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Hi, I’m Ben, I am a product developer at Made by Many. In July I joined as half of an internship project tasked to explore the world of connected devices. ...

Our Alphabet Porridge tumblr:


The brief was simple, to get us started Tom, James, Stuart and Conor had highlighted some interesting products and technologies, gyroscopes, accelerometers, piezoelectric materials, flocking, wifi... and very few project constraints!

Both already passionate about connected devices and services, we reviewed some of our favourites, such as Nike Plus and Pebble E. We immersed ourselves in the current market, and were particularly interested in BiKn, a connected device that helps you keep track of anything you lose, and ICEdot, a potentially life-saving bicycle helmet. However we soon found a fine line between useful tools and gimmicks, in services such as Kickbee, that tweets when a baby kicks.

We mapped out some of our own ideas, alongside some of the current connected devices that interested us, and began to shortlist areas to explore:

1. Organisation, how is the family organised?

2. Play, pulling children away from the TV.

3. Social driven sharing, social interaction in the physical world.

4. Temporary networks, interaction with the people around you.

The roughed-out areas initiated an early workshop with the Many. Personas were used to generate quick and dirty concepts for connected devices. Ideas were gathered, and further organised into two stand-out opportunities:

- Play, away from the screen.

- Festival Experiences

It was clear when we were shortlisting ideas it was often difficult to justify the physical and digital marriage. It was easy to get carried away with an idea and overcomplicate a solution (Sidekick studios have a really interesting article on having just enough technology).

Our idea refinement pointed us in the direction of play. With our full attention here we created a second more focused workshop with some help from Rory.

The workshop was structured around a single fill the gap sentence:

“If we have_____ that can_____ , what games can we play?”

For the first gap we had a specific set of non technical cards inspired by sensors; “make a noise” or “track location”. The second gap was for any playful objects; kites, hats or rackets. We collected an abstract selection of things from across the office to represent these objects. With the aim to inspire some really fresh ideas, one of the best being:

If we have “Gorillas” that can “Melt”, what games can we play?

We had asked people not to sketch down any ideas down but to demonstrate them with the objects we had provided. The Many definitely looked slightly abnormal that day, and anyone watching may be a little confused.

The ideas from the workshop were storyboarded into 6 concepts which weren’t even as refined as their names, we had “Zapper”, “Wand & Beacon”, “Laser Tag”, “Light Race”, “Rule Ball” and “Sound Box”.

Because the validation of ideas with REAL PEOPLE is part of Made by Many’s process (and also because Stuart said “The people in this building are not real, they are freaks”) we took our ideas to the streets and parks of islington. We were looking for strong opinions of love or hate, and we definitely found some interesting reactions. Some parents and children got quite carried away and built on our ideas.

Looking over the feedback and reactions to the ideas, we chose to focus on “RuleBall” and “LightRace”.

RuleBall was an idea inspired by hacky sack and kick ups with a colour changing ball. The central idea was colours and sounds indicating rule changes; when the ball is red it's thrown and when the ball is blue it's bounce... A connected mobile phone would know when the ball had been thrown or dropped keeping scores but most importantly it would support the creation of new games.

LightRace was an idea for a set of intelligent cones for outdoor play. The cones controlled by a mobile might change colour, know their positioning and recognize different players. Players could race to the illuminated cone, or group games would allow players to see who could get to as many cones their colour in a time limit. Parents seemed to particularly jump at the ideas of being able to light a cone using their mobile for children to race towards.

Both of these two concepts were interesting and justified a physical digital connection. We wanted to find out if the two ideas for hardware could create a platform for fun games.

We tested the two ideas with some quick prototypes, using paper booklets for the iPhone applications and with some quick alterations to balls and cones. For each idea we had a paper application that came with two games already installed and it supported game creation.

Our testing took place in a park next to the office. Not all our games were fun, but people quickly got the idea and made alterations. The paper game creator failed beautifully, but encouraged people to think about new games that could be applied to the same hardware. The testing ended with people moaning a little how LightRace brought back memories of painful PE lessons! RuleBall was considered a lot more fun and became our focus.

We blew the concept of the ball up in to what became the Alphabet Porridge ball. We didn’t want to build just a product but a platform. We began to think of it as a ball containing many game variables, with the rules wirelessly created by the user on an iPhone.

The Alphabet Porridge ball can change colour, flash vibrate and make sounds whilst detecting things like speed, catches, throws and rolls.

The most interesting part of this concept was inclusive game creation. We envisioned a product where the user (not hack days) would be creating new games that could be played, shared, edited driving competitiveness.

In a future blog post I will show you the next step of our project; developing, prototyping and testing the idea as a physical connected device.