On Tuesday, we unveiled our toys constructed from everyday items. I put together The Mystery Box, constructed from a Timex watch box, plastic water bottle, some string, packaging tape. The box I decorated with monster cards I found in the kitchen drawer and dropped a few M&Ms and Cheerios inside the box. Underneath the box I set a trapdoor and attached it to a piece of string
Users were supposed to pull the triangle and the treats inside the box would fall out. I spent sixty minutes playing around with the objects I collected and another fifteen minutes putting together the toy once I figured out how the pieces could fit together–what I call play as invention.
When I observed my classmates play with my toy, I was surprised and amused. Surprised, because my conceptual model was not a clear as I had thought it was; amused, because my classmates found new ways to play with my toy. The user experience turned out to be a space for invention and discovery thanks to the conceptual models poor design and the invisibility of the trapdoor. I’m intrigued by the accidents that can come from poor design, the possibilities for new uses for otherwise badly created things. The players used my toy in ways I hadn’t thought of. Watching their feedback could lead to new, exciting ideas.
In preparation for building the toy, the class read an excerpt from Donald Norman’s The Psychology of Everyday Things. His book argues against engineers and their tendency to design awful objects–doors, phones, refrigerators. These simple everyday items shouldn’t have complex and confusing designs. I wonder what Norman would say about my toy–I imagine he’d ask that the trapdoor be more visible to my user. Instead of using a little tab in the corner of the bottom of the box, I should make the entire bottom the trapdoor. Maybe even replace the bottom with something else, like a small metal sheet of some kind.
This project, of course, reminds me of Jody Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole where she argues that multimodality is both digital and analog. To focus only on the digital leaves our composition pedagogy half-baked and a disservice to our students. I wouldn’t mind doing an activity like this with my students one day, especially freshman who come from a writing experience that seems narrow. Opening them to the possibilities of communication in academia may be rewarding to them.