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Grace Moore isn't yet a parent, but late last fall she found herself surrounded by toys. A first-year student in Integrated Product Design (IPD)—a master’s program that brings together design, business and engineering—Moore enrolled in the Design Process studio and was pleasantly surprised to find out her first assignment was designing toys for real clients. Then she found out her client, 6 year-old Nuri, already had a mountain of toys.
The studio is co-taught by Lecturers Carla Diana and Sarah Rottenberg, IPD’s Associate Director, to coincide with the theme of Philadelphia Museum of Art’s contemporary design competition, Collab. In past years, IPD 551 students have designed tables inspired by nature and chairs paired with adjectives.
“We give the students prompts to use to create initial design criteria and push them to develop something they wouldn’t have thought of in the first place,” says Rottenberg.
This semester, students were asked to concept, iterate, and build a toy specifically for their child’s age and personality. After looking out into the marketplace, they watched videos of their client telling stories about themselves, including explaining what he or she likes to snack on, or what superpower she or he would want, and visited their client at home.
“Through the videos you could get a sense of the context they live in, and where they are developmentally,” Moore says, who studied anthropology before coming to Penn.
Moore’s client, Nuri, lived in the Philadelphia suburbs with his parents, an older brother, and a pet dog. His wished-for superpower was having “ice eyes to break video cameras and steal all the toys.” And he was obsessed with dinosaurs.
“It was the only thing he wanted to talk about,” says Moore. “There were videos of him cuddling with a plastic dinosaur his mom got for him.”
She initially designed a tiered platform for Nuri to play with his dinosaurs, but after an in-home visit rethought her process. Moore reflected on his environment, and how his toys were often strewn around the house as if by “little tornadoes where he had been playing for hours.” She saw an opportunity for an interaction with a product that makes clean up fun. Part soft toy, part storage unit.
Thus “Dinostoragus” was born.
Though Moore grew up sewing, she designed her first pattern, assembled it, and worked with the team at PennDesign’s Fabrication Lab through basic woodworking and milling techniques on "Dinostoragus." She also installed a clamp inside, in order to attach it to a kitchen table or bed frame. Then, after hours of sewing and iterating, she presented her prototype to Nuri’s mother.
“I think it's brilliant to combine a toy management system with a toy that's in frequent rotation. It's great for Nuri's imaginative play, and for mom and dad's sanity,” says Nuri’s mom, a design educator.
When showing Nuri the images of “Dinostoragus,” his mother recounts his joy over the large, plush dinosaur, and how sad he was she didn’t bring it home for him.
Penn’s IPD program is a collaboration between PennDesign, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wharton School.
Photo: Scott Spitzer via Penn Flickr