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Toy and game designing in India is no child’s play says Suhasini Paul, the brain behind several successful board games designs.
By Aparna V. Singh
Suhasini did her post-graduation in Industrial Design from the National Institute of Design (NID) with a specialisation in toys and children products. Her mission is to provide children with opportunities of learning by doing.
She has worked as a design consultant with companies in India, China, Italy, the UK, USA and Germany. This woman entrepreneur founded Pink Elefant, a creative designing company, Suhasini also teaches design at NIFT, Delhi as a visiting faculty and is a guest speaker on the NDTV chat show, “Bringing up Baby”.
In this interview, Suhasini shares with us her insights on toy and game designing – an emerging field in the Indian design industry.
Let’s start from the basics. “Toy Design”: not really a field very well known in India. What exactly does it involve?
Toy design as a profession is at its nascent stage. The Indian toy industry is budding and untapped, it needs more toy designers. There is a huge market for toys internationally. The skills needed in this field are a creative bent of mind, a sense of humour and fantasy, strategic design thinking and a strong inclination towards play.
Toy design is multidisciplinary in nature. It revolves around the elements of product design, animation and human psychology. The scope of work revolves around Play Therapy, Cognitive Ergonomics, Colour & Composition, Material/ Media Technology, Study of Forms, Aesthetics, and Design Management.
Compared to relatively well known fields such as fashion or jewellery design, why did you choose to enter toy and game designing?
As a child I used to create my own toys and games. I had an inclination towards creative things and I found it calling while pursuing my B.E. in electrical engineering. At that time, I started a company called ‘Dreamz Decorations’. My work involved window displays and organising birthday parties for kids in my free time from studies.
I always wanted to do something for children and gradually discovered the lacuna in the toy industry. In 2002, the NID, Ahmedabad, started a new discipline – Toy Design and Development. I enrolled in 2003 and did my post-graduation in toy design.
As a game designer, what sources do you draw inspiration from when designing board games?
Design begins with observation and then identifying needs through in depth research. I am inspired by the behavior and experiences of children – physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and cultural.
For example, while designing a ‘water cycle’ game, I interacted with teachers, parents and children. While observing children, I was amazed by how they perceive things and depict them through their drawings, I used this tool as my user survey technique and asked about 25 -30 children of different age groups to draw a rainy day /season; I found my key elements in their drawings and this inspired my board game elements.
Another example – while designing a ‘space travel’ game, I studied extensively the text books of age group of children I was targeting. Interestingly, I found that children are studying planetary symbols which they find difficult to remember. I incorporated these symbols in the form of tokens so that they could relate each planet to its symbol using the token during play – that too in a fun way.
How about play as a part of education? Is this concept catching on or restricted to a very small number of schools still?
During my research, I found that in many schools, teachers were using the board games, puzzles or flash cards for making learning fun. Children pick up subjects which they otherwise find difficult and boring, faster through this method.
The concept of playful learning has taken on new dimensions and the schools which believe in participatory education are incorporating such techniques of teaching and learning. The numbers of such schools is increasing day by day. Very soon educational games will be a part of every child’s growing up years.
This may be a hard one to answer, but of the different products you’ve been involved with, which one would you pick as a favourite? Why?
Well, I have worked on various children’s products such as lunch boxes, water bottles, and pencil boxes, adding play value to them. However, I enjoy designing Board Games the most. As a game designer, making strategies for board games while imparting knowledge is a challenge by itself, as I have to play the game from both the ends.
‘Water Cycle’ the first board game I designed, is very close to my heart. I designed it in 2005 and it’s still selling successfully in 14 countries all over the globe. It has been well appreciated by teachers in India since helps children to learn their Environmental Basics through play. As part of the game, the child moves to different places on a path and in the process, learns about nature’s water cycle and the journey of water through different places and in many forms.
At a national level Talent Hunt conducted in 2005 by the National Design Business Incubator (NDBI) in association with NID, Suhasini was among the 7 ‘designpreneuers’ honoured for their work and the only woman in the group.
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