Turning Kids & VR Research into Physical Prototypes

Dylan Yamada-Rice

A year ago Dubit co-produced and hosted one of the roadshow events organised by Alison Norrington of StoryCentral for the Children’s Media Foundation on the topic of children and Virtual Reality. Our involvement in this work provides an example of how research, design and development can marry up well.

The Research

The event at Dubit focused on bringing together industry experts and academics on the topic of ‘crossing physical and virtual worlds in children’s VR’.

The event started with an introduction to an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project on design standards for location-based immersive experiences by Professor Steve Love of Glasgow School of Art. Following this, I shared insights into Dubit’s ‘Children and VR’ study with a particular emphasis on the data and findings that showed how children wanted easier ways to acclimatise from physical to virtual world. Dubit also shared it’ s perspectives on telling narratives across physical and virtual domains.

The final two presentations came from Eleanor Dare of Royal College of Art about her AR books and Professor Mark Mon Williams of the University of Leeds who talked how design could help alleviate some of the pressure VR places on some children’s eyes.

Following this event Alison Norrington produced a set of guidelines and prompts based on the outcomes of the presentations and emerging discussions:


The prompt sheet shown above was used as the basis for three briefs that I created for MA Information Experience Design and Digital Directions students at the Royal College of Art, where I also work. Using the story of the ‘Gruffalo’ by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler as the basis for exploration, students and industry mentors worked together to respond to one of the following three briefs:

  1. How can VR content be designed so as provide an opportunity for children to engage with the emotions of the narrative?
  2. How can children be provided with a friendly and engaging means of moving from physical to virtual world, in a way that also connects to the story?
  3. How can VR content be designed so that the placement of interactive elements in the VR narrative does not put pressure on children’s posture nor overwhelm their field of vision.

Concept 1 by Victor Lander, Izabela Duszenko, Juliette Coquet and Sindi Breshani

The team writes:

“We set ourselves a goal to change how a VR headset looks and make its connection to the Gruffalo story seamless. To do this, we invented a Magic Book: where half of the story is told in a traditional format, through text and pictures, and other half can be experienced though VR lenses embedded in the book itself. Our focus was on the ways the passage from “reading a book” to “a VR experience” would be most seamless for a kid…

…We came up with 2 concepts, an additive and a transformative one. The additive idea is that a child reads the traditional story up to the point in the story where the mouse meets the Gruffalo, and then experiences the rest of the story from a point of view of the Gruffalo while in VR.

The transformative idea emerged because we thought it would be great for a child to start “preparing” for the role of the Gruffalo by removing the elements of the character’s body from the story, (i.e. the “terrible tusks” and “terrible claws”, etc), and turning them into the elements of a physical costume. To do so, the book would encourage children to remove these elements of the Gruffalo’s body from the book and add them to their own so that by the time the child enters the VR element of the story he/she will already be dressed as the protagonist of the story.

Prototyping "Ears"

Once transformed into the Gruffalo the virtual experience is to search for the mouse in the forest. This would allow children to enjoy the search but also free-play which was another key finding from the CVR report. “

Concept 2 by Yiming Yang and Hengshi Kang

Concept two was based on the idea of removing the need for hand-held controllers to navigate the virtual world, which essentially is not something an animal from the Gruffalo would be able to do. Instead the ability to move in the VR forest was controlled by a set of whiskers attached to the VR headset. When the whiskers come into contact with virtual content, such as a tree in the Gruffalo forest, then they vibrate and can be felt on the user’s cheeks thus bringing about a sense of immersion as if the audience is one of the animal characters in the story.

This blog post has aimed to show how Dubit and myself are working hard to link research and interactive development. Research provides the basis to make good design choices about products for children. Working with an art school offers the opportunity to experiment in a way that is not as easily available in an industry setting confined by time and budgets.

Feel free to get in touch for further details.

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