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Toy Product Design

Infection

Immunology-inspired multiplayer game with velcro organs, antibodies, and bacteria

Demonstrating Infection's gameplay in our final Playsentation.

I created Infection with my project team, Team Hedgehog 🦔, through an intensive exploration of play and product design in MIT's Toy Product Design class (2.00B).

Infection actually started off as a completely different product, Impossible Structures, in the beginning of our design process—it was during playtesting and iteration that the idea for Infection first emerged and our project evolved into what it is today.

Gameplay

In Infection, there are two teams — red and blue. All players wear skeleton vests and start with four organs: one heart, two lungs, and one stomach.

Each player carries bacteria to throw at other players. When the bacteria strike another player's organ, the organ falls off their vest! To defend themselves, players must use their antibodies to block incoming bacteria.

A player is eliminated when all four of their organs (or their heart) have been knocked off their vest. A team wins when all the other team's players have been eliminated from the game.

Final: team Final: bacteria

Final: organs Final: vest

Illustrated diagrams of Infection's components

Ideation

The first step in our design process was to think of as many toy design ideas as possible! As we learned, the key to successful brainstorming is to keep a continuous stream of ideas going. The 2.00B course staff kept us on our toes with numerous brainstorming challenges in class.

Ideation: pin one Ideation: pin three

Ideation: pin two

Ideation challenges in 2.00B lecture

We documented each of our ideas with a one-page sketch. Here are two refined illustrations I made for a modular light-up train named "Light Rail" and a puzzle game titled "Impossible Structures."

Ideation: sketch one Ideation: sketch two

Initial concept sketches for toy designs

Later in lab, we pitched our sketches to our teams, pinned them to a board, and then categorized and discussed them. Some factors we used to evaluate ideas included:

Poster Pitches

We narrowed our team's initial sketches down to our top three ideas, for which we created large, interactive posters to pitch to the entire class.

Ideation: posters one Ideation: posters two

Ideation: posters three

Crafting and presenting posters for our top three toy ideas

Using feedback from both instructors and kids, we selected the most promising two of our ideas—Impossible Structures and Light Rail—to continue exploring in the next phase: sketch models.

Sketch Models

Building sketch models is a useful way to quickly test a product idea. For each of Light Rail and Impossible Structures, we created a looks like model, to show how the toy would look, to scale, and a plays like model, to explore potential interactions.

Model: making one

Model: making two Model: making three

top: Impossible Structures, bottom: Light Rail

Impossible Structures

Plays Like: Impossible Structures enables kids to build seemingly gravity-defying sculptures. To achieve this effect, we cut large foam blocks using hot wire and covered them with strips of Velcro.

Looks Like: We envisioned the final toy to be constructed from wood, so our looks like model took the form of small wooden blocks with magnets embedded inside.

Light Rail

Plays Like: Light Rail is a modular train that lights up in different combinations depending on how its cars are connected. Our plays like model consisted of spray-painted foam blocks with LED strips on top.

Looks Like: Our looks like model took the form of foam board pieces cut and glued together to form a modern lightrail.

Model: feedback one

Model: feedback two Model: feedback three Model: feedback four

Model: feedback five

Getting feedback at the 2.00B Sketch Model Expo

Some of the feedback we received from mentors and instructors included:

Playtesting

To get more feedback, we brought our sketch models to the MIT Museum, where we could playtest with our target audience—real kids.

The first thing we noticed was that when the kids came to visit our table, they immediately gravitated toward the Impossible Structures Velcro blocks. What's that weird looking sculpture? I wanna check that out.

We were surprised to find that instead of piecing blocks together by hand, kids liked to stand back and throw blocks at the sculpture to add to it—they were amused that the block could stick where it hit the sculpture. We made up a game where we would take turns throwing blocks at the sculpture to see who would be the one to knock it down, and the kids seemed to enjoy that.

At the end of the day, we realized that kids really like throwing things. And some also liked throwing things at each other.

Playtest: one Playtest: two

Playtest: three

Playtesting our sketch models with real kids

It seemed that Impossible Structures was winning over Light Rail, not for the appeal of building with the Velcro blocks, but for throwing them. How could we take the Velcro blocks of Impossible Structures and push them in a new direction?

It was then that the idea for Infection was born.

At the end of the day, we realized that kids really like throwing things. And many also liked throwing things at each other.

Prototyping

It was a bit late into the semester to switch ideas, but our team had full faith in our new Infection game and its appeal to kids. We dove into the next stage of the process: prototyping.

Organs and Antibodies: We traced organ and antibody shapes onto foam blocks, cut them on a hot wire, and sanded them. Later, we spray painted them and covered them in Velcro strips.

Bacteria: We ordered red Veltex online, cut bacteria shapes, inserted stuffing, and sewed the pieces together. We added parachute cord for the flagella.

Vests: We cut torso-sized pieces of neoprene and stitched on a ribcage pattern cut from Veltex.

Prototype: one

Prototype: two Prototype: three Prototype: four

Prototype: five

Building our final Infection prototypes

We tested our new prototypes and came up with gameplay rules by playing multiple rounds of Infection outside of lab (the best kind of homework.)

We adjusted the organs' attachment to the vests until they were attached tightly enough to not fall off accidentally while a player was running, but loosely enough so that an incoming bacteria could cleanly knock the organ off. After some finishing touches, our final prototype was ready to playsent!

Final: toy

Our final Infection prototype

Reflections

2.00B is one of my favorite classes I've taken at MIT. I got my first hands-on introduction to the product design process, witnessed the value of playtesting first-hand, and gained experience with fabrication techniques, while having lots of fun along the way.

The class was a very playful and supportive environment, and it inspired me to learn more about design, moving forward!

Final: stage Final: backstage

left: Final Playsentation skit, right: Backstage during Playsentations

Final: class

Team Hedgehog celebrates winning a class estimathon
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