Back in 2007, Yalp’s first interactive playset was born. Now 12,5 years later, Sona designer Rob Tuitert tells how the adventure of interactive play started at Yalp.
Rob: “Will everything go well? What if it collapses? What if the children don’t like it? I lie awake at night and these questions go through my mind. It was March 27th 2007. I just completed my Industrial Design Engineering studies at the University of Delft (the Netherlands) with the design of new interactive playground equipment: the Yalp Sona Play and Dance arch. Today we festively opened the first ever Sona in a schoolyard in Markelo and I still have to get used to the idea that it has all become reality.”
Big city multinational or a group of sympathetic people in Goor?
Rob: “For me it all started at a Sports & Innovation Conference. I am looking for a graduation assignment that matches my passion for play, sports and music. I met an enthusiastic man who gave me his business card and he said: “I may have something for you.” On the train ride back to Delft I read his card: Ben Admiraal, Director of Lappset play equipment (eventually Yalp) in Goor.
A few weeks later I decide to pay Ben a visit in Goor (a small town in Twente, the Netherlands), where he shows me some kind of lamppost with a camera at the top. When I move, it activates sounds. The technology was developed by KITT engineering in Enschede, and it feels like magic. This technology has been used in an art project in Hengelo and Lappset Netherlands is involved with the necessary knowledge about play equipment and its rules.
I talk to two very enthusiastic employees from KITT ( Andries Lohmeijer and Peter van der Vos ) who inform me more about this technology. Ben sees more than just an art project and dares to dream of a new way to play, but how do you design it? I feel the challenge and choose this sympathetic group of people in the rural East of Holland instead of a design assignment at a large multinational from a big city.”
Combining outdoor play with gaming
Rob: “I dive into the world of kids and play and talk to educationalists about the structure of games. I notice that the next generation of kids play more and more games behind screens on their PlayStation 2, chat through MSN and Hyves (Dutch version of MySpace) and listen to music on their MP3-players (back in 2006, the smartphone did not yet exist people). I see great opportunities in bringing these two worlds together: fun and the endless possibilities of gaming mixed with all the benefits of playing outside together.
Strengthened by this idea, I decide to plan the first play test with children. I experimented with the technology for a while and prepared a program. Unfortunately… it was no success. After 5 minutes the boys ask if they can go play soccer. The girls keep on playing, but more because they want to help me out, not because they truly like it. This has to change. I let them lay carpet tiles on the floor and link sounds to those tiles. It’s getting better, but at the end of the day I know that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. Play testing with the children gives me great insights; more structure and challenging elements are needed, but also more feedback: children must clearly notice result of their actions.
Many user tests follow in the design process in which I work according to form follows function. First up is designing the games & interaction, followed by the play floor and last but not least the device itself, which should follow logically from the previous steps. The first list of 100+ games gives energy and shows that a lot is possible. The design of the play floor fully supports this. For the device itself, the sketches range from a kind of outdoor disco to a giant spider. They are often too childish or too overdone in design. I experience my Eureka moment one evening watching the movie The Lord of the Rings when I see a group of people walk through a magical gate.
That concept lingers; a gate that invites you to walk underneath and opens up a new world with magic. The sketches that follow prove to be the prelude to the final design of a challenging arch construction, which is being worked out with the help of technical draftsman Johan Rippen. While the bow is in the making, I play test the games on a prototype playset on the new playground at a local daycare center.”
“What turns out? The children have sneaked out again and are having fun playing in the pouring rain. I see this as a sign that the games are a success.”
Rob: “While play testing the game “Freeze” it starts raining hard and I decide to send the children in to take a break and eat a sandwich. After my first bite I suddenly hear music coming from outside. What turns out? The children have sneaked out again and are having fun playing in the pouring rain. I see this as a sign that the games are a success (the game Freeze, similar to musical chairs, is still one of the most popular games on the Sona nowadays).
During my graduation in December 2006, I proudly show videos of children playing and beautiful images of the brand new design of the next generation of playground equipment. Fellow students play a game on the Sona floor. A few months later I am installing the first ever arch with our assembly team in a school playground in Markelo. After the festive opening at the end of March 2007, it appears that the Sona remains in good condition and is a great success as children love to play on it. A little later I receive a lot of drawings and thanks from all the children of the school:
“Thanks Rop, it is the most beautiful playground in the worlt!”
Written by: Rob Tuitert, Product Developer