Play is Under Attack.
Play is an essential part of life, and this is even more true for children – Play is the lens through which they understand and interact with the people and the world around them.
However, play is under attack. The same siloed thinking that dominated the 20th century has warped our understanding of play. Nowadays play is seen as an activity or reward that has its own time allocated to it, like homework, dinner and sleep time. And a less important one at that – in our increasingly busy lives it is often play that ends up being shortened or cut out all together.
Playgrounds are modern inventions
to respond to specific needs of a era.
The playground is, in fact, a relatively new addition to our urban landscape. It is a modern invention made to address the specific needs and problems of the times and society of industrialisation, as the London Underground made around the same time. After their first appearance just over 150 years ago, playgrounds quickly spread around the world with similar shapes and designs.
Society is changing,
but playgrounds haven’t adapted.
Society has changed a lot since the first playground opened in Manchester in 1859. As playgrounds are man-made structures in response to a particular social need, they should have evolved under the influence of the culture and society of their time. As we can see, while playgrounds have changed its shape and material, the key ingredients that make up playgrounds have gone largely unchanged.
"Speculative Design isn’t future forecasting,
its depicts a future in an attempt to shape the current conversation."
How can we integrate Speculative Design into a Holistic design process and thinking?
Speculative design identifies and debates crucial issues that might happen in the future by building a product or service within a future context. This context is neither utopia nor dystopia, but a blend of both to form a believable future vision. Within this context, the aim is not to present commercially driven design proposals but to design proposals that identify and debate crucial issues that might happen in the future. It explores future scenarios and innovative design propositions for tackling grand challenges, and develop and prototype future service offerings for relevant verticals in the private and public sectors inspired by the big shifts that shape new ways of living.
Why Speculative design on this project?
For many businesses, including LondonPlay, breaking out of the day-to-day challenges can seem like an impossible task. Fund raising, maintaining facilities and ensuring the children are well is more than a day's work. However, given the magnitude of the current threats to play, paired with the certain key trends, the future challenge (and future opportunity) is too big to leave out. We felt that a speculative design project would help the team break out of their day-to-day challenges and see the bigger picture: they are not just creators and maintainers of playgrounds, but an extension of children’s rooms, a home away from home, and a vital community service for many families.
Play is a medium through which children socialise.
Play is not the main attraction at adventure Playground. Before we visited Barnard Park adventure Playground and spent time with the children there, we thought the main attraction of the playground were the play structures. The reason why children visit the playground is to use the play facilities. After visiting multiple times and spending time with the children there, it became clear that there was a deeper reason for going to the adventurous playground. The infrastructure acts as the child equivalent of grabbing a drink - a medium through which they socialise.
Observing play through the lens of an adult, we come away with the impression that all children want to do is to burn off energy running around. However, a shift in perspective reveals play as something more complex than just children engaging with equipment. For children, play is not simply about swings and slides, but is social life itself. Play equipment, such as seesaws and climbing frames are mediums through which children socialise with their peers. The playground is a space where children can explore their social lives, form deep bonds with their friends, and grow.
Future signals are pointing the direction of extreme Efficiency and Precise Personalisation.
The keywords that will cut across all areas of future society are extreme efficiency and personalisation. Advances in technology represented by AI, automation, big data, and hyper-connectivity will change our society in unprecedented ways across all areas.
Children might lack shared experiences, where they learn and build relationships.
What will this potential future society mean for children and play? By looking at this future scenario through the lens of defined value, 'relationship', we could conclude that the extremely efficient and personalised future can lead to a lack of shared experiences between children.
In a future society focused on extreme efficiency and personalised experiences,
How might we leverage technological advancement to create a play environment that can bring meaningful shared experiences to strengthen children’s relationship with their friends, society, nature and themselves?
Introducing... Ministry of Play
Our intervention is set in the not-so-distant future of 2032, where play is under attack by extreme efficiency and advanced personalisation. Under the umbrella of the Ministry of Play, we explore a future where play is integrated into the daily lives of children. Here, play serves as a medium for children to explore practical implications of the learning, deepen their connection to each other, their surroundings, and themselves. Our mission is to protect children's play, social lives and well-being. We achieve this by taking a holistic child-centric view of society, enabling us to provide integrated child centric services.
This report is not the end of the project, it is another beginning.
Based on the Future Vision Report, the primary outcome of this project, we are planning to develop a prototype curriculum with actual play workers and teachers at schools. In addition, we are hosting a collaboration project that across courses within the Royal College of Art. This project will be introduced at the International Play Conference in Glasgow this June with the project partner London Play.