My researched started with my dissertation where I answered ‘Can the way children play help society achieve gender equality?’ and the answer was yes. During my desk research I looked at the types of play that children are exposed to. Based on this I picked to focus on role playing and dolls/action figures as they reinforce society stereotypes because children imitate their environment in the way they play.
Based on interviews with industry experts from companies such as Fischer Price and Hasbro, I confirmed that the way children internalize stereotypes consists of 4 steps. First, they observe their surroundings (i.e. TV, family and friends, toys). Second, they learn from them. Third, they mimic the same behavior. Fourth, they repeat the actions they have seen, often adopting gender and/or race stereotypes around them.
In addition to children imitating their environment I noticed that the toys that were being used during play reinforced the stereotypes. In the toy shops I noticed there was a clear divide between the ‘boys’ section in blue and the ‘girls’ pink section. There was no figure that tried to target both genders and they often had white skin. In addition, the type of language used was different for each gender, for boys ‘adventure’ was key while for girls it was about ‘caring’ or ‘nurturing’ others.
From my research I set out to go against the typical human body figures of actual skin colors that were already in the stores. I wanted to create something that no matter who was playing with it the play was centered around creating and accepting that everyone is different rather than having to chose a toy that represented a certain ethnicity and/or gender.
First, I started by sketching different ideas and scenarios that could help me see how different toys would be used by kids and what they needed to have in order to be fun and useful.
Second, I created quick prototypes that were good enough to test and start reiterating based on feedback from kids and parents. The Eeps started as hard shapes that had removable and movable parts. However, I found that was too restricting to the kids and too reminicent of the Potato Head toy. That is when the shift to soft bodies with fabric that could hold Velcro happened. Now, all the parts were able to stick everywhere on the body.
As the prototypes were moving into higher fidelity I started defining colors, patterns and the story of The Eeples. My final test were fully functional prototypes with two siblings aged 4 and 7. Their reactions were priceless and this project was a success based on how much they interacted with the toys.
The Eeples are aliens from the planet of Biru, where everyone is different and no one has a name. Everyday they change their looks and they’re all known as Eep. This makes their planet very entertaining because they can always meet someone and learn something new. Now, they’ve come to Earth to help the hoomans embrace their own quirks.
The packaging for The Eeples doubles as their ‘spacebox.’ So, when they came from space they could bring all their favorite parts with them. In Biru, the Eeples have no name and their story is very different to ours, that’s why their spacebox comes with instructions and encourages kids to name their little Eep.
This project was a success with the kids that helped me test it and I am very happy with the final outcome. If I was iterating on this further I would like to explore more the types of materials I used.