Bertrand Schneider

Designing for Kids

Creating a child’s dream toy.

This project was part of the Beyond Bits and Atoms class taught at Stanford by Prof. Paulo Blikstein. We had to find a child, interview him/her, discover what their dream toy would be and build it. Below I describe my process and various iterations of prototypes:

My interview with the kid went well, I tried to alternate between asking her questions and playing with her. We spend one hour in her room, where she described me all her toys and how she played with them. She loves zebras, and had a big collection of them: big, small, soft, hard, etc. Her dollhouse has even been converted into a zebra house, and the zebras actually sleep in standard beds with humans.

She described me the toy of her dreams as a box where zebras and giraffes could race against each other. Her design included several elements:

  • a field of grass where the animals could race
  • she wanted to have 10 zebras and 10 giraffes
  • the victorious animal would win a zebra cup
  • she mentioned teams that she could switch so that the other animals could rest

We conducted this part of the interview in the living room, where her mother helped her describe the toy she wanted. It was actually very helpful to have one of her parents with me, because information flew more easily between them (and obviously the mother knew more easily what the kid meant). She also drew several sketches for me: 

she decided to draw this zebra and giraffe so that I could use them for her toy. She also drew a field of grass, with the starting point on the left and the finish line on the right:



Here is the part where she describes me her toy:


I tried to follow her instructions as closely as I could but I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to provide her 10 zebras and 10 giraffes. My first (and biggest) challenge was to make the animals move in the running lanes. My first attempt involved a treadmill coupled to a gogo board:


That didn’t work so well, because the paper would easily slide outside the wheel. I could have solved this problem by cutting and gluing some acrylic circles to the sides of the spools; however the whole system was too fragile and too complicated to build. So I changed my mind and tried to use rubber bands to propel the animals:


This first prototype didn’t work very well, mainly because the wheels were too small and the force wasn’t evenly distributed over time (the system above would use all the force in one shot). With the help of a TA, we designed another iteration that successfully propelled our car frame:

The rubber band is attached to the frame of the car on one side, and on the axis of the wheels on the other side. By moving the car backward, the rubber band gets twisted around the axis and accumulates force; by releasing the car, it discharges its tension.



The final design of the boxes involved a zebra texture on the outside and multiple decorations on the inside: some seats so that other animals could watch the race, a zebra cup after the finish line and an inscription on the ground (“zebra race”):



Here is the final video of the project:



The kid was very happy with it, and we spent quite some time playing with it afterwards. Among other remarks, she said that she didn’t think that I could make the toy that good, and that the box was “the goodest toy she ever had”. 🙂

Here is Salma discovering her toy:


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