Greg Katz & Tom Rim
Autism Connects Competition
Gobug is an interactive toy designed to facilitate an inclusive social learning experience for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, individuals of all ages and abilities are welcome to join, play, and learn.
Greg Katz and Tom Rim shared equal contributions to this project. Both are industrial design students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Autism is a disability that affects millions of children around the world. A major barrier to their welfare can be the difficulty of including them with other children in joint activities because of their inadequate social and communication skills. Building these is often the key to their rehabilitation and progress, which Gobug provides such opportunities. It can be a catalyst for other activities aimed at greater inclusion.
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
Gobug was designed in response to the Autism Connects Competition. The goal was to design a product that could help individuals with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) be able to communicate better with others. Many of these children have trouble developing social as well as communication skills.
We began with the belief that there is a world of untapped capabilities in young boys and girls with autism. Using strategically implemented user-centered design we sought to facilitate extraordinary growth for children presenting deficits associated with spectrum disorders.
From the start we were excited about this. It was a terrific opportunity to make a real social impact. We wanted to use our design skills for good intent and partaking in the Autism Connects Competition gave us that particular opportunity.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
We had hopes for our design aside from providing children with ASD assistive communication technology. Our primary goal was to offer children with autism opportunities for natural play with other individuals in a non-threatening and interesting format. In doing so, we hoped to provide an experience encompassing social, communicative, and educational realms. Inclusion was the most important aspect; where people of all ages and developmental levels are welcome to join, play, and learn.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
This design was all about the user. We considered other conditions such as manufacturing. However, the focus was on providing an experience that could truly make a difference in someone’s life.
Gobug is specifically designed for children with ASD within the age range of seven to ten. Our intention was that all children and adults could play with Gobug. When dealing with inclusion, it’s important to realize that people outside the target user group will be playing with the toy as well.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
The initial stages of design provided us loads of ideas. We held brainstorming sessions where we “let concepts fly”. Some ideas were worth further exploration while others were held back. During the same time period, we researched the user. It was important to have an understanding of who we were designing for. These activities were continued for a good portion of time to insure a solid platform to work from.
A lot of our user research was performed on an indirect level. We spoke with occupational therapists and read numerous blogs and articles from research databases. We also took advantage of the Core77 Design Arena for the Autism Connects competition. Through this web forum, designers were constantly given feedback for their work from experts in the field of ASD. We took note of these comments and applied bits of information accordingly.
The next stages involved a constant flow of sketching. We narrowed our concepts down to one and began to sketch again. We performed various iterations on the products function; mainly how the user would interact with product and the other users. We also produced loads of concept art dealing with aesthetics and forms.
In a similar time period, we mapped out scenarios in which the toy would be used. Specifically, we used storyboards to present outcomes. This helped us gain a grasp for what would work and what wouldn’t. It also helped us refine our concept into a more tangible and purposeful idea.
From here, we took our concept into CAD and produced a design that best represented our sketch developments and concept art.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
There are infinite ways in which Gobug can help a child with autism. A child would benefit greatly from the sort of multi-play that this toy offers. Users have to work together on verbal, physical, or non-verbal communicative levels. Specifically, one must be aware of the other player’s hand movements. An autistic child would be able to learn via imitative play; observing the other child and his or her hand motions. The user also has to be very aware of his/her own movements; body awareness. Below is a summary list of some of the ways Gobug could help a child with autism…
Child with autism has to listen and process verbal directions from partner(s) in order to control the toy effectively.
The toy is controlled by sensitive motion-based controls. The child has to be conscious of his or her own hand movement for Gobug to go forwards, backwards, left or right, in space.
Child has to visually follow the path of the toy as it moves through space.
Child has to initiate, organize, and execute sequential movements in order to effectively maneuver Gobug.
A child with autism is required to be aware of his/her partner’s actions while playing in a natural, unforced manner. The most fun play experience will occur when the players are mutually engaged and cooperative.
Gobug can be an extraordinary toy to facilitate interaction with all children, not just those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
Given more time to work on Gobug, we feel there are many ways that it can be improved upon. Before this undertaking, it would be important that we gather more data and even perform user tests. As designers, it’s important that we take in as much information as possible, narrow it down, and apply it accordingly. Certainly, more professional feedback from experts in design, engineering, and other relevant fields would be a great place to start. We believe there is great opportunity with Gobug.