education professionals to identify the key challenges young families are facing with existing learning toys and to discover the unmet needs of children and their families within this context.
I used my findings from this research phase to ideate and came up with a broad range of concepts for different play platforms. I also included a diverse range of perspectives in my process by hosting three collaborative ideation workshops, including students from interaction design, industrial design, parents and designers from my collaboration partner Stokke.
In later stages of the process I worked very hands-on building a wide range of physical prototypes to explore different CMF variations, product archetypes and playful interactions. I also used these prototypes to test my ideas with parents and young children - which helped me to narrow down from a wide range of promising ideas to a refined and user-tested endresult. Reasoning: Age-appropriate playful learning throughout childhood
The PlayPad stood out compared to all other ideas and was selected as the final concept. Its spatial setup and the engaging interactions (provided through light, sound & touch) can facilitate a wide range of activities that suit kids in different development stages. The concept also fits the daily life of young families, as it is easy to set up, simple to maintain, great to bring along and also accessible for parents or siblings to join in the play activities.
Through the wide range of possible play activities, the PlayPad can support learning and development in different areas, including cognitive development, language skills, motorics and social-emotional skills. This flexibility gives the PlayPad the potential to remain an attractive play platform even when interest and abilities of children evolve during early childhood - an aspect that traditional one-dimensional toys hardly can offer.
The PlayPad aims to be an ever-changing companion throughout childhood. As a play platform it allows for greater creativity, exploration and problem-solving and it also encourages children to engage in open-ended and imaginative play and gives parents the opportunity to offer their children a variety of playful experiences without the need for an abundance of toys. Details: Child-friendly & tech-enabled play experience
Placed on the floor the PlayPad creates an interactive and soft play environment, where pressure sensors embedded in the textile work as input for play activities and visual as well as auditive feedback help to facilitate a variety of playful interactions that children can understand and enjoy. By placing different discs on top of the speaker addon, children and parents can switch between a wide range of play modes available. Each disc stands for a different play activity and activates a different preset for sensors, light and speakers. Play activities range from explorative and free play for the youngest to musical experiences, pattern matching, rhythmic dance activities or even games to learn counting & colours for preschool-aged children. The spatial setup of the PlayPad enables both independent play for children as well as shared play where parents or siblings can join in easily and participate. By adding new play-discs to the collection, families upgrade the product experience over time according to the kid's age, abilities and interests.
This scalability of the product experience is of course made possible through the implementation of technology. However I evaluated a variety of different tech-enablers and tried to involve technology in a careful & responsible way, as the level of sensory input from screens for example would have been not suitable for a child-friendly play experience.
The main textile surface is suitable for even the youngest to lay & play on. It features a textile sleeve cover that is robust, washable and easy to detach with a zipper. All other parts of this product are child-proof in size and materiality and interactions for changing play-modes or activation are tested to be understood and handled by toddlers independently.
As the PlayPad is both an interactive toy as well as an interior piece in the home, it was essential to work with materials and colours to create a look & feel that sparks the playful curiosity of children and fits the taste of parents providing this device.
Potential impact: Enhancing playful development & reducing footprint As the PlayPad engages young children and their families actively in shared play experiences it can have a significant impact on children's development in the early years, promoting cognitive, social and emotional development while also fostering important skills such as problem-solving, creativity and critical thinking.
The toy industry as a whole has a huge impact on the environment, not only because it is one of the most plastic-intensive industries in the world, but also because so many toys are getting bought in brandnew state and end up unused or thrown away within weeks or months. By cutting down on the amount of toys in a young family's household the PlayPad also addresses sustainability issues on a conceptual level. In terms of the design details I also tried to minimize the impact of this product by integrating natural, non-harmful or recycled materials embedded in a product architecture optimized for longevity that allows convenient cleaning and replacement of the textile sleeve - as this is the most fragile part of the product.
These aspects make the PlayPad an ideal solution for parents who want to provide their children with playful learning resources in early childhood and are conscious about their environmental footprint.