Designing for duality: exploring the details of crafting products for children

STIR speaks to three designers to uncover their individual narratives as they explore working with altered scales and materiality.

by Devanshi Shah Published on : Nov 13, 2020

When one thinks about design in relation to kids, it usually brings to mind bright colours, and cartoon imagery layered over durable plastic materials, in equally plastic forms. In a world that has become increasingly sensitive to the value of aesthetics, sustainability, and the importance of ingraining meaning to every experience, designing for children has also evolved to resonate these ideals. These products tend to feature a play on scale. One has to keep in mind that while these products are designed primarily to accommodate the body of infants and children, they are handled mostly by adults. This duality in scale poses an interesting challenge for designers. Tactility also needs to be addressed on multiple levels. One that responds to the sensitive skin of a child, while also being comfortable for an adult. These objects also tend to be time bound. Infants and children tend to outgrow these products, further enticing the use of more plastic objects, which are cheap and disposable. However, with the recent shift within the design disciples to move away from plastic has opened up the possibility of experimentation with scale and materiality.

Technicalities, stability and design aside, these products truly come alive when we look at what inspired their creation. STIR speaks with three designers about specific products that play with the duality of use, and the durability associated with them. Exploring their individual narratives, one can trace the product to a moment that these designers have lived through. While one can argue that this tends to be true across the board for designers, when you think of a child in the situation the design also includes an emotional anchor.

Architects Nishita Kamdar and Veeram Shah, the founders of Pieces of Desire (POD) | Infant product design | STIRworld
Architects Nishita Kamdar and Veeram Shah, the founders of Pieces of Desire (POD) Image: Courtesy of POD

The Nest by POD (Pieces of Desire), founded by architects Nishita Kamdar and Veeram Shah

Part of the studio’s Sway collection, The Nest is a floor standing bassinet and cradle. It is created entirely out of reclaimed teak wood and a curved woven rattan on the outside. Constructed as two shells, the outer shell is a brass skeleton with the rattan weave, interlaced into its porous structure. The inner shell is a wooden cocoon moulded using strips of teak wood, this is where the baby would rest. A custom-made pivot connects the two shells and binds the movement of the bassinet. It comes fitted with a brass handle that functions as both a handle to lift the cradle and as a support to tie mobiles to. As a custom-fitted piece, created using durable material, the bassinet has the potential of being a heirloom.

The Nest is a floor standing bassinet and cradle | Infant product design | STIRworld
The Nest is a floor standing bassinet and cradle Image: Courtesy of POD

Speaking on the inspiration behind The Nest, architect Nishita Kamdar elaborates the duo’s desire to create a heirloom product, one that can be handed down through generations, stating: “The Nest is an ode to our childhood, our memories, nostalgia and all things fun. Swaying on a swing was such a huge part of our childhood, we all have seen the traditional ‘ghodiyu’ and the ‘parnu ’. We wanted to combine the functions of the two and create a modern bed fit for a baby. We looked at diverse sources for inspiration; be it literature, art, music or the micro-moments of everyday life. Observation, perception and its seamless transition to functional objects is a process we look up to. In a market driven by “trends”, we are trying to create a fresh outlook to decipher and deconstruct design”.

Isha Gopal (left), the founder of Bloon Toys (right) | Infant product design | STIRworld
Isha Gopal (left), the founder of Bloon Toys (right) Image: Courtesy of Bloon Toys

Curvy Board by Bloon Toys, founded by Isha Gopal

Made using several layers of flexible hardwood ply, the base is finished with rubberised cork, which allows for it to be used on any surface. As the product is meant to be used by children across age groups, the product is finished using a shellac based, non-toxic polish. The board is an open-ended toy, the materiality and scale had to accommodate the specification of children as young as one, while keeping in mind that older children would perhaps play with it. With weight tested up to 300 kgs, the board can withstand engaging with adults as well, extending its usability. In some ways one can never outgrow this toy.

The curvy board by Bloon Toys is a traditional Waldorf toy | Infant product design | STIRworld
The curvy board by Bloon Toys is a traditional Waldorf toy Image: Courtesy of Bloon Toys

Gopal elaborates on the origin of the toy: “The curvy board is a traditional Waldorf toy. Waldorf pedagogy puts a lot of emphasis on the 'sense of balance', which is seen to be one of the four foundational senses. The curvy board works on this sense quite intuitively, within play, by inviting movement naturally, while also not being limiting and extendable to any number of other uses, as directed by the person at play”.

Cradle & Maa founder Priya Lakhotia Parikh (left), and a chest of drawers from Cradle & Maa (right) | Infant product design | STIRworld
Cradle & Maa founder Priya Lakhotia Parikh (left), and a chest of drawers from Cradle & Maa (right) Image: Courtesy of Cradle & Maa

Changing Table by Cradle & Maa, founded by Priya Lakhotia Parikh

Made out of durable rubberwood, it would be wrong to reduce this product to a mere cabinet. The flexible material is versatile, while also being resistant to fungus and bacteria, both very important features considering the use. Constructed at a height that is convenient for parents to use, it also accommodates safety precautions for the infants. Designed to eventually transform into a chest of drawers, incorporating an adaptable approach allows the product to continue being usable for a longer period.

Changing Table: The flexible material is versatile, while also being resistant to fungus and bacteria, both very important features considering the use | Infant product design|  STIRworld
Changing Table: The flexible material is versatile, while also being resistant to fungus and bacteria, both very important features considering the use Image: Courtesy of Cradle & Maa

Speaking on the inspiration behind The Changing Table and the creation of Cradle & Maa, Parikh mentions: “The idea behind Cradle & Maa’s furniture line was to be an aid to the day-to-day life of a working mom or a ‘Millennial Maa’. Our furniture range is ideal with respect to functionality, as well as aesthetics and is designed in a way to suit all kinds of households and lifestyles”.

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