Showcasing Play

I think I got out of it the sense that if you put your mind to something you can accomplish anything. 

Play Sandbox Young Coach

In REACT, we believe that media companies in the UK need support to develop new kinds of product and experience aimed at a children’s market, as the US currently dominates this sector. We also think that the best young people’s propositions are designed and tested with young people themselves. Play Sandbox set out to make children our partners in the design process, challenging us to make better things with their imaginations, tastes and values. For six months, teams of games and product designers, robotics engineers, artists, film-makers and researchers worked together to explore the future of play. The resulting six prototypes use digital technology to reimagine board games, robot toys, apps, dens and playgrounds in brilliant and surprising ways. 

As a producer, the line between professional and personal identities can be delightfully fuzzy. Producing for REACT requires empathy, both with the participants and with their audiences and our work is at its best when we are responding both to industry demand and to our own beliefs and opinions. As a parent, I don’t just understand the market imperatives of the work that Play Sandbox has done, I feel the importance of making positive, creative, social, and thoughtful products with children, rather than just selling superficial, ethically questionable products to them. Moreover the experience of having children in the room with us, shifting the dynamics, changing the tone of the conversation and instilling everything we did with a duty of care and sense of fun has been thrilling. This bubbling, shifting, slightly chaotic community of people produced all kinds of outcomes that we could never have predicted and that are difficult to capture. 

For these reasons, it has been a privilege to work with Alison Oldfield and Helen Manchester who have been conducting a piece of action research alongside our R&D process. Commissioned by our team, the research has explored what children bring to the collaborative development of product design. Its core focus has been on the processes and practices of the Sandbox and the experiences of those working within it. It essentially examines the effect that working with Young Coaches had on the individuals involved, the design process, REACT approaches and methods, and the products they help produce. We will be extracting the learning from the team’s findings so that we can support others to do more work like this.

REACT will be presenting the research and the work of the Play Sandbox teams at the Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield next week. It will be a great opportunity to talk to others about what we have done and to hear back from a hugely experienced community. If you are attending the conference you can find Alex Fleetwood, Esther MacCallum-Stewart and myself at the Wear and Tear workshop on Wednesday 1 July, have a play with the prototypes in The Eye all day on Thursday 2 July and hear about the process at a lunchtime session on Friday 3 July. If you aren’t there, I will also be talking about Play Sandbox the following Friday 10 July with our advisor DanaĆ« Stanton-Fraser at the Pervasive Media Studio as part of their programme of lunchtime talks

In the meantime you should definitely head over to the site and have a look at our newly launched films, these tell the stories of the people at the heart of Play Sandbox and of the new products that we are all so proud of.

Watch all videos here 

Cover image: © Trove