The Beginning of Interactive Play at Yalp
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: “Is it safe? What if it collapses? What if the children don’t like it?” I lie awake at night, as these questions go through my mind. It was March 27th, 2007. I 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 schoolyard in Markelo, and I still have to get used to the idea that it has all become a reality.”
Big city multinational or a group of sympathetic people in Goor?
Rob: “For me, it all started at a Sports & Innovation Conference. I was looking for a graduation assignment that matched my passion for play, sports, and music. I met an enthusiastic man who gave me his business card, and he said: Big city multinational or a group of sympathetic people in Goor?
Rob: “For me, it all started at a Sports & Innovation Conference.
I was looking for a graduation assignment that matched 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 (ultimately 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 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 felt like magic. This technology had been used in an art project in Hengelo, and Lappset Netherlands was involved with the necessary knowledge about play equipment and its rules.
I spoke with two very enthusiastic employees from KITT ( Andries Lohmeijer and Peter van der Vos ), who informed me about the 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 felt the challenge and choose this sympathetic group of people in the rural East of Holland instead of a large multinational design assignment from a big city.”
Yalp Sona | First drafts for the arch
Yalp Sona | First drafts for the floor
Combining outdoor play with gaming
Rob: “I dove into the world of kids and play and spoke to educationalists about the structure of games. I noticed that the next generation of kids played games behind the screens of their PlayStation 2, they were chatting on MSN and Hyves (Dutch version of MySpace) and listening to music on their MP3-players (back in 2006, the smartphone did not yet exist people! It’s crazy to imagine that now.) I saw 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 decided to plan the first playtest with children. I experimented with the technology for a while and prepared a program. Unfortunately… it was not a success. After 5 minutes, the boys ask if they could go play soccer. The girls kept on playing, but more because they wanted to help me out, not because they genuinely liked it. This had 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. Playtesting with the children gives me great insights; more structure and challenging elements are required, but also more feedback: children must clearly notice the result of their actions.
Many user tests followed in the design process in which I worked 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. But I finally experienced my Eureka moment one evening watching the movie The Lord of the Rings when I saw 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 challenging arch construction, which is being worked out with technical draftsman Johan Rippen. While the bow is in the making, I playtested the games on a prototype playset at a local daycare center.”
"What turns out? The children have sneaked outside again and are having fun playing in the pouring rain. I see this as a sign that the games are a success."
Rob: “While playtesting 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, which 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 next generation of playground equipment’s brand new design. 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, the Sona remains in good condition and is a great success as children love to play on it. A little later the children from the school are sending met lots of drawings and thanks.
First Yalp Sona - Schoolyard Markelo
Drawing by one of the students
Drawing by one of the students
"Thanks, Rop, it is the most beautiful playground in the worlt!"