Flat pack, children's indoor climbing boulder.
CLIENT: JOHNNY DAWES MOVEMENT LTD.
TIMESCALE: 4 MONTHS
BRIEF: DESIGN AND BUILD OF AN INDOOR CLIMBING BOULDER FOR CHILDREN.
Children learn to climb before they learn to walk...
When we were first put in touch with Simon and Johnny with regards to designing Johnny's vision of a climbing toy for small children we got really excited. Having two young children myself and with us all being keen sport climbers the possibility of working with Johnny to produce products aimed at developing young minds by means of the sport was a great opportunity. Johnny Dawes is a legend in British climbing. In 1986, he was responsible for the most inspired new route in a generation, when he climbed Indian Face on Clogwyn d'ur Arddu in Snowdonia - the first E9 in the world. He was convinced that babies as young as 6 months could climb and if given the opportunity it would help in the development of their coordination, movement and problem solving. He also thought it could really help children with dyspraxia.
The talks continued and we signed up and started the process of developing Johnny's first idea - Mt.Rumpus - into a viable, producible product. To say it was a steep learning curve is an understatement. As a product designer mainly developing products for an adult audience it was quite straight forward for me to get into those minds and detail the designs to integrate and work with that age. Designing products for children was a different kettle of fish.
Firstly there's a whole new ergonomic and safety aspect to get over - not too much of an issue, they are fixed constraints after all. The totally unfixed constraint though was the child's mind. Trying to get my adult brain to think like a child and how they would see the product I was about to thrust in front of them and pre-empting how they would see it and solve the challenges it would bestow on them was an interesting and educational challenge - how to get a product to develop a child's ability using their interaction with it only.
What we WANT them to do and what they WILL do...
Trying to see the world through a child's eyes is difficult. As adults we've been conditioned over years on how we think and how we go about solving problems. Johnny has some very specific ideas about the set-up, positions and fine-details that he wanted on the product but getting those finer points and their intentions across to the child using it was a real challenge. If you've ever presented a toy that has a specific purpose to a child you'll know how they immediately do something else, completely unrelated with it. Give them a car and they'll fly it around like an aeroplane. Kick a football around with them for the first time and they'll pick it up. It's inevitable that when we present Mt.Rumpus to them they'll try and do everything they can with it apart from climb and learn what we want them to learn from it. As such we have to pre-empt this and in a way make the things they'll do with it, no matter what, flow to and enable what we want them to do with it. Create the detail that will attract then guide them.
Making it fun.
The most important part of trying to get a child to learn and develop their skills is in making the process fun for them. If they enjoy the experience they'll be more likely to keep trying and find a passion for achieving their goals. Thinking of and implementing details into the design of Mt.Rumpus to accomplish this was one of the main objectives in the creation. Features such as the chalk board face, which is on a part of Mt.Rumpus designed for the younger child, gives them an incentive to pull up and balance so they can then dip into the chalk bag and start scribbling - interacting with the product and making their mark for satisfaction. Developing the inside of the product was also important. Kids love to climb inside things as well as onto them and it's this den feature that also adds to the appeal.
Kids get bored.... really easily! They need constant stimulation to keep themselves engaged. But sometime it's the simplest things that will keep their attention for the longest, those toys or things that they can express their own imagination on to. Then it becomes limitless. It was very easy to get carried away with the features on Mt.Rumpus - to add loads of squeaky, pressy things but sometimes too much can stop the child being able to impart their vision and imagination onto something so that's what we tried to do. Keep it simple but create a form and environment that they could relate to and conjure up all sort of magical thoughts around. Mountains are like this for us. When we're there looking up at them we see an infinite playground and feel an unfathomable emotion that draws us too them. This is what we had to create with Mt.Rumpus - a simple, faceted form but one that would build a greater emotion in the child drawing it in to engage.