Concept Design and Development of an Interactive Plush Toy to engage Children in Social and Physical Activities
Design and Research Collaboration, with Seçil Uğur Yavuz and Kristi Kuusk, Estonia/Germany/Italy/Turkey, 2019-2020.

With this toy we aim at making children aware of the importance to have real contact with their peers and to enjoy bodily activities.

Embroidered tags at the surface of worm-e indicate to hold the smartphone close
The child scans worm-e with the smartphone after having received a prompt to do so
The child doing some balancing activities as recommended by the worm-e app
Project website _ wearable-play.com

Project Collaborators (Research, Design, and Development) _ Seçil Uğur Yavuz, Kristi Kuusk, and Michaela Honauer

Mentor _ Wolfgang Mildner

Funded by _ WORTH Partnership Project, 2nd Call, European Union
The so-called digital natives grow up surrounded by digital technologies, but we don’t know yet what are the long-term impacts it might have, e.g. playing computer games instead of playing outside with friends or to use the smartphone when not even be able to read or write. Together with Kristi Kuusk and Seçil Uğur Yavuz, I initiated WEARABLE PLAY. The goal of this research and design collaboration is to combine contemporary, digital technologies with social and whole-body interactions. We were and are interested in how children can develop a healthy level of bodyawareness and social sensitivity in a technologymediated life full of computers and digital devices.

With the interactive soft toy WORM-E, our main motivation was to get children away from intense smartphone usage, from staring almost frozenly into screens. We explore haptic sensations and invite for enhanced whole-body and social play experiences, with an almost 2m long worm-shaped toy and through pausing the smartphone usage. To realize the prototype, we used e-textile techniques and technologies, including a microcontroller for controlling actuators and NFC (Near Field Communication) tags for communication with the WORM-E smartphone app. The worm can be used as a key to activate new content. For this, the current activity on the mobile phone will be paused after a certain time of usage and concrete instructions to get active appear on the screen. Then the user can fulfill some activities with the worm to earn a reward and to continue the activity followed before.

All three of us contributed equally to the reserach, design, and development of WORM-E. We conducted the whole project remotly across 4 countries, from material explorations, over prototyping, to user tests. We followed a body-centric approach, including somaesthetic interaction design methods and embodied design ideation methods. Our project contributes a design exemplar on how the future of play could look like when body movements and haptic material qualities of tangible artefacts are combined with interactions through digital technologies.
Screenshots of the worm-e app
  • UPCOMING: Secil Uğur Yavuz, Kristi Kuusk, and Michaela Honauer. 2021. WORM-E: An Interactive Toy Enriching Children’s Bodily and Social Play. In Proceedings of the Cumulus Roma Conference | Design Culture(s) . t.b.d., 15 pages. DOI: https://doi.org/xxx
  • Michaela Honauer, Secil Uğur Yavuz, and Kristi Kuusk. 2020. WORM-E: An Interactive Toy Enriching Children’s Bodily and Social Play. In Companion Publication of the 2020 ACM on Designing Interactive Systems Conference (DIS’ 20 Companion). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 333–336. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3393914.3395814 PDF.
  • DDW Dutch Deign Week, Online, October 17th-25th 2020
  • Fuorisalone Digital (Milan Design Week), Online, June 15th-21st 2020