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 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

Visiting toy and game conferences helped to quickly highlight the current landscape of specialist toys, revealing the lack of quality toys for children with autism.

Step 02

Explore

School visits and teacher interviews were vital to gain an early understanding of the secondary users: the caregivers who use these specialist toys every day.

Step 03

Empathise

Building personas helped to connect with the wide variety of abilities and needs of children with autism.

Step 04

Play

Role-playing workshops helped to prototype early concepts for a customisable fidget toy, as well as test activities before user testing.

Step 05

Develop

Adding the magical qualities of magnets, several iterations were prototyped to explore new design directions.

Step 06

Play (some more)

The second phase of user testing involved going back to specialist schools to run a series of workshops making fidget toys, validating each element of the design.

Step 07

Refine

Branding, packaging and specialist resources were created in collaboration with caregivers to ensure the toys would fit into the specific needs of specialised education.

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 entered Sussex Innovations Centre’s entrepreneurial competition Startup Sussex. Here I worked to build a business case around Fidget for Good, validating the value proposition and ensuring a sustainable product/market fit.

Meeting with experts from the worlds of manufacturing, IP law, marketing, finance and fulfilment helped to clarify the complex requirements of shipping a physical product – beyond that of the design.

In the final 10-week stage, six teams worked together and with mentors to develop a business plan and product launch strategy. Here I gained a unique perspective with personal coaching on speaking, building a team and more, before a final pitch to a board of entrepreneurs and investors.

Watch the pitch

 

The Institute of Imagination, an ambitious children’s charity with a large cultural space in London, invited me to be a partner at their Maker Faire-style events. Hosted at the Imagination Lab, a colourful warehouse on the Thames’ Southbank in a converted fire engine workshop, the events aim to champion imagination and creativity.

We brought MAKA to an audience of 1,000 at ‘Lab Live: Reality’, letting children build crazy 3D fidget toys. This provided a unique opportunity to speak with parents about the superpowers of fidgeting and learn of their thoughts.

See the highlights
Spinner

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.