Change by design

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing…”

As a designer I often consider the impact that my work will have on other people. We often do not notice that the world around us designed to manipulate our behaviour in every way, from road signs, to remote controls. Everything has been considered and created for a purpose, and if you believe in such a thing, this could even be taken as far as the world around us and nature itself. This week I was lucky enough to listen to talks from two professionals in the design industry on the topic of change by design. I believe that as a designer I have a commitment to having a positive impact on the world around me, but often this can be difficult.

Listening to Yasim Kunter speak on this topic form her perspective as a toy designer has helped me to consider how I will approach future creative problems. Yasim is known as “the woman who makes CEO’s play” and has taken her experience from the toy industry into the real world. She talked a lot of developmental psychology and the impact that the design of toys can have upon us at a young age. As children we approach life differently, until the age of around 6 we are always questioning, exploring, imagining and creating. After this point we develop many learned behaviours and start to behave according to the way we see the world around us, in some way this could be seen as ‘following instructions’. We loose our ability to play, to deconstruct and re-construct. This is the beginning of the demise of creativity into adulthood.

Yasim talked of some very interesting issues around the design of children’s toys and the impact they can have on what we grow up to be.  Take for example an  easy bake oven, these were traditionally pink in colour and so many Moms would not buy an item like this for a young boy, it is interesting to consider here who is driving the requirement for ‘pink easy bake ovens’, how can we change the stereotypes? Whose responsibility is it to make the first move, the toy manufacturers or Moms as consumers to demand gender neutral toys? Hasbro has recently introduced a gender neutral easy bake oven and this seems to be the way the world of toy making is going, which is a nice change. It seems the future of design for this market lies in customisable toys, ones with gender neutral colours and forms that children can manipulate and customise for themselves. Take for example minecraft, highly customisable and pixelated to move away from specific forms, this is a great tool to get children creating again.

When we play as children we use a part of our brain that has to create, unfortunately too often today the toys we give to children come with instructions or an end goal, which removes the element of discovery and creativity. For example, as a child i may have played with sticks and tyres and things I found laying around our little countryside home, these came with no instructions and so I was free to use them however I could imagine. Too often today we buy a child a ‘kitchen workstation’ or a ‘toy car’ both of these come with a pre conceived way of being used, which is passed on from adults to children. This is reflective of how we as adults work today, we have pre conceived ways that we believe things should be and it is difficult for us to step outside of these. Learning to play again as adults could benefit us hugely when it comes to creativity. If we learn again to open our minds, think differently, create and discover, we should find that becoming more creative is just a natural next step, and we will find solving creative problems easier.

The issues raised in these talks made me consider the value of being trained in certain practices, especially in design, should we be taught how to think differently instead of being taught the way things are?