Make It Playful: Pens That Inspire, Tables That Relax

Thursday, January 11, 2018

In Grenoble, France, designers, engineers, and innovation leaders from across the globe are huddled in a maker lab, racing the clock to create a room filled with household objects that simply beg to be touched, squeezed, flicked, and fidgeted with. Exploring the playful side of mundane objects is the goal here at the Plush & Nuggets Make It Playful Hackathon — a four day-long event dedicated to using playful design methodologies to re-envision the stuff we use everyday.

Kicking off this past Tuesday, 10 MIT students, six development mentors, and a handful of outside experts with backgrounds in software, gaming, and product development are working in teams to deconstruct objects like pens, doors, and coffee makers, only to rebuild them into playful experiences that serve a specific purpose, such as helping a user make friends, learn new skills, or unwind at the end of the day. By reimagining how we interact with objects we use frequently and repetitively, teams are using design to not only build cool inventions, but also to make users consciously think about how the things around us influence our mood and actions.

Etienne & Robin prototyping their own version of a fidgeting pen

Robin Baumgarten, a London-based game designer attending the “Make It Playful” Hackathon, is focusing on creativity. With an assignment to transform a pen into an object that inspires play, Baumgarten’s team is building a high-tech writing utensil that targets multiple senses simultaneously. As users draw with the pen, built-in accelerometers track movement and cue specific sound effects and vibrations to correlate with how fast (or slow) the pen is moving. Draw with increasing speed, and plinks and plonks reminiscent of 1980s video game sound effects will become more frequent and higher-pitched, affecting how the user moves the pen and the artistic work that results.

Baumgarten experimenting with light painting

“We thought a lot about how fidgeting with this object might influence what you do with the object,” Baumgarten says. “We wanted to create a tool to stimulate you in a creative way.”

While Baumgarten’s prototype aims at getting the creative juices flowing, MIT mechanical engineering student Rima Das has set her sights on the other end of the energy spectrum. Assigned to turn an ordinary coffee table into an interactive learning experience, Das and her hackathon partner are utilizing playful design to teach users how to unwind and de-stress. Das’ table prototype features several built-in compartments that each offer a different calming activity. Playing either alone or with friends, users can rake sand in tranquil patterns by unlocking the miniature zen garden, let off some steam by messing around with a bin of LEGO, or slip into a meditative state by with computerized LED lights that guide users through deep breathing exercises.

“It’s teaching you how to take a break,” Das says. “That’s something people often forget to do.”

Work in progress for this playful coffee table

Das’ coffee table and Baumgarten’s pen prototypes are currently in development and may change between now and their debut later today. You can see their final products along with all the other hackathon creations at the free demonstration day TODAY! at 3pm at the Plush & Nuggets Fablab located at Fab Mstic, 11 rue des mathématiques 38400 Saint-Martin-d’Hères. Click here to register.

Photo credits : Jonathan Bobrow