More than Human Centred Design


WORM-E: An Interactive Toy Enriching Children’s Bodily and Social Play

  • Michaela Honauer, HCI Group, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Weimar, Germany
  • Secil Ugur Yavuz, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Faculty of Design and Art, Bolzano, Italy
  • Kristi Kuusk, Textile Futures, Estonian Academy of Arts, Tallinn, Harjumaa, Estonia
  • Corresponding email(s): michaela.honauer@uni-weimar.de, secil.uguryavuz@unibz.it, kristi.kuusk@artun.ee
  • Project webpage
  • ACM DL Link: Extended Abstract

Worm-e is part of our larger concept Wearable Play, where we (3 designer-researchers based in different parts of Europe) explore the potential of embodied design for suggesting body-engaging activity for digital natives fluent in the world mediated by technology. Our project contributes a design exemplar on how the future of play could look like when body movements and haptic material qualities of tangible artifacts are combined with interactions through digital technologies. The prototype consists of a soft toy called Worm-e and an app that gives indications about the actions done with the toy. Worm-e app notifies the child after a certain time of screen engagement and invites her/him to explore her/his body boundaries and movement via the plush toy. The app suggests a bodily play activity when activated through a Near Field Communication (NFC) tag integrated in the toy. The current prototype shows a balancing scenario where the vibrotactile stimuli move along the worm-shaped toy inviting the child to actively balance her-/himself when walking on it.

Who is the target audience and why design for them? The demo intends to hold a conversation around the idea of wearable play. How to use body-based practices (for instance soma-aesthetic design) when creating artifacts for children or other socially important groups of people? How to balance a supportive relationship between bodily and social activities and extensive technology usage? How to support movement and cognitive development through technology-enhanced artifacts? Our target audience is twofold. On one hand, we hope to provide insights into the discussions mentioned above. On the other hand, our direct users are children (and of course their parents) and therefore we have designed the demo to be attractive and engaging to them in order to gather insights for the discussion above.

What were the challenges or limitations encountered in this project? We worked on the project in the framework of the EU-funded WORTH Partnership Project. That gave us a structure to progress and allowed us to benefit from a valuable mentoring program. Being three designers in three different countries, our main challenge was to manage the prototyping phase from distance. Discussions can successfully be held over digital platforms, however, there are certain challenges to touch materials and sensations over distance. To be able to have meaningful conversations in this long-distance prototyping process we conducted some iterations in parallel in three different locations. This gave us a lot of rich insight and opportunities for developing the project, however, it also cost us much time and made our project progress slower than expected.

What are the opportunities and next steps for this project? The project could benefit from onboarding some additional competences. We are certainly looking forward to expanding the discussions with child education specialists and therapists. Even though we involved movement professionals (dancers) and children into the process of developing the demo, we would like to deepen that co-creation and achieve the next levels through engaging in a somaesthetic participatory design process. We definitely also need to develop further the technical aspects of the project. There is a lot of potential in including sound and visual sensations in addition to the current vibrotactile elements. Ensuring easy maintenance and washability of the prototype, integrating a sustainable and safe power source, and upgrading its functionalities along with the needs of a growing child are further aspects we need to consider in the future development of that project. More than moving towards products we see the current potential of the project in facilitating conversation in the community when designing for and with social groups other than ourselves, and we hope the project allows us to contribute to that context.

To the Demo Visitors: - Do you have further ideas about what technology could support movement stimulation and social engagement in combination with a soft toy? - Do you have further ideas on how to combine children's intensive smartphone usage with soft materials and smart interactions? - Have you worked in the space of involving children, technology and textiles? We aim at building a network of researchers and practitioners working on this topic to share knowledge and experiences in a broader and collaborative sense. Please reach out at: (our contacts?!) - What are your experiences in co-creation and participatory design processes with children? - Do you have experience in somaesthetic interaction design for children? - What else you want to tell us? We are happy to receive your feedback! Find out more about WORTH Partnership project: https://www.worthproject.eu/project/wearable-play/