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How physical design can engage kids born in a digital world
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How physical design can engage kids born in a digital world

How can design cut-through in a world where kids are increasingly glued to their phones?

I got my first mobile phone when I was about 15, a Nokia 3510i, from which I played tiny pixelated games and sent the occasional SMS text message (minus the emojis! 😱). Kid’s nowadays have constant access to the internet via multiple devices and are in constant state of ‘online’ from a very young age. Even at school, the increased usage of computers, interactive whiteboards and devices keeps today’s children in a constant interactive loop.

So how can we utilise physical design to engage and cut through with today’s children, those kids born into a digital world and who are so embedded in technology?

A great example of engaging children through design alone is from Omo (Persil in the UK), who worked with Ogilvy to create an interactive children’s book. The book itself first appears to be blank with no content on its pages, but it was only when dirt was applied and rubbed in that the story magically appears – encouraging both children’s creativity and imagination, and is a clever way to get them outside playing in the dirt (and in turn washing more clothes! I see what they did there…)

Although this concept doesn’t involve a technology-based element, a simple and effective creative idea such as this sparks imagination, in both children and adults a-like, and encourages physical play.

Children, however, are ever increasingly interested in tech and are now introduced to it from a very young age. This in turn has an impact as to how they learn and interact with the world around them.

Research for the University of Wisconsin found that children aged between two and three were more likely to respond to video screens that promoted children to touch them than to a video screen that demanded no interaction.

But is this necessarily a negative thing? Research has shown that children who interact with devices learn faster, and make fewer mistakes.

So, could we be utilising the tech revolution to our advantage when creating design for children?

This is a challenge that we have encountered many times at Pull, most recently with our client Living Streets, a charity that promote walking and active travel -who are also celebrating their 90th anniversary this year.

Living Streets run a series of campaigns across the year to encourage children to participate in active travel. For one of these yearly campaigns, ‘WOW’, we produce a range of classroom materials to captivate the children’s imagination and encourage them to take part in the campaign.

One of the materials that we produce is a monthly printed wallchart so that each member of the class can track their active travel to school across the month. Every year there is a different WOW theme, last year’s being “Walk the Seasons” and each month reflecting a different element of a season; “Wild Flowers”, “Puddles” and “Fireworks” for example.

Design-wise we create engaging scenes using illustrative elements to capture the children’s imagination and help bring the theme to life. The design is ever evolving due to the nature of the themes, and we always keep each year fresh with new design ideas and themes – children’s attention spans aren’t always the longest, so we try to incorporate new ideas and mix up the design to retain interest throughout the year. 

But the paper wallcharts alone don’t cut it anymore!

Living Streets have found that there is ever increasing demand for their online walking tracker, so we have had to adapt our wallchart designs to also work within this online space. The challenge here is to retain the fun illustrative elements of the paper counterparts, whilst catering and adapting to an online solution. Luckily for us, the style in which we have created our illustrations translates well for use online, but we do need to consider format and size specification limitations when evolving design for online use.


So how do other brands tackle this ever-increasing challenge?

Rather than fight the device revolution, another Pull client, children’s playground equipment supplier Kompan, used this to their advantage. Kompan released a new range of smart playground equipment based on the fairy-tales of Hans Christian Andersen. The smart playground concept combines the use of physical play with virtual games to aid language development and learning. The idea was that children can use an app through smartphones or tablets to interact with the physical playground – blending the real and the virtual world, whilst still encouraging outside physical play.

Pull were tasked with creating a playbook to help promote this new Smart playground range. Rather than just producing a standard paper booklet, we wanted to develop an engaging concept to really bring the Smart playground concept to life and reflect the interactivity of the concept.

We played with the idea of physical play and virtual play by creating a physical paper pop-up design within the book – invoking the nostalgia of the pop-up children’s books of our childhoods. We then combined this interactive element with technology by incorporating a video within the book itself. The video was playable by a series of buttons, and was used to provide additional information in a fun, engaging, and memorable way.


Getting this mix of physical and digital design working together in synergy is going to be crucial for print and other elements of physical design to thrive in our increasingly digital world. Design no longer needs to be just a 2-dimensional medium. In fact, a blend of both physical and virtual can help aid the concept’s outcome and gain traction with the relevant audience.

This also brings to mind a recent partnership by Kellogg’s and Crayola. The two brands teamed up to turn boxes of Kellogg’s cereal black and white, encouraging children to colour them in using – you guessed it – Crayola crayons. Back when I was a kid, that might have been enough to keep me entertained. But, to kids with smartphones or tablets never less than a few inches away, they knew they’d have to take the campaign a step further and included an augmented reality feature that would bring the children’s colourful creations to life on their devices!

 

And this is the key point. Getting physical and digital design working together in synergy is going to be crucial for print and other elements of physical design to thrive in our increasingly digital world. Design no longer needs to be just a 2-dimensional medium. In fact, a blend of both physical and virtual can help aid the concept’s outcome and gain traction with the relevant audience.

 

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