This design project was one of the most challenging, I have ever faced as a designer. The constraints were clear; we had to design a portable playground grown-ups (!), meaning that we should incorporate some sort of mobility in design, though we were allowed to consider mobility as possible with e.g. a trunk in a car. And did I mention, that it was to be aimed for adults – the notoriously decent and busy scandinavian ones? Phew …

The purpose of this task? To facilitate creativity through constraints and hereby challenge the perception, that adults don’t play. The theoretical framework was thus mainly that of Huizinga, Caillois and Sicart – all sharing, to some extent at least, the idea of homo ludens (the playful man) as opposed to homo faber (the working man). This was supplemented with fieldwork of- as well as theory on playgrounds (e.g. Dattner). The idea of homo ludens rest on a conviction of man as more than just a slave for productivity and efficiency – a man who plays. This emanate from, especially Huizinga argue, the fact that we as society neglects play as cultural phenomenon, that is actually a lot more present in our (adult) lives, than we think.

Playgrounds can, in theory, be any space just like every object can be toy. It’s all about the context. However, we can design cues and hints, which ease the way of perceiving a situation, as the designer wish it. With this and our user group in mind, we knew we had to acknowledge the fact, that adults and kids perceive the notion of play differently – especially when it comes to this sort of “pure” play, where the playing itself is not disguised or incorporated in say, a game. In short, our playground would thus need to facilitate adults need for incentive and purpose of playing while at the same time remaining open for interpretation. Add to this the fact, that playgrounds take place in public spaces where we – especially in danish culture – are relatively self-aware.

As challenging as it was, we did come up with something pretty awesome – I think at least. Our first concept was a sort of love-themed playground. A dating playground, if you will. Amongst other things, it consisted of props like a talking bench (pressure-sensitive installation, that played romantic music or stated small compliments when two people sat on it) and a “suggestion-box” (called First Date Kit. Clever, right?) which supplied suggestions for conversation topics and actions.

So what did I learn? Well, the design worked out pretty horribly, but it was a success nonetheless, simply because of what we learned from it. Mainly, we became aware of the extent of self-awareness in public space – especially surrounding the concept of dating (we’re so goddamn boring!). Secondly, and related to the first notion, the fact that adults need purpose of some sort when playing was obvious. Third, it was clear that the context meaning the physical space and the way the “area” of a playground was designed, had a substantial influence in the users’ perceiving thereof. Last, we also saw how well the suggestion-box worked. And even though we had to change the name, it survived to the second iteration of the playground – a variety of adventure playground, created on the newfound knowledge.

This playground was quite the success. Here’s a demonstration of it. The point of it all? Personally, I believe that one of the most important lessons of this design challenge, was the clear effect of testing assumptions and ideas fast, learning from them and reacting on the inputs. Especially with such heavy constraints and a hard user group. For instance, we saw how adults needed purpose and that our suggestion-boxworked great. So why not use that suggestions box as some sort of gateway for giving adults a small poke in the right direction by giving them initial propositions? And hell, I’d be lying if I claimed, that we didn’t have fun designing the playgrounds as well – not a bad thing, right?

As always, you are more than welcome to ask about anything in relation to this project – whether it is photos, videos or the paper.