Dream Toy 2018


Co-design a tangible learning artifact with a child to be their “Dream Toy”. Learn about interviewing and co-designing while furthering prototyping skills.

Personal Learning Objectives:


My team had the pleasure of working with an eight-year-old girl. Throughout the process we aimed to design her a one-of-a-kind toy.

Interview Child:

First, we developed a protocol for the interview. Then we interviewed the child and analyzed our findings:

  • Favorite Toys:
    • Lego Dragon
      • Builds and plays with friends by creating narratives
      • Doesn’t always follows the instruction but does enjoy the creation process and leaves creations in tact
    • Codes
      • Enjoys the creation of weird symbols
      • About the process of creation rather than using them
    • Paper Airplanes
      • Builds, tests, iterates on designs and throwing methods
    • Mini-Weapon of Mass Destruction
      • Enjoys building and testing them to compare ranges against those stated in the book

We unpacked the interview notes and generated some insights into what excites the user the most:

  • She kept returning to the process of constructing and testing paper airplanes, a focal point of competition with friends
  • Game where they speak in code
  • She enjoys the Ninjago Lego series and a book series about dragons
  • She talked extensively about building and testing mini-weapons of mass destruction, based on a book series that instructs how to build and test weapons based on common household objects

Based on this, we identified core themes we would like to incorporate into the dream toy:

  • Airplanes, ships, etc.
  • Dragons
  • Role playing
  • Building
  • Narratives/stories imagination/world building
  • Testing and experimentation


Our team and the child found synergy in a toy that included the following components: 1) Shaped like a combo dragon-ship 2) Some part of the dragon moved 3) The dragon stored mini weapons 4) The dragon had airplanes attached to the wings that would then launch. We dubbed our toy “Flying Dragon Launcher”.

The learning goals for the Flying Dragon Launcher include:

  1. The user furthers her problem solving abilities by fine tuning spacial awareness of objects to solve the 3D puzzle.
  2. The user builds on her prior knowledge of mini-weapon and plane modeling to construct new objects that can be launched successfully.  
  3. The user experiences the mechanics of movement (i.e. dragon wings move because…)

Several design decisions were made to ensure a quality and functioning toy that could be assembled by the user.  First, the toy would still resemble a dragon (head, wings, and tail), but the body would be shaped like a boat. This was done both at her request and intentionally in order to allow us to build a “haul” to store additional tiny airplanes for launching. Moreover, leveraging the shape of a boat, allows us to develop a “launching pad” with a spring load to catapult airplanes. The entire toy would be built as a 3D puzzle using 2D shapes (similar to omni-animal).  At the same time, this design would allow us to create a “moving” dragon by enabling us to rig the dragon’s wings to mimic flying.

Test Prototype:

The Approach: Surveying

We met with the child and presented her with a box with the disassembled Dragon Voyageur. At the beginning of the user test, we asked her if she wanted to see the finished product first before beginning to build. She declined, asking that we let her build and if she got stuck, she would ask us for cues. The child had a vague idea of what we built her. She knew it was some sort of “dragon boat”. The child took the first 5 – 10 minutes evaluating each of the pieces before her. She then arranged the pieces in different piles according to their similarity.

Trial and Error: Debugging

Once the child finished surveying the pieces before her, she quickly dove in, studying each of the notches and making predictions about how the pieces would fit with one another. She was not afraid of trying pieces together and pulling them apart if she saw they didn’t fit. She would often take a step back to study what she was already building. We noticed that the child began by building the bottom of the ship first, upside down. This process allowed her to hold all of the pieces together. When she figured out that she had built the bottom of the ship, she asked for assistance flipping it over.


The child was honest with her feedback. She felt that building the Dragon Voyageur was challenging, although some aspects were easier than others. For example, she felt that building the base of the ship was easier than building the middle deck and figuring out how the masts fit. She realized towards the end of the session that she had mistakenly misplaced some of the pieces for the base of the ship in the wrong place. She walked us through all of the changes she would make to fit. Overall, she was able to put together 90% of the toy without any instructions. There were only three times where she asked for some guidance.

Our user test highlighted several areas for design improvement:

  1. Sturdiness – the child shared that a few of the pieces could be modified to fit more tightly together. Ultimately she wants to use her Dragon Voyageur in imaginary play, sailing through the “ocean” (i.e. the carpet).
  2. Wings – A wing broke during the transportation process, so we decided to make them thicker, sturdier, and more curved.
  3. Enclosure – the child was really keen on using the ship to store items (small toys). We decided to add side panels to the ship so that she has the ability to safely store precious cargo items near and dear to her heart.
  4. Deck modification – As a result of the previous request to enclose the ship, we removed one of the deck levels to give the haul more depth and storage space.
  5. Painting – the child enjoyed the wood finish and even considered painting the ship herself as an exciting future project.

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