When we embarked on the task of designing a “dream toy” for a very special child, we leaned on one of our fellow LDT classmates who has a four year-old son named Joshua. We were challenged by the fact that interviewing a preschooler is difficult – in large part because Joshua is very shy (especially around adults and strangers) when it comes to verbal expression. So, we ended up observing him playing with his siblings, watching him pull out his favorite stuffed toys and costumes (gold Aladdin turban), read his favorite books (Aladdin – where he admired the Genie’s magic shoes and magic carpet -- and Kung Fu Panda in China), and repeatedly play “Prince Ali” from Aladdin soundtrack. After about an hour and a half (and a bit of prodding from his dad), we heard Joshua say that he wanted a magic carpet. His dad told us that his sister has a baby blanket that he likes to sit on and pretend he’s on a magic carpet traveling around the world.
Figure 1: Joshua wearing his Aladdin turban + coloring a magic carpet.
We were struck by his obsession with Aladdin and learned that he loved performing with hats and costumes. As a result, we drew a ton of inspiration from these themes. We went back to the LDT studio and started brainstorming. We wondered how we could make an immersive toy where Joshua could engage in imaginative play and learn about travel and geography. Thus, we came up with a “Magic Carpet Ride”. Figure 2: Concept sketch from our group brainstorm. Figure 3: Initial design for Prototype #1: Wearable magic carpet.
After a productive shopping trip to Goodwill and Home Depot, we had all of the materials we needed to begin construction. We knew that we needed something durable and safe for a rambunctious 4-year old, but also lightweight enough and structurally stable enough that he could carry it on his own:
Figure 4: Awesome finds at Goodwill - these pillow cases and carpet were perfect!
The copper coil was used to keep the magic carpet's firm shape and the satin tapestry was used to provide a beautiful backdrop. We also used the laser cutter to make a compass and world map. The map is significant because Joshua is originally from Singapore. He's living in Palo Alto for the year because his dad is in graduate school, but he'll be returning to his home country in September. We thought that building in a map would be a great way to introduce him to world geography.
Figure 6: Tassels are a signature part of a magic carpet, so we made four handmade tassels from string and thread and affixed them to the corners.
Figure 7: We weren't sure how to secure the coil to the carpet and fabric, but ultimately decided that sewing, glue-gunning and using pipe cleaners was an effective way to keep the materials together. We also cut out a hole so that the carpet could be placed over Joshua's head.
Figure 8: Trying on the magic carpet for size...
Figure 9: In order to provide stability, we designed adjustable straps so that Joshua could carry the magic carpet's weight on his shoulders. Jeff is shown here installing wood slats underneath the carpet to provide a supportive infrastructure. This was quite tricky and involved several different explorations of securing the straps/buckles.
Figure 10: The team is shown here attempting to develop a solid support system for balance and weight.
Figure 11: Ta Da! 1st Prototype (with legs and shoes to match).
After a full-day's work, it was finally time to user test with Joshua! When we arrived, It took a short while for him to open up and familiarize himself with the magic carpet (which was to be expected), but once he saw his siblings playing with it -- he definitely got into it (as you'll see in the video).
We learned a lot from the user-test and here are some of the key takeaways:
Based on this feedback, we went to the TLT Lab and iterated our prototype. We incorporated side handles and got rid of the precarious should straps. We also wanted to teach Joshua about navigation and direction, so we installed multi-colored LEDs on the North, South, West and East compass points to draw his attention (Figure 12). Figure 12: We programmed a LilyPad Arduino and sewed four LEDs in each compass point.
We were thrilled by the excitable responses that the magic carpet elicited from Joshua and his siblings. In addition, we were inspired by the collaborative play involved with the magic carpet (kids showed that they could ride inside together -- something that we didn't think of -- or chase one the child wearing the carpet.
If we were to move forward with an official version to market, we might want to consider using lighter weight materials (rather than copper coil and wood slats) and figure out a better way to counterbalance the weight. Overall, however, we were very pleased to make a super creative toy that sparks the imagination of our young learner!