Interactive Toy Design Studio

course description topics references syllabus images from class brainstorming
Hayes Raffle

Schedule & Location:

Jan 9 - 27, noon-3 pm M-F

Media Lab 4th floor, orange and green room (E15-468), except Weds. in the reef room

Enrollment limited: advance sign up required (see contact at right)
Signup by 06-Jan-2006
Limited to 12 participants.
Participants requested to attend all sessions (non-series)
Fee: 50.00 for costs of prototyping materials such as paper, wood, plastic, motors
Sponsor: Media Arts and Sciences
Course Description

This studio will introduce students to fundamentals of interactive toy design and introduce basic design techniques and principles. Students will build several toy prototypes in this class. We will review of related theory from the fields of design, fine art, education and cognitive science, and focus on fast ideation and implementation of ideas. Some readings related to design and learning will be required, but the majority of the course will be spend doing hands-on building. To get in three full weeks, we will start the first day of IAP, so those planning to take the IAP class should be able to be on campus for all of IAP.

Contact: Hayes Raffle, hayes (at)
Sponsor: Media Arts and Sciences
Location: 4th floor, Media Lab. M,T.TH,F in the orange and green room (E15-468) , Weds in the reef room.

To Apply

To apply, please send an email to hayes (at) with 1-2 paragraphs explaining why you want to take the class. If more than 12 people sign up, I'll have a lottery, draw names, and send out emails to the winners on January 7. Thanks!


Week 1 (Jan 9-14): Each day this week, we will focus on interpretation of toys. The class will begin with a lecture and discussion (30-90 minutes) and follow with a couple hours of brainstorming, sketching and fast prototyping of new toy ideas. I will suggest some homework reading to spark your interest in tomorrow's topic. At the end of week 1, students will be asked to think about a toy idea to implement further. This may be something you've done over this past week, or something wholly new. We will talk about your proposals on Monday, January 16.

Weeks 2-3: Over the next 2 weeks we will implement and refine our toy, and the majority of class time will be unstructured studio work hours. We will share and critique each others' work at the last class, January 27.


• toys in modern art, and toys invented by modern artists. Alice Aycock, Alexander Calder, Dennis Oppenheim, Picasso, Paul Klee, Jean Tinguely, James Seawright, Michael Grey, Allan Kapprow, Cindy Sherman, Claes Oldenberg, Frank Gehery.
• toys as educational tools: manipulatives. overview of constructivist theories of learning, piaget. froebel, montessori, building toys, digital manipulatives.
• kinetic art, mechanical toys and automata. overview of mechanism design.

• fantasy, storytelling, character and story. dolls, action figures, stage, performance.
• toys made from trash, toys made from reappropriated materials, and toys invented by kids.
• subversive toys. and dystopic visions of play and invention. movies: brazil, toy story, blade runner, etc.
• toy manufacturing
• large scale toys, jungle gyms, architecture for play and body-scale learning toys (a la exploratorium)
• electronic toys, computers for play
• toy marketing: what sells and why?
• toy design process from concept -> the toy store shelf

A quote

In his book, Building Machines, Robert McCarter writes:

"It is contemporary man's particular tendency to place economic and technological considerations ahead of more fundamental human values. As a result, technology itself has become alienated from us, and the world defines by technological evaluations has acted to alienate us from our fellow men. Our human relationships have progressively degenerated to the mere exchange of information and our objects are increasingly determined only by their usefulness. Yet at the same time that our relationships to people and things are becoming ever more abstract, Adorno points out that the power of abstractions, essential to any act of creation, is vanishing." He continues, "This situation cannot be acceptable to those whose art require and calls for the engagement of making, a poetic act of revelation directly related to the experience and directly derived from techne as bringing forth into presence."

...Artist Ronald Jones once proposed that one could reflect on the essays and projects in BUILDING MACHINES, and then design an abstract sculpture that is a machine-toy for play: a toy for calling out human engagement and a machine for creativity. An interactive machine could use the power of abstraction McCarter alludes to as a site for one's audience to re-create and re-envision the toy one has designed.


Art and design:

Banham, Reyner. Theory and Design in the First Machine Age. The MIT Press; 2nd edition (July 25, 1980).

Benjamin, W., The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936)

Burnham, J., "Real Time Systems." Reprinted from Artforum (September, 1968).

Burnham, J. “Systems Esthetics.” Reprinted from Artforum (September, 1968).

Burnham, J. Beyond modern sculpture; the effects of science and technology on the sculpture of this century. New York: Braziller, 1968.

Hulten, K. G. Pontus, The Machine As Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1968

McCarter, R. Building Machines. Princeton Architectural Press (1997).

Naef. Naef Design.

Shankin, E. A. (2002). “Art in the information age: Technology and conceptual art.”

Survival Research Laboratories

Thompson, D. (1942). On Growth and Form: The Complete Revised Edition. New York: Dover Publications Inc, 1992. Reprinted from the original Cambridge University Press publication, 1942.

Tuchman, Maurice. Exhibition Catalog for Art and Technology (LACMA, 1970).

Physical materials for education:

Brosterman N. (2002). Inventing Kindergarten. Harry N Abrams.

Chattin-McNichols J. (1991). The Montessori Controversy. Delmar Thomson Learning.

Giulio C., Zini M., (eds.) (1998). Reggio Children – Children, Spaces, Relations.

Liebschner J. (2002). A Child’s Work: Freedom and Play in Froebel’s Educational Theory and Practice. Lutterworth Press

Montessori M. (1982) Secret of Childhood. Ballantine Books; Reissue edition.

Muller T., Schneider R. (2002). Montessori: Educational Material for Early Childhood and Schools. Prestel; Bilingual edition.


Technology and Educational toys:

Alborzi, H., Druin, A., Montemayor, J., Platner, M., Porteous, J., Sherman, L., Boltman, A., Tax´En, G., Best, J., Hammer, J., Kruskal, A., Lal, A., Plaisant-Schwenn, T., Sumida, L., Wagner, R., and Hendler, J. (2000) Designing StoryRooms: Interactive storytelling spaces for children. In Proceedings of Designing Interactive Systems (DIS-2000), ACM Press, 95–104.

Luckin, R, Connolly, D, Plowman, L and Airey, S (2003). Children’s interactions with interactive toy technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19, 165-176

McNerney T. (2004). From turtles to Tangible Programming Bricks: explorations in physical language design. In Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, Volume 8, Issue 5 (September 2004), Pages: 326 – 337.

Newton-Dunn H., Nakano H., Gibson J. (2003). Block Jam: A Tangible Interface for Interactive Music. Proceeding of the 2003 Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME-03), Montreal, Canada

O’Malley, C. Fraser, D. “Literature Review in Learning with Tangible Technologies.” Nesta Futurelab series. Report 12, 2005.

Resnick, M. “Behavior Construction Kits.” In Communications of the ACM, July 1993, pp. 64-71. July 1993, pp. 64-71. ACM

Resnick M. et al. (1998) Digital manipulatives: New toys to think with. Proceeding of CHI 1998.

Zuckerman O., Arida, S., and Resnick M. (2005). Extending Tangible Interfaces for Education: Digital Montessori-inspired Manipulatives. Proceedings of CHI 2005.


Good how-to books:

Basic Electronics:
Mims, F. III. Getting Started in Electronics. Radio Shack (1983).

Cabaret Mechanical Movement: Mechanisms and How to Make Automata and Mechanical Sculpture
. Cabaret Mechanical Publishing (April, 1998).