In a nutshell
"Sound that amplifies life" - that's what the American audio electronics company JBL tries to deliver with its brand. We were asked to design an audio experience for children given no limitation to its form.
When designing an audio experience for children, there are thousands of possibilities. We found that at the cross-section of children and sound, is "play". So the natural extension of the research was the design of a toy.
Humans are naturally tactile creatures, especially children. This is how we explore the world when we're small. During the design process, we combined all our senses: touch, sight, and hearing into one object for a new play experience. We call it Orb.
To better understand how children play and what interests them most, we went to many popular sites in Hong Kong, including the science museum, parks, game centers, toy shops and played with the kids.
Below are some interesting findings.
Boys enjoy rough-and-tumble,
Girls like either one-on-one with a toy
or cooperating with each other
Plush toys are the safest choice
for children under 3
Older children are more task driven
"Let's make noise" is more important
than "Let's make music"
We conducted research on child development and designed a chart based on four variables.
The first variable is age. We divided children from 3 to 12 into different age groups.
Next, we focused on development milestones based on four aspects - physical, mental, emotional and social, as well as writing and language.
Then we moved on to abilities and interests. We looked into what children can, and like to do while playing.
Last is types of play. We mainly divided them into free-play and constructive/rule-based play.
We looked through popular interactive sound games and toys for children and found out that they have several things in common. They are all:
Easy to play with
Easy to hold in hands
Easy to clean
Built with children-friendly materials
like foam and rubber
Have an app that comes with it
And I put some of our favorites in the right column for your information.
Toy | Otamatone
Re: Sound Bottle
Toy | Skoog
App | Sound Box
We did four rounds of whiteboard ideation and were attracted to two kinds of ideas.
Playful interactive games like sound cubes and DJ bricks, and sound products like the natural sound collector. You can click on icons below to check out our three initial ideas.
But how did we come up with Orb?
From our previous concepts, we selected the most important features and combined them into one new exciting product.
Orb comes with 2 modes of interaction.
Free Play Mode
Various instruments - drum/piano
Rule-based Play Mode
We used Arduino as the core technology and layered on MP3 decoding shield, an LED matrix and finally capacitive touch.
Adafruit capacitive touch sensor
& Copper tape
From soldering wires to coding the LED stripes, from testing the capacitive touch to putting every part together, we learned through trial and error.
We also sought help from professional programmers and made everything happen just in time.
Since this project aims at designing a sound experience for children, we decided to bring the prototype to our users - the kids, both for user testing and shooting the video.
For storyline, we followed the classic Kickstarter structure to let the team members tell the audience the story of and behind our project.
During the shooting process, there were a lot of incidents. For example, kids fought for the new toy and didn't let newcomers play with them. One little boy even took our prototype away... but all these lovely details made the story alive.
User Testing & Future Vision
After testing the prototype with children (sadly they broke it in the end), we discovered several features that needed to be improved in the future:
More friendly crafting material for children
Multi-touch with faster response
"Simon Says" mode needs more context
Theme packs: new Instruments / graphics