GFRY Draft Proposal for a Playscape

This week, we presented our proposal for a mobile playscape that could move through five elementary schools throughout the week and serve the two community centers on the weekends. The central idea is to create an outlet for stress for kids that is active, educational, and engages the senses. We purposely kept the presentation at a concept level that focused on the process of how we could work with our partners in realizing this vision. The flow diagram was shown as a step animation to demonstrate the iterative and collaborate design process. The sketches were modeled on the computer and traced over to intentionally lower resolution so that our partners wouldn’t think we were overly invested in a specific form. They exist to demonstrate the idea of modularity.

Feedback: The two main points of feedback concentrated on: Why portable versus fixed? and Why proscribed versus free? In the former, we wanted something we could realistically implement but perhaps it makes more sense to get things started on something more permanent. We will add that scenario to our presentation. We did not intend for all play to be limited to specific, organized games but saw that as a feature. We will change the layout and hierarchy of the last slide to reflect an either/or situation. We were also asked about materiality, something we felt was too early to consider. We were given several precedents to look up and will perform further research to get a sense of what can be done so we will know what to look out for during our trip next week.


Interview: Another Art Therapist on Therapeutic Toys

Last Thursday, I spoke with another art therapist on therapeutic toys. This time, the focus was on design. Below are selected interview notes.

What does a traumatized child need to get (developmentally) back on track?

BF: The first step is establishing a sense of safety and equilibrium. Trauma causes the brain to shut down or function in a state of hyper-vigilance. You need to down-regulate the autonomous nervous system. Bruce Perry and Bessel Van Terkolk talk about pattern sensory repetitive involvement as a therapeutic technique in these cases. The technique uses repetition when the child needs to down regulate. Lullabies, heartbeats, familiar sounds, familiar smells, and soft objects can all have a soothing influence.

The second step is processing. You help the child understand what happened and come to a different conclusion. Children will play out traumatic events given the toys or props to do so, but that doesn’t mean they will learn anything from it. You must help a child understand why something happened and what can be done about it.

What are some techniques that you’ve found useful in your practice?

BF: It’s important to break the mental state of hyper-vigilance by shifting the brain’s focus. When patients come in, I give them lavender hand lotion. The tactile sensation of rubbing one’s hands together, combined with a strong scent sets the stage for a productive session. Some therapists make drums out of coffee cans and duct tape at the beginning of their sessions. You’re providing a predictable pattern at the start of a session that creates an entry point into an oasis from the rest of that person’s day.

You mentioned sensory repetition as a therapeutic technique. Can you talk about some appropriate things that a sensory kit for children might include?

BF: Sound-making devices, perhaps mimicking heartbeat. Crayons, or whatever art supplies are culturally appropriate. Stencils, because if you’re giving kids a way to draw, the idea of containment is important. They are comforted by the edge. Yarn. Puppets. Stuffed animals. I knew a therapist that would put a satchel of peppermint in a stuffed animal and use it to focus the child’s mind. You could put a box inside to symbolize private space. The child could decorate it as she saw fit and put it into the larger container for the kit.

Lessons: There are two stages that need to be addressed in trauma recovery. Cognitive processing fails if a child’s brain function remains in the primitive “fight or flight” state. In the first six months, focus on establishing safety and equilibrium. Six months to a year out, give children the tools to play out their trauma.

Framework for Design and Personal Immersion Exercise

Yesterday, Brian Graziano and Kelly Costello presented the IA Collaborative design framework. Below are notes on the framework and a personal immersion exercise.

IA Collaborative Design Framework

– Personal Immersion: try to become the user
– Observation: watch the user
– Contextual Interviews: talk to the user doing the contextual activity
– Expert Interviews: ask experts about the product
– Retail Audits: look at how similar products are sold

– Design Workshops
– Design Development
– Behavioral Prototyping
– Strategic Road Map

– Design Engineering
– Design Refinement
– Evaluative Research

Tips for Design
– Fully engage: get as close to the process as possible
– Be open-minded: people will shut down if they sense you are being judgmental
– Get visual: draw as much as possible
– Be patient: design insights take time

What to Look For in Primary Research
– Workarounds: learn from users that create their own solutions
– Interactions: observe the exchanges going on in a space
– People: look for key players in the interactions, dependencies
– Processes: consider all of the decision and activity points, document actions and results

Combining Research With Team Members
– Observations: what you saw, what impressed or bothered you
– Insights: patterns of observations from several team members
– Guiding principles: statements based on insights to inspire concept development

Personal Immersion Exercise


We broke out into groups and went to fast food restaurants to observe and document. Jenna, Zhe and I went to Intelligensia. The Chicago-based coffee chain does not have a strong street presence. Upon entry, it took a moment to tell who was standing in line versus waiting for an order placed. We looked around for a menu but didn’t see one until we were next to the cashier. The regular coffee menu was next to the regular tea menu. A third menu for the daily specials was on the other side of the shelf. As we were deciding on our orders, people waiting behind us seemed upset. We let a gentleman pass us. The credit card machine malfunctioned for him and as we waited, we noticed a cold beverage counter below waist level, under the pastry counter.

We waited five minutes before our names were called. We sat and observed. People come and go in droves. Crowds form and the place empties. The four retail spaces seem awkward. Coffee beans are the most prominent near the entry. Coffee makers and accessories are located between two central and crowded tables. Tea gets a few wall-mounted shelves in the back. A single cup coffee making system is featured in a wall inset near the bathroom.

– Retail items are disorganized
– Space is a premium
– Menu system is inefficient
– Managing different customer speeds is difficult
– Queue experience lacks clarity
– Gourmet experience is one of exclusivity

Guiding Principles
– Exclusive experience should not compromise function
– Separate experiences by customer speed
– Integrate retail space into consumption experience

Bruce Mau on Ecological Change

Most actions are decided at the base of the brain. People act on norms. It took 20 years for the drunk driving campaigns to have an effect on government and on society. If it’s normal to drink and drive, they will drink and drive. Make it not normal, and they will stop. So if it’s normal to think about ecology, people will do that.

Thesis Investigations: Teaser Shots

Therapeutic Value of Play in Post-Disaster Settings

Play is a universally important means for expression across cultures. Children reflect on relationships and experiences with others, express needs, release unacceptable impulses, and experiment with solutions through play. A child can move towards inner resolution of a frightening or traumatic experience through play by returning to the event again and again, changing the outcome in the activity. In a post-disaster setting, play serves a restorative function in the lives of children.

In order to play, children need toys, creative materials and other props. Games and storytelling can also serve as vehicles for play. The adult sets the stage, observes and participates by providing reassurance for feelings the child may be experiencing.

Play does not require the direct supervision of mental health professionals to be beneficial. For example, The Kids’ Corner (KC), a therapeutic play area conceived after the September 11, 2001 attacks, was staffed with volunteers from both mental health and other professions.The work done in this space was considered “play therapy” when conducted by mental health professionals and “play that had therapeutic value” when supervised by other relief workers. KC is a model that has been replicated with positive results in other disasters such as the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. The fact that Western play methods work in Eastern cultures suggests the transcendent healing properties of play in post-disaster settings.

Hosin, Amer A. Responses to Traumatized Children. Basingstoke England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. 66-90. Print.

GFRY Inspiration Boards for a Playscape

This week, we developed the playground idea by creating inspiration boards around the ideas of learning, sound, and physical activity. We wanted to give children a positive avenue of anxiety relief through play.

Based on feedback, we need to…

1. Research Chilean games and game frameworks (such as game show premises for the learning function)
2. Diagram a framework for collaboration with our partners in Chile that incorporates prototyping and feedback loops
3. Develop prototypes of the appropriate resolution to facilitate collaborative design