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Janet Bewell

Janet Bewell

Akendi Alumnus

Create your own adventure – technology that allows you endless freedom to create and play

The­­ start of a new year always brings with it a sense of reflection and excitement for what is next. Being a Canadian living in England, my December holiday time is always about maximizing the real face-to-face time with family and friends.  It may seem strange that I am underlining “face-to-face” but with the advancement of technology over the last decade, I have been able to stay close to my loved ones; so much so that when we see each other it feels like I never left.

Communication Technology Gap

Technology is continuously evolving to help us (adults) communicate in so many ways from: voice notes, video – both live, recorded, or ephemeral (even with the ability to add playful animations); sharing of photos, articles, thoughts, memos; even instant messaging requiring no use of a keyboard – Gifs, emoticons…etc.

Where I do see a large gap in communication is in keeping up with young children.  My nephew is 4 and my niece is 11 months, in whom I just met a few weeks ago.  I can’t “WhatsApp” them. Perhaps, I can call them on Skype? – but you get about 30 seconds, if you are lucky, of their time.  They’d rather play!  And who can blame them?

What elements factor into child’s play?

Elements I think are important to play, include:  imagination, exploration, discovery, learning, manipulation, building, destroying, ‘grandiose’ characters (preferably with accents), a bit of rule breaking, group participation, story telling, etc.

There are many apps that cover this, but what we miss is the physical experience. I cannot tell you how many pillow forts I built with my nephew that began simple but ended up extravagant. My most favourite was our “boat fort” in which we had to worry about saw sharks eating our boat – apparently they will leave if you feed them apples or smaller boats?  Oh, and they also enjoy omelettes with brie and pear!  (Can’t blame them).

How can technology enable physical play?

With the Internet of Things (IoT), the gap between the physical and virtual world is getting narrower.  We can now program devices to behave in ways you can only imagine. Even better, as programming is becoming easier, more of us are able to design our own experience.

Choose your own adventure

There are many products emerging that give users more control of their own experience.  One I personally love is Hackaball (still in development).  Essentially, it is a ball that lights up, vibrates, and plays sounds, depending on how the user configures it.  One example is playing “hot potato”.  The child can configure the timing, colours or vibrations to indicate elimination, etc. and then meet friends to play out the scenario.

Create your own adventure

Though these above tools are great, they limit the user to a set of pre-determined criteria. Thinking of the imagination of my nephew, there is a plenty more to be explored. Luckily, there is a solution.

Raspberry Pi is a functional computer built on a single circuit board (as small as a credit card).  It is typically used in educational environments to introduce, promote, and reduce the fear of technology. The last 3 years, or so, has seen a boom in sales, with over a total of 5 million sold reported last February. New audiences that one might not expect are accessing this technology and using it in ways never before seen.

Powerful low cost IoT devices now make remote physical play possible, without the need for big corporate products. We can virtually set-up multiple scenarios of how something might interact depending on one’s actions (or location).

Though I might be in London, I can design a game for my nephew.  I can record my voice (in many ‘grandiose accents’).  I can challenge him to break the rules – dare we do this…? (Note: he loves the book “Don’t Push the Button”, by Bill Cotter”). I can set up other objects to react depending on his location.

Perhaps the only thing it can’t do is make a brie and pear omelette.

Janet Bewell

Janet Bewell

Akendi Alumnus


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Akendi is a human experience design firm, leveraging equal parts experience research and creative design excellence. We provide strategic insights and analysis about customer and user behaviour and combine this knowledge with inspired design. The results enable organizations to improve effectiveness, engage users and provide remarkable customer experiences to their audiences.