Introduction

Children with autism have a heightened response to the senses, often self-stimulating through fidgeting to aid concentration and ease stress.

Specialist fidget toys offer little personalisation to individuals’ sensory preferences, and mainstream toys require teachers to spend time creating their own resources.

Outcome

MAKA is a make-your-own magnetic fidget toy, designed to increase focus and ease stress. The magnetic beads snap together with a satisfying clack, designed to engage to but not over stimulate.

By creating their own toys, children gain ownership over their play and form a lasting emotional attachment. The kit comes ready for teachers and therapists to use in schools, complete with instructions and resources.

Thesis project (2015 – 16, completed over 8 months) for the University of Sussex Product Design BSc programme. Winner of the LEGO Award for Playful Creativity.

Skills include product design, participatory design, ethnography and user testing.

Magnetic beads snap together with a satisfying clack
Beads can be threaded with elastic or cord
Kit includes specialist resources for teachers and parents
Made with

Real people

Co-designed with autistic children in collaboration with teachers and therapists at specialist schools.

Made for

Real life

Designed to be flexible, adapting to the wide range of abilities in children with autism.

Made to

Empower

Children are given freedom to create their own toys, gaining ownership over their creative play.

Design process:

involving users early and often

Step 01

Connect

Step 02

Explore

Step 03

Play

Step 04

Develop

Step 05

Play (some more)

The second phase of user testing involved going back to specialist schools to run a series of workshops making fidget toys.

Step 06

Refine

Pop the bubbly

At New Designers 2016, MAKA was awarded the LEGO Award for Playful Creativity

Check out the project’s thesis for all the juicy details

Read thesis

Starting up

MAKA’s journey didn’t end with the thesis. The project received a fantastic response from the SEN community, with many parents, teachers and therapists looking to purchase kits. This was just the start.

Winning the LEGO design award gave me the confidence to kickstart MAKA and continue development. I launched Fidget for Good, a social enterprise aiming to teach the benefits of fidgeting and give schools the tools to embrace fidgeting in education.

I grabbed some friends, bought some pizza, and spent a night producing as many MAKA beads as we could. I wanted to get them into as many hands as possible pre-launch to better understand the ways people used MAKA. The aim was to build a MVP and work towards crowdfunding a production run.

Moving from the student world to the startup world meant things got real.

I suddenly found myself wearing many more hats than just the design hat. Diving into the deep end you learn fast, so I applied to the Sussex Innovations Centre’s entrepreneurial competition Startup Sussex.

Here I reached the final round, gaining a unique perspective through spending 10 weeks developing a business plan and product launch strategy.

Watch the pitch

The Institute of Imagination, a children’s cultural space in London, invited me to be a partner at their Maker Faire-style events.  We brought MAKA to an audience of 1,000 at ‘Lab Live: Reality’.

See event

On hold

(for now)

Having moved to Sweden for studies, Fidget for Good is on the back-burner for the time being.

Hearing from so many children, teachers and parents has been inspiring and makes the work pay off. The generosity of so many has been humbling. MAKA has grown bigger than I could have imagined, a feat that I couldn’t have achieved without the support of so many.

Awards

–   LEGO Award for Playful Creativity
–   Startup Sussex finalist
–   Social Impact Prize finalist

MAKA in the media

–   MOJO Nation
–   Toy News
–   ARTS THREAD
–   Toy Tales

What I learnt

I learnt a huge amount over the course of this project: both during the thesis and from the continued development thereafter. The length meant I could dive into research, undertaking a large body of ethnography to understand people’s everyday lives.  This user participation continued throughout, with people engaging in each stage of the design process.

The project also highlighted the power of play as a tool for collaborative design. Whether with peers or users, tackling serious issues in fun ways means you can address any topic whilst staying creative.