How does the psychology of children alter the way in which Product Designers go about their profession in terms of Toy Design? (Essay previous to formative feedback)

It is essential for Product Designers to be educated on how cognition varies for each individual, since this is what affects everyone’s responses to objects and experiences. Product designers aim for a certain response from a user when they are interacting with their product, although the desired response is not always achieved and this is due to the fact that everyone’s cognition works in a very different way due to their individual life experiences. Achieving the desired response can become even more difficult when introducing a child to a product since a mature designer will have a much more developed cognition in comparison. I have followed research into this issue reading texts such as ‘Piaget and His School: A reader in Developmental Psychology’ by Piaget, ‘The Private Language argument’ introduced by Wittgenstein, and ‘Toys Mythologies’ by Barthes.

‘Piaget and His School: A reader in Developmental Psychology’ by Piaget explains why a child and adult minds think differently. He comes to the conclusion that it is not simply due to the fact that adults are more intelligent, but instead Piaget believes that a person’s cognition develops over years, ‘But this passive interpretation of the act of knowledge is in fact contradicted at all levels of development’. Due to the child having little time in the world compared to adults, they have a different sense of the world around them, therefore they are in control of their own cognitive development since their minds have not yet been conditioned by the world, ‘they lack any differentiation between an external world, which would be composed of objects independent of the subject, and an internal or subjective world’. Furthermore a child is not less intelligent than an adult but instead their minds simply work in a different manner. For example, if you were to give an adult a stick, all they would see is a stick since they have been taught that that is so, although if you asked a child with a less grounded cognition they would be more likely to imagine it to be something less obvious such as a sword or a wand. Piaget’s research can help a Product Designer improve the quality of their toy design since it has proven that a child’s mind isn’t so simplistic and that primary research is needed to truly know how a child views a product. Ethnographic research is commonly used by providing information about what is needed and wanted by the user, this involves the Product Designer observing their target market in their natural setting in order to gain insight into how they live their everyday lives. Although, product design as a discourse at present is process focused which limits opportunities to discover true Human Centre design. For example, Perceptual Experience Labs are now used within the Product design industry, these Labs create a synthetic surrounding that feels somewhat real due to immersing the person with relevant sounds, smells, air movement, temperature, and vision to the desired environment you want to test the user within. But the main issue with these labs is that the information gathered in not completely reliable due to the fact that the user knows they are being tested, and that they are aware the environment they are in is artificial. This is an issue because it could alter the users natural reactions and opinions.

On the other hand, Bathes takes this idea of adults designing toys for children and their struggle to understand the child’s true desires, and explores it within the essay ‘Toys Mythologies’ “toys literally prefigure the world of adult functions obviously cannot but prepare the child to accept them all, by constituting for him, even before he can think about it”. Barthes believes that children should be allowed to create their own games and ideas, and they shouldn’t always be handed to them in the form of a purchase, this is because adults devise these games. Theories such as this one are what have inspired things such as Ikeas ‘toys designed by kids’. These toy designs were very eye opening for product designers since a lot of what seemed like deformities from the view of an adult which they thought was due to the child’s incapability’s were actually intentional. For example one child designed a soft toy with a very large head and huge ears in comparison to its body, which from the view of an adult would look wrong, but the child justified their design choices claiming that its large ears were so that it would be easy for them to whisper all their secrets to them. This only further justifies the fact that a child’s mind works in a different manner to an adult mind and the only way to have a finished product which is completely desirable to a child would be for it to have some form of input from children. This idea is explored in the film ‘Big’ staring Tom Hanks who plays a child within an adults body who improves a Toy designing company, due to the fact they were designing toys believing they were desired by children when in reality they are wrong, ‘It turns from a building into a robot right? Well what’s fun about that?’

However, ‘The Private Language Argument’ introduced by Wittgenstein explains how children have their own unique way of communication which can only be understood by one individual and is un-learnable and untranslatable. This was explained well by ‘Yezhou Yang’ when he stated, “Similarly, if we ask people to put their hands into hot water, they can feel pain. We can symbolize this pain as ‘pain H’. Still, different people feel different ‘Pain H’. For example, it is possible to have someone who actually does not feel any pain but comfort after putting their hand into hot water, then ‘pain H’ means comfort to them in this scenario.” This complicates things further for the product designer as although we are already aware that a child’s cognition and adults cognition are both on different ‘stages’ (Piaget) of cognitive development, it is now proven that each child also has a hugely individual cognition even if they are at the same stage of cognitive development.

Overall, it is clear that having an adult designing a product for a child is an insufficient way of designing, this is since a child is at a less advanced stage of their cognitive development as proven by the theories discussed during this essay, and therefore they view the world differently. Because of this intensive primary research must take place in order to receive the best possible outcome for the final product.

Word Count: 1100

  • Piaget, J. (1976). Piaget and His School: A Reader in Developmental Psychology (Springer Study Edition). Softcover reprint of the original 1st ed. 1976 Edition. Springer.
  • Barthes, R. (1957). MYTHOLOGIES Toys. A division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux 19 Union Square West / New York 10003
  • Yang, Y. (2012). Writing Assignment 2: Private Language Argument. Human-Level AI and Comptational Cognitive Neuroscience.
  • 20th Century Fox. (1988). Big. New Jersey. DVD.

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