Childrens toys leading UI design?

28 01 2007

I often look at the toys my two boys get for inspiration and insight into UI design.Now this may seem like a stupid thing to do, kids toys are for kids and I handle design for complex business systems.So what’s the gig?Well I actually intend writing several articles about this and what I’m finding.The product I assembled or disassembled more correctly was an “imaginext” castle from Fisher Price toys.Now, when I pulled the thing out of its box, I in typical fashion ignored the instructions relying of course on my amazing talents and sharp mind to be able to effectively assemble a childs play thing.Typically also, this gamble never pays off and I’m left sitting on the floor hunched over some instructions I can barely make out because I’ve half assembled something in the wrong order and am likely looking at something that more accurately resembles a ball of twine over the Batman’s lair i originally purchased.Anyway, as I was undoing the last of the 14 million wire ties holding the toy castle in its cardboard cocoon I noticed that at the top of the toy there was a little toy king held in place with a white surround around his feet.The other knights were contained in a little plastic bubble “see but not touch” wrapping of the open type display box it was all contained in.The king stood at the top of the castle above the drawbridge (see pic).imaginext castleNow here’s the UI bit. The surround holding the king in was coloured white. There were no other parts on the castle that were white….other than the white plastic reinforcements that were fastening the aforementioned wires which restrained the toy in it’s packaging. I’d been happily removing all the white plastic bits from the toy and it wasn’t until it came to remove this last piece from the toy, that I realised this.Fisher-Price in all their wisdom had decided to colour code all the removable parts white!And I, even with a well trained eye completely automatically keyed into the “obvious” visual clues that led me to instinctively know that all white bits should be removed.(Reading the instructions later revealled that they had indeed done this on purpose, and that I had done the right thing.)So there you have it. As kids we are taught games which teach us how to spot differences, and make choices based on those differences. “Odd one out” games if you will.By purely instinctivly playing the “odd one out” game with this toy through the practice of removing the packaging, I was going to achieve my goal!Can this same thinking be applied to more complex interface design? Probably. I’ve not invested much in the way of figuring out and active application for the “odd one out” game in terms of application or web interface design. BUT!!! Surely there are many other games we played as children which we can tap into in terms of our designs to enable our users to intuitively interact with our software?Kids toys… well I never.Next article will be about another toy I quite like, which is the Leapster game from a company called Leapfrog. It’s excellent, and my 3 year old son can use the device like a pro. In his world, instructions are meaningless. Poor little tike is still working on numbers and how to eat custard while resisting the temptation to stick it in his brothers hair for a larf.Users first. Particularly if they are kids.