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.
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.
Illustrated diagrams of Infection's components
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 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."
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:
- Novelty How new and exciting is the toy idea?
- Replayability How different is play each time? Will it still be exciting the nth time the toy is played with?
- Feasibility Can we feasibly build a prototype of this toy in the span of a month?
- Safety Potentially dangerous toys don't fare well with parents, who are the people deciding whether to purchase the toy for their kids.
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.
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.
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.
top: Impossible Structures, bottom: Light Rail
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.
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.
Getting feedback at the 2.00B Sketch Model Expo
Some of the feedback we received from mentors and instructors included:
- Velcro vs. Magnets There is a big difference between velcro and magnets — magnets limit the possible ways we can connect the blocks, while Velcro grants us multiple degrees of freedom (it doesn't even require 90º angles.) Velcro might be more fun for kids, because it allows for more freeform play. Also, what if we turned the entire structure upside down so it hangs like a bat?
- Trains Need... Instructors were skeptical that kids would be entertained purely by colored LEDs and rearranging train cars—also, if we're going to make a toy that resembles a train, they'd expect it to have wheels and/or be motorized, and make sound.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Our final Infection prototype
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!
left: Final Playsentation skit, right: Backstage during Playsentations
Team Hedgehog celebrates winning a class estimathon
|collaborators||Brent Samuels, George Roudebush, Max Beeman, and Rebecca Chen|
|mentors||Benjamin Grey, Tony Hu|
|tags||Toy Product Design, Graphic Design, Playtesting, Prototyping, Fabrication|
|materials & tools||Velcro, Neoprene, Felt, Foam, Sewing, Hot Wire, Spray Paint|
|photo credit||2.00B Staff, Lily Bailey, and Tony Hu|
|context||2.00B Toy Product Design|