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Essential concepts in Toy Design Education: Aimlessness, Empathy and Play Value


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This paper aims at contributing to the professional development of toy design education programs. It draws from the practice of a children’s toy design course at an academic design faculty. It identifies three major concepts that greatly influence toy quality and that students find difficult to understand and apply. This paper describes how these concepts are attended to in the educational format of the toy design course. They are aimlessness (the notion that play is focused on the process of an activity rather than on a necessary outcome of it), empathy (the necessity to understand the concerns and motivations of children not only in an cognitive but also in an emotional way) and play value (the usability of a toy as a tool for play, generating diverse play opportunities that suit various children’s needs, motivations and abilities).
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Essential concepts in Toy Design Education:
Aimlessness, Empathy and Play Value
Mathieu A. Gielen
Assistant Professor in Design for Children´s Play, Department of Industrial Design Engineering,
Delft University of Technology, Landbergstraat 15, 2628 CE Delft, The Netherlands
The paper aims at contributing to the professional
development of toy design education programs. It draws
from the practice of a children’s toy design course at
Delft University of Technology. It identifies three major
concepts that greatly influence toy quality and that
students find difficult to understand and apply:
aimlessness, empathy and play value. The paper
describes how these concepts are attended to in the
educational format of the toy design course.
Aimlessness is a central element of play: the player is
motivated for the activity by an interest in the process,
not by a desire for a certain lasting outcome. This
distinguishes toys from other products and toy design
from general design. Students tend to look for
´problems´ to be solved by using a toy rather than
offering possibilities for interesting play processes.
Within the Delft course, students are requested to
discern between children’s own objectives in play and
those of parents and themselves as designers. Some
creativity techniques are used that do not focus on
finding solutions for problems but on exploring the
solution space around ideas.
Empathy with children and their needs, wishes,
preferences and skills does not come from books alone,
neither does looking back at one’s own youth provide a
solid vision on play quality. Some tools and techniques
for stimulating empathy with children are used in the
course. The more obvious one is direct contact with
children throughout the design process. Some other
sources that enrich empathy are also discussed.
Play value is a term used to describe the overall
enjoyment of a child with a certain toy. It consists of a
complex of factors such as complexity and challenge,
appropriateness for the context, correspondence to the
character of the child. It is very difficult to predict
children’s use of toys, but detailed assessment of the
various factors contributing to play value does give
indications of qualities and weaknesses in the design of
the toy.
The paper also identifies a gap in the course where it
concerns the exploration of children´s worlds of
experience prior to the choice of a product domain and
suggests development of techniques for such
exploration, e.g. contextmapping techniques.
Key words: Toy design education, Quality of toys, Play
value, Design methodology
1. Introduction
The design of toys and other objects and environments
for playful use requires knowledge and skills that are not
all taught in general design education. This conviction of
some of the staff of the Department of Industrial Design
Engineering at Delft University of Technology led to the
establishment of a “course on design for children’s play
and learning”, or “toy design course” in short, in 1999. It
is an elective with an 80 hours study load (3 credits) for
master students in Industrial Design, consisting of
lectures, practicals and a design assignment.
Since its start, some 350 students have followed the
course; about 80% of them were Dutch students, but also
students from Europe, USA and Asia participated.
When the course was originally set up, the main
objective of the lectures was to get students acquainted
with academic fields such as child development, child
psychology, child ergonomics, behaviour sciences and
play research. It was assumed that this knowledge,
combined with the general design skills students have at
hand, could successfully be applied in a design project
on the topic of toys.
In teaching and coaching the design projects in this
course, however, it was noticed that theoretic knowledge
about children’s play behaviour is often hard to integrate
in practical design work. Too often, strong preconceived
notions overruled that knowledge; preconceptions like
‘play is fun and fun is laughing, so play is about
laughing’. In some cases, the lectures introduced new
misconceptions, for instance the idea that if a child
develops through play, then the objective of play must
be to develop oneself and toys must always be designed
with the specific intention to stimulate development.
Over time, three main areas were identified that proved
difficult for students. These areas are named in the next
paragraphs. Also the problems associated with them are
explained, and the tools that were developed to assist
students in more fully connecting to the nature of
children’s play.
2. Aimlessness
Generally, product design is considered a problem
solving activity (Roozenburg and Eekels 1995).
Consumers’ needs are satisfied, the execution of tasks
enabled, incapabilities met or discomforts relieved
through the creation of material objects with certain
functions. The quality of these objects lies in how well
the explicit or implicit criteria of the users are met, both
in its primary task and secondary functions, such as
confirming the users’ sense of style and aesthetic
preferences, or pleasurable experience during use.
Within the domain of play, such criteria are very hard to
establish. Even the question what play itself is, is not
agreed upon by the experts on child development and
play; they use various definitions of play. A well-known
overview of viewpoints is the ‘Seven Rhetorics of Play’
by Sutton-Smith (1997), and some other recent
publications (e.g. Canning 2007) build definitions of
play as a collage from various scientific disciplines and
theories. Within this paper, the core of play will be
defined as the urge for experiences through self-
motivated activities and behaviour at one´s own
discretion and will.
One thing the experts do agree upon, is that play is a
very open-ended activity. The goal of play can be
achieved in many different ways, all of which are
satisfactory, enjoyable experiences. Play is characterised
by its many degrees of freedom in its nature,
performance and contents.
Furthermore, play is directed towards the experience
itself, more than to achieving a specific lasting result or
proceeds that compensate for the effort made. Play is
about the enjoyability of the process – any process.
Thus, it is impossible to define the contents of play or its
aims in specific, detailed criteria that a problem solving
designer could work towards.
It also means that there is a great diversity of thinkable
toys that could facilitate play. It is this openness of the
solution space for toys, caused by the aimlessness of
play, that students need to understand and get a grip on.
In our course, it is tried to do this by first making
students write down a list of things they think are
important within the domain they have chosen, and then
categorise them per stakeholder.
These students´ lists often contain a mixture of concerns
of different types: educational goals, safety concerns,
commercial targets, hindrance avoidance, aesthetics,
possibilities for group play, inclusiveness of children
with various capabilities, etcetera.
This list then is reorganised and rewritten as a personal
statement (in spoken language) from the perspective of
the child, the parent or caretaker, the designer, and
possibly other stakeholders.
The role that the students assign the parents can
generally be characterised as a wish that the child learns
from playing and that the parent can either participate in
the play, or on the contrary is not hindered by the child
at play.
To formulate the perspective of the designer is
important, as it gives the students an opportunity to state
their own personal objectives and at the same time make
them aware that they are their own, and not necessarily
important from a child’s perspective. In class, these are
compared to Sutton-Smith’s ´Seven Rhetorics of Play´ to
give an impression as to what value system they relate.
Then finally, the child´s perspective is composed from
those items of the initial list of concerns and criteria that
are fitting to a child; this often turns out to be a very
vague and broad statement, reflecting the aimlessness of
play and hence the openness of the solution space for toy
An example of a (compact) set of statements from one of
the students projects:
Designer: We aim to develop a toy for early age
education of Brazilian children in slums, that
contributes to the local economy.
Parent: I would like to be able to buy a toy with which
my children can play together and learn something,
while I am absorbed with my own work at home.
Child: I would like to have a cool toy that I can play
with, building things together with my brother and
A second issue that is directly linked to the aimlessness
of play and the openness of the solution space is the
difficulty to judge whether a first toy idea is just right,
for it can be played with, or if it would gain play value
from adaptation. (More about play value is explained
later in this paper.) There is always some conceivable
way of play with a toy. A designer may easily think that
the design is complete, when some sort of interaction is
possible. But is it an optimal interaction? Does the toy
have a coherent set of characteristics that evoke
worthwhile play, or is the designer overlooking
elements? That question can be addressed by creative
techniques of a kind that focus on behaviour and that
facilitate exploration of the solutions space around an
initial idea. Two of such techniques are used within our
The first one presents the solution space as a diagram
with two behavioural dimensions: realistic versus
imaginative, and active versus receptive, see figure 1.
The diagram is loosely based on the diagram of learning
styles developed by Kolb (1984).
These axis can be understood as the likeliness to behave
in a certain manner in reaction to the encounter with a
toy or situation: the imaginative child tries to incorporate
the toy into a fantasy or storyline, whereas the realistic
behaviour would be to test, understand and use the
functions and meanings of the toy within a realistic
setting (challenges, sports, experimentation).
On the other axis, the active behaviour is to make use of
motor skills: running, throwing, dressing up and acting
out, whereas the receptive behaviour finds its core
enjoyability in the sensory perception within interaction.
(Though interaction always is a combination of sensory
input and motor output and the two cannot be parted,
this diagram invites to consider to what extent one of the
two is the dominant factor in creating the enjoyability of
the interaction.)
The four corners of the diagram represent four ´opposite´
behaviour styles: when a child takes a toy into
imaginative motor behaviour, he or she ´acts out´ a story,
thus operates as an actor. Receptive realistic behaviour
leads to a ´thinker´ play style in which experiencing and
discovering the characteristics of the surrounding world
are the focus.
This diagram can be used as a creative tool by placing an
idea for a toy and the envisioned use(s) of the toy within
the diagram and then thinking of how the toy could be
adapted to facilitate a different behaviour style with it.
This adapted toy is placed in the diagram and can
function as a starting point for a next adaptation, the
initial idea being changed again and again to cater for
various play types. The variety within the collection of
ideas increases, allowing the designer to choose
(combinations of) ideas that facilitate potentially
interesting behaviour.
An example of the use of this technique is given in
figure 2. In this example an existing insect viewer is
used as the initial idea. With this toy, children can study
an insect through a magnifying glass. This can be
classified as a thinker’s toy: a toy for realistic
exploration of small insects with a focus on visual
perception of the insects’ details. Other ideas based upon
the same theme are then generated for other behaviour
types: achievers search their environment to find as
many species they can find, actors play out adventures
with a life-size bug or use it as a costume to become an
insect, and dreamers create fantasy insect figures, think
out their life stories and enjoy the beautiful shine of their
A second creative technique in use is called ´extreme
characters´, after a method described by Djajadiningrat,
Gaver, and Frens (2000). This technique is especially
useful if a student is having difficulties imagining the
freedom of behaviour within play and sticks to well-
known, predictable and all too ´decent´ behaviour
concepts and toy ideas.
For this technique, a diverse selection of well-known
archetypical characters are chosen (Spiderman,
Spongebob Squarepants, Bratz Girls, James Bond, or
non-fictional but clear and extreme characters). Their
behaviour style is summarised in some keywords. Next,
the character is linked to the toy idea and the question is
asked: what would this character want to do with this
toy? How could this toy be changed to support this
behaviour better?
The exaggerated behaviour style of the character makes
it easier to break self-imposed limitations on the
imagination of children’s possible play behaviour.
As an example, the Disney character Goofy is used. This
creature can be described as naïve, full of plans, good-
humoured and most of all as having a great talent for
failure. These characteristics are then projected onto a
toy idea that is to be developed further. For this example,
Fig. 1 Diagram of behaviour types
Fig. 2 Example with insect viewer
we use the hula-hoop. How could a hula-hoop be used in
an activity based upon naïve plans and the enjoyment of
failure? And how could the hula-hoop be adapted to
better suit this activity? Combinations of flexible lasso-
like rings and rope that make you stumble come to mind,
or heavy hula-hoops that make your body swing
outrageously, or rings from which water leaks if you
don’t spin them fast enough – all activities you could
imagine Goofy doing.
The extreme character helps to exaggerate behaviour,
but only if one focuses on behaviour. The observation
that Goofy has long ears (or any other element of his
outward appearance) will not help thinking about
behaviour – notwithstanding the possibility that the idea
of hula-hoops with long ears attached to them may
sparkle other ideas.
Both creative techniques (the behaviour diagram and
extreme characters) aim at identifying more diverse
options for behaviour and explore possibilities for toys
to support those. The outcome of such a creative session
is a variety of adaptations and reworked concepts, from
which the best ones can be selected, combined or used as
inspiration for a next concept.
3. Empathy
A second concept that goes beyond knowledge and that
is of importance for students designing for children’s
play, is the ability to put themselves mentally in the
place of the child and get attuned to how children
perceive their world. Of course, there has been a
tremendous effort to research and describe this; just
think of the wealth of information about children’s
ergonomics, developmental psychology, or development
of play, social bonding and friendships, learning
strategies, etcetera. For students’ use, these have been
brought together in very accessible text books, like the
ones by Bee (2004) or Frost, Wortham and Reifel
(2005). All this information is very useful, if you
understand it and can give it its´ right place within the
overall picture of what children are. But for those who
have limited prior experiences in the social intercourse
with children, it can all be very abstract and confusing.
All these sorts of research describe different parts of
what children are. The phenomenon ‘child’ gets
deconstructed into various types of knowledge on a
higher level of abstraction, as visualised in figure 3.
A student that uses this information to get a clearer
impression of what children are, is reconstructing from a
combination of types of knowledge a coherent
representation of a child. This may or may not be
accurate, depending largely on the ability of the student
to understand how various sorts of knowledge are
related and how they fit the overall picture of what a
child is, see figure 4. If one fails to understand that, a
combination of the different elements of for instance
Piaget’s developmental stages, physical growth charts,
youth marketing research, and common knowledge may
create the junior equivalent of a monster of
It is of great help if a student has a general empathic
understanding of the child as a whole to serve as a frame
for all these kinds of information. I call this frame
empathy, or empathic understanding.
The way to build this empathic understanding is a lot of
exposure to many different children in many situations
and over time, and an attentive attitude. In the case of a
student carrying out a design assignment, the time and
conditions may not allow for such a natural building of
empathic understanding. Various techniques generally
applied within the successive phases of product design
to create an understanding for users have proven to be an
outcome in the domain of children´s play too.
Fig. 3 Deconstruction of the phenomenon ´child´.
Fig. 4 Reconstruction of the phenomenon child onto a
basic frame of empathic understanding
In the analysis phase, observations and interviews can be
applied, though especially with young children there are
limitations, for instance in what they can express about
abstractions. Ways to explore the deeper levels of
subconscious, tacit knowledge such as cultural probing
(Gaver 1999, Mattelmäki 2006) and contextmapping
(Sleeswijk Visser, 2005, Gielen, 2008) are being
developed and adopted for use with children, and they
form another way of creating an empathic understanding
of children in a limited time.
Especially in the domain of interactive technology,
experiences have been reported on the involvement of
children within participatory design. Researchers such as
Druin (1999, 2002), Bekker (2002) and Sluijs-
Thiescheffer (2007) report about children as informants
or co-developers, sharing with the adult designers the
creative work, responsibilities and sometimes power to
choose and decide.
When it comes to testing prototypes with children, other
techniques are adapted to children. A good overview is
given by Markopoulos (2008).
But even these techniques may prove too time-
consuming or unpractical, for instance in our 80 hours
course on toy design. We have tried to condense the
experience of live contact with children into a method
that we call ´the child ambassador´. The students try to
find one single child, be it a neighbour, a niece or
nephew or a friend´s child, and ask it to cooperate with
the design project as a ´pars pro toto´: the child itself is a
representative of a group of like-minded children, and is
asked to react to questions, cooperate in brainstorming
and idea selection etcetera with his or her own
personality but also the group it represents in mind.
Though certainly not scientifically correct, and not
comparing to the techniques developed by the
researchers mentioned just before, it does have a great
effect on the empathy of students for their target group.
It allows them to test the notion they have built from
theoretic sources against a life child.
In addition to this one child ambassador, some materials
that have been produced by children are used to enhance
empathy with them. In our course, a television program
is used in which children tell anything they want to share
about their lives. The children sit in an improvised studio
that looks like a puppet theatre. They open up a curtain,
tell their story without any intrusions, and close the
curtain when they are finished. The program (Dutch
television company VPRO´s ´achterwerk in de kast´) has
become famous for children´s open self-reports. In the
one program used in class, stories about animals and pets
are brought together. Children report missing cats, show
a trick with a chicken, tell how a dog always had a
listening ear after the child´s mother had died, but then
the dog itself died (and shows a picture of the dog), or
declares its love for animals because they don´t tell you
what to do every moment of the day, see figure 5.
Of course, sources like these have to be used with some
reservation, as it is unclear what kind of bias is caused
by, for instance, off-camera instructions, selection of
participants and the effect of children´s knowledge of the
program on how they behave in front of the camera.
Still, the stories appeal to the viewers´ emotions and help
build empathy.
4. Play value
That play is an aimless activity does not mean that every
action a child undertakes with it is evenly valuable.
Anything can be a toy, but from a designer’s
perspective, a toy can’t be just anything: a designer
needs to focus on a well thought-out core use of the toy.
A toy is a tool for play, and it must be useful tool.
The term often used to label the worth of play is ‘fun’
but fun is rather an effect of the activity than an activity
in itself. Play is certainly more than laughing out loud all
the time, as the term fun seems to indicate.
In the above, the term ´enjoyability´ has been used to
describe the experienced value of play activities, without
giving a definition of what it is. The term play value is
now introduced as an overall definition of the intrinsic
worth of the play activity as perceived by the child. Play
value is what motivates children to start playing, to
continue and elaborate the play activity, what makes
them feel satisfied when they stop and what makes them
return to the activity.
It is very hard to predict children’s play behaviour and
the play value of toys. The best way to assess it is to let
children use the toys. But in the design process,
especially the early phases, choices on product
characteristics often have to be made before mock-ups
and prototypes are available. This certainly is the matter
in our toy design course. As a way to assess play value
Fig. 5 Video stills from Dutch television show
´Achterwerk in de kast´ by VPRO.
of toys, and on the way enrich students’ understanding
of what makes play worthwhile, a play value assessment
is executed on early concepts. The intention of this
assessment is not to rubberstamp toys as good or bad,
but to judge to what extent the toy has a coherent set of
characteristics that facilitate a core activity for the
intended users, in the associated environments for use
and (social-emotional) context. The five elements used
in this assessment are:
- behaviour types
Play is a voluntary activity. A child can choose whether
or not to play with a toy. Toys do not need to interest
every child. Many toys may be much more valuable if
they are directed to children with a certain set of
preferences, interests, knowledge, skills, or character.
The same diagram of behaviour types used in the
creativity session described earlier in this paper, is used
to assess if the various activities within a play session
with a toy address the same, related or opposite
behaviour types. Variation is nice, but too much
conflicting behaviour within a play session may disturb
the flow of the activity. The design student can then
decide to change the toy characteristics so that the
activity becomes more balanced, to divide the toy
concept into two separate toy ideas, or make diverse
forms of use possible without a need to go from one type
of use to another one during a single play session.
- types of play
Literature on play discerns between various types of
play. For this assessment, the classification is used as
defined by Dutch phenomenological psychologists
Vermeer (1972) and Vedder (1977): playful movements,
sensopathic play, playful handling of objects,
construction play, fantasy and role play, success and
team play.
Some toys are generic and can easily be used in any
form of play (a ball or a rope is a good example of that).
Some toys are more specifically suited for one type and
level of play. And some toys try to elicit all sorts of play,
but ask for conflicting levels of necessary skills and
interests and end up being no good for any action.
Coherence is the key notion again.
- play phases
From the first encounter with a toy, a child goes through
the stages of experimentation, functional play, variation
and integration. If the toy characteristics facilitate the
transition from one stage to the next, the play will
develop more naturally and fluently.
- levels of complexity
The toy as a tool for play will address the child’s need
for play and its skills. To be useful, the complexity of
the toy must be within the same range of development
for motor, sensor, cognitive, social and emotional skills.
Again, coherence is the striving.
If a toy is to be reused over time, possibilities for
increasing the complexity are an advantage, as are
smooth transitions from activities with limited
complexity to those with greater complexity.
The concept of flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975) is used to
explain this and explore how flexible the toys are to be
used within the borders of children’s developing abilities
and the challenges they set themselves, see figure 6.
- context
This last aspect is two-fold. Firstly, there is the
suitability of the toy for the direct context of use: indoor
or outdoor, alone or together, in rain or sunshine, in
quiet or busy surroundings, a place where the child
comes only once or frequently, independently or under
guidance, etcetera. All these circumstances have an
influence on the way a toy is used and that should be
reflected in the design of the toy.
Secondly, the experiences that a child has had form a
context for play. A young child typically is in indoors
surroundings a lot of the time, is primarily focused on
the parent or caregiver as a role model and has limited
empathic abilities. This child will engage in different
sorts of play activities and stories than a child that is
often amongst peers, is aware of what is happening
around the world through media and can combine that
with its personal experiences. Toys are a way to process
and experiment with the themes a child encounters in
daily life – a designer that wants to cater for that, should
know what the daily life context of a child is.
The five elements described here form an instrument to
analyse how the toy could perform on several aspects. In
a way, it is another deconstruction, not of the child but
of the toy. It is a tool to describe characteristics and
assess qualities. This assessment should not be regarded
as a checklist, in which every element should be optimal,
Fig. 6 Csikszentmihalyi´s domain of ´flow´
rich in possibilities and well-developed in order for a toy
to pass the test. It is not a black and white matter of good
or bad toys. But the entirety of it should preferably be a
coherent set of characteristics without obstructions or
elements that are detrimental to the experiences
potentially offered.
5. Discussion
In the above, we have presented three concepts that are
of importance within toy design education and described
several techniques applied in our course to assist in the
understanding and application of those concepts.
Design is an art as well as a science and a craft.
Designers develop their own preferred ways of working.
Some designers consciously use techniques, others base
their work on vision and gut feeling. The techniques
presented here do not give a guarantee for success. They
help designers who are new to the field of toy design to
make the step from unknowingly incapable to knowingly
incapable, and hopefully to knowingly capable.
In the paragraph on aimlessness, it is emphasized that a
distinction be made between the objectives for play from
a child´s perspective, and those of others; the seven
rhetorics of play have been mentioned in that context.
When later in the paper the play value criteria are
described, it can be recognised that these themselves are
not free from a value system that is in part based upon
what adults think that play should be. Even when the
purpose of it is not to discern supposedly ´good´ or
responsible toys from ´bad´ toys, a designer should
always be aware of the risk that he or she is creating
opportunities for play that serve adults interests, but not
the child´s.
Having said this, the opposite is also true: play value is
not the only value of toys, and other concerns of parents,
educationalists, producers, trade and so on will have
their influence on whether the toy design will become a
toy in reality.
In the paragraph on empathy, design techniques for
gaining understanding of users are mentioned and the
application with children briefly described. These
techniques strive to cover all phases of the product
development process. From our point of view, there still
is a lack of attention to the very first phase of product
development, where designers explore children´s worlds
of experience in all freedom. In this phase they can get
inspired by what they learn from children before having
chosen the product domain to be developed, a path to be
followed, a market channel to serve. It is our belief that
from unprejudiced and unbiased exploration of the
worlds of experience of today´s children, inspiration can
come for quite different toys than the majority of todays´
supply. We think that contextmapping techniques can
contribute a lot to this exploration and that it can yield
authentic and empathic insights, but we are only starting
to develop such techniques suitable for children – and
apply them within toy design education.
6. Conclusion
Within the educational setting of an industrial design
faculty, the specialization of toy design asks for more
than just knowledge transfer to prepare students for the
specific skills they need to develop.
Based upon experience with an elective master course at
Delft University of Technology, we described three
concepts that prove difficult for students: the
aimlessness of play activities leaves room for a wide
solution space in design in which students may not
recognise directions for optimisation; theoretic
knowledge about children and play offers limited
possibility to empathise with children and may lead to
misinterpretation, especially when several sorts of
information are combined; and the quality of a toy to
facilitate worthwhile play activities (play value) is hard
to establish, especially when students try to take the
concept of ´fun´ as a singular measure for play value.
The paper described some methods and techniques to
help students to understand the aimless quality of play,
explore the solution space by creative techniques, use
direct contact with children to help understand and
combine knowledge about children and build empathy,
and make in-depth and multi-faceted assessments of the
play value of their design solutions.
Though these techniques do not bring a guarantee for the
success of a toy, they help to train design students in
creating toys with better play value.
Lieselotte van Leeuwen has contributed to the
development of the course with her advice and guest
lectures, which I have generously adopted into the
course. Many colleagues have offered advice on form
and contents of lectures and practicals. And
approximately 350 students have taken the course and
improved it through their constructive criticism and
inspiring design work.
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Biographical notes
Mathieu A. Gielen is Assistant Professor in Design for
Children at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering,
Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands. His
primary research interest lies in the development of
contextmapping techniques for exploring children’s
worlds of experience and translating the findings of such
explorations into inspiration for designers who really
want to cater for children’s needs and interests. He is an
enthusiastic lecturer on creating play value.
He also runs a design studio specializing in products for
children’s play.
... Finally, encourage collaborative use, especially among children of different genders. Gielen (2010) also indicates three maxims in the design of toys and games. The first is aimlessness, referring to the child's interest in the activity's flow and not in the final result. ...
... Its theme may be playful, fanciful, inviting and/or be known by children for whom it is designed. Game value and empathy with the children's imaginary need to be evident (Gielen 2010). ...
Empathy supports social development and fosters deep social connections among people. It refers to affective expressions that enable people to understand others and share experiences with them. Childhood is a crucial stage for developing empathy, in which play activities are significant opportunities to exercise empathic behaviour. This research aimed to understand how the design of games can stimulate empathic experiences in school-age children. We used action research to develop guidelines for the design of games to foster empathic behaviour. A group of specialists (designers and psychologists) elaborated design guidelines. They were applied in the development of a game called ‘Me too!’. The game was tested with 28 children from the third year of elementary school. Content Analysis allowed the classification of empathic behaviours into three theoretical categories (affective response, cognitive process and empathic attitudes), indicating the design guidelines' relevance.
... Furthermore, these technologies can be regarded as cognitive tools, helping children to construct their own learning experiences (Cagilltay, 2014). Scientific research has considered three concepts for developing an educational toy: randomness, empathy and play value (Gielen, 2010). ...
... Empathy is the fundamental requirement in order to enable learners to engage with users (Altay et al., 2016;Wiebe & Seaton, 2021), to deepen the understanding and develop awareness about users' needs, desires, expectations, and experiences (Altay & Porter, 2021;Chmela-Jones, 2017;Ho et al., 2011;Mendola et al., 2018;Rieger & Rolfe, 2021;Santanicchia, 2020), to support cognitive and emotional states (Brueggemann et al., 2017;Shin & Thomas, 2015), and difficulties they face (Medola et al., 2018), to develop an emotional connection with users (Altay, 2014). It also enables learners to take users' perspectives and values (Altay, 2017;Shin & Thomas, 2015), to put themselves mentally in the place of the users (Gielen, 2009), to see the environment from the eyes of users (Altay, 2014), to position users and stakeholders as active partners in the design process (Brueggemann et al., 2017;McDonagh & Thomas, 2010), to promote to think together with them (Şenyiğit & Yılmaz, 2021), to close the knowledge gap (McDonagh, 2015) and to see conceptual distinctions within the target group (Brueggemann et al., 2017). ...
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In the field of design, empathy, which is often addressed in design research and practice, has also become an essential aspect of design education. It is both one of the core components of learning processes and a foundation for teaching activities. This paper aims to explore and discuss the impacts of empathy on learning and teaching in the relevant design education literature. Regarding this, eight themes appear in this study as cognitive, affective, interactive, collaborative, operative, perceptive, formative and connective impacts. While all these themes have considerable effects on the learning process, the impacts of empathy on teaching activities are relatively limited. In relation to the themes, research gaps are addressed, methodological and pedagogical implications for further studies are also presented.
... According to Gielen (2010), the design of toys and different products, including environment for playful use requires knowledge and abilities that are not all instructed in general design education. Theoretical understanding of children's play behaviour was shown to be difficult to integrate in realistic design practise on a daily basis. ...
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Due to a substantial impact of hazardous materials in toy design, numerous toy companies have opted for an eco-friendly toy by promoting a legacy of innovation rather than waste and degradation. Furthermore, one of the most significant polymers for being recognised as a safe toy material is Polycaprolactone (PCL). However, in Malaysia, the study of Malaysian parent’s level of awareness in buying eco-friendly toys, their behaviour in purchasing and managing toys at home, as well as the preferences of play type for their children, is not widely discussed. Thus, forty (40) Malaysian parents have participated in an online survey conducted by the research team. The result of the study found that most Malaysian parents has a low level of awareness in buying eco-friendly toys for their children, lack the skills needed in handling broken or unused toys, and have selected criteria to be considered when purchasing a toy. Furthermore, a set of semi working toy design was successfully developed using PCL as a proposal for potential future development and production. It is hoped that the outcome of this study will contribute to inspire future toy designers to account for Malaysian parent’s preferences when developing eco-friendly toys.
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Play is essential in child development. Children have the instinct to play, and they also learn from play. Learning through play can be both spontaneous and intentionally designed. Spontaneous learning through play is associated with motor skills, social-emotional learning, and cognitive development, while intentionally-designed play can be related to academic knowledge and skills. The recent trends emphasize meaningful tangible play, emphasizing the physical play among children to learn different disciplines. Both educators and designers are involved in designing meaningful tangible play for children. Several factors contribute to successful design, including creativity, techniques, knowledge base, inspiration resource, and empathy with children. While educators have a knowledge base in child development and everyday interactions with children, designers have a knowledge base in design methods and techniques and design resources and tools. Both groups lack some knowledge and skills to design successful and useful products. Thus, this paper proposes an application to help both groups build knowledge and skills by inspiring them to discover inspiration sources in their daily lives and to enhance positive interaction and information exchange between the two groups.
Trauma-related psychiatric disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are highly prevalent in children in war zones; yet professional care is scarcely available. This leaves children and their families, often also affected by trauma, to live with unaddressed psychopathologies. This paper presents a framework for designing toys promoting resilience and support healing in children potentially traumatized by war. Structured around several workshops, it was introduced to undergraduate students within a toy design course in an east Asian University and facilitated by a transdisciplinary team consisting of the authors, a designer, and an artist, and expressive and play therapists working in war zones. Analysis of outcomes demonstrates that a short design workshop, albeit disconnected from the context of use, may appropriately redesign toys available in war zone markets as play therapy-inspired transitional or comfort objects supporting healing from war-related trauma. Feedback from therapists provided keys for further elaboration of the framework.
Toy design evolves parallel to any change in play concept and daily life of a child. Today’s toys, depending on the toy’s close relation with its time and space, include current technological elements in different forms. This study is carried out to put forward a framework for designing technology included toys. Within this respect, the determined toys, which have an important place in today’s toy market, are examined through netnographic methods. Depending on the findings, the importance of play value and user interaction for the technology included toys are underlined. As in every object’s design, the toy design process is also found to be highly linked with its user, manufacturer, and time and place. Today’s toy designer is the one who will position the new era toy by respecting the play essence of the toy and satisfying both the expectation of adults and children in the contemporary world.
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The Internet of Toys (IoToys) as an emerging type of edutainment presents a new research area, especially in the context of learning. This study investigates four connected toys played with in the preschool context. By turning to preschool-aged children and their educators observed and interviewed during and after a play test and group interview session, we study how the educational value of IoToys is actualized in a play situation in an early learning environment. In order for IoToys to work as tools in toy-based learning in the preschool context, we suggest that educators acknowledge the engagement with these toys as a form of transmedia play which demands transmedia literacy skills.
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In recent years, various methods and techniques have emerged for mapping the contexts of people's interaction with products. Designers and researchers use these techniques to gain deeper insight into the needs and dreams of prospective users of new products. As most of these techniques are still under development, there is a lack of practical knowledge about how such studies can be conducted. In this paper we share our insights, based on several projects from research and many years of industrial practice, of conducting user studies with generative techniques. The appendix contains a single case illustrating the application of these techniques in detail.
Conference Paper
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This paper describes a study which compares the outcome of two early design methods for children: brainstorming and prototyping. The hypothesis is that children will uncover more design ideas when prototyping than when brainstorming, because prototyping requires the use of a wider range of Intelligences according to Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences. The protocols were coded using Design Rationale Theory: distinguishing between Options (design solutions) and evaluation Criteria. The results show that as expected children provided more Options in sessions that appeal to a wider range of intelligences. However, unexpectedly children provided more Criteria in the session that appealed mostly to one intelligence.
User involvement in design processes is applied in progressingly earlier phases. With contextmapping techniques, design researchers involve users even in the very first stage of identifying the everyday context of product use and assessing users' needs, prior to defining product types or desirable product characteristics.When applying contextmapping techniques with children, these techniques need adaptation to their understanding and skills. Lessons can be learned from related forms of children's involvement in co-design processes. A few examples from sessions with children are given in this paper and experiences are combined into a tentative set of guidelines. It is suggested that the application of these techniques with children comes with some specific challenges and asks for further development, preferably in cooperation with the field of pedagogy, ethnography and child psychology. It is also suggested that results from these studies, when aggregated and made public, can provide designers of children's products with a source of inspiration and empathy for their future users.
Conference Paper
Aesthetics and interaction are interwoven concepts, rather than separate entities. An aesthetics of interaction must consider richness in appearance, actions, and role. Moving beyond a narrow focus on usability in this way requires new methods for understanding design possibilities. Here we describe two: interaction relabelling, in which possible interactions with a known mechanical device are mapped to the functions of an electronic device to be designed; and extreme characters, in which fictional users with exaggerated emotional attitudes are taken as the basis of design to highlight cultural issues. These methods may help designers in considering physical interactions with products on the one hand, and the sociocultural role their products will take on the other.