Play - The process

The benefit of corporate and society doesn’t have to be separated.

“Business and social innovation live in separate worlds, and speak different languages. As the need to make humans more creative and society more resilient becomes central to corporations’ ability to grow, it’s time to change that.”
Cheryl Heller, Chair, MFA Design for Social innovation, SVA

According to Heller, social design takes that one step further. Design a system that supports the people and infrastructure that makes the products and helps them be more creative and innovative. It's about using design to benefit people, both inside companies and out in society, and in the process, strengthening business.

When I first started working on the Play project in response to the RSA brief, I really had no idea what could be the outcomes. The brief challenges on how might we support all families, carers and communities to play and learn more creatively outside of school environment. For me, it sounded impossible. How could a graphic designer solve these kinds of complex issues? We are not an organization, not a company, obviously not related to any policymaker. Should I just design an object of play despite the fact that there are already so many great designs out there (the brilliant Ken Garland, for example)? Or designing a play teaching kit that could be used just a few times? Then what could people do next? How can we make play sustainable?

There were times when I struggled with what I intended to do. Could this be a communication campaign, a product or a branding project? I was inspired by the book “Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America.”

“Forward-looking and optimistic, these designers believed that play was not adjacent to their process, but essential to it.” Most remarkable for me was the expression of Charles and Ray Eames that encapsulated: “Take your pleasure seriously.” It was from here my design direction slowly took shape.

From Serious Play book

There, I discovered the Alcoa Forecast program in 1956. It broadcasted several ways of promoting aluminum materials through design and creativity. The company hoped to influent purchasers of aluminum and aluminum products. Alcoa developed an innovative advertising program. Leading designers fostered a forward-thinking vision for aluminum to the consuming public:

“a design program… that puts dream thinking to a new and serious purpose.”

The designers were asked to provide not a product to manufacture but an intriguing concept - from housewares to home furnishing and packaging to playthings - that would generate original thinking in others. What Alcoa’s Forecast sought was a picture of trends, directions, and possibilities in the future. Furthermore, Alcoa asked more than twenty leading designers between 1956-1960 to create a visually captivating prototype that employed one or more aluminum’s many forms in ways that demonstrated the advantages of the metal.

From Serious Play book

I was very much intrigued by the campaign. First, it empowered people’s imagination and celebrated innovation. Second, it was a program designed to support the people and infrastructure that the corporate was benefiting on. What if I could create a similar program to promote Play? In order to influent the public at large, I think that the project should be at a much bigger scale, and collaboration is a way to make it happens. We could create a Play program and call out to artists, designers, and creatives to come up with ideas and concepts of Play based on the given unity visual identity of the program itself. It should not be limited in what kind of product because ‘Play’ is holistic. It can be a toy, an idea for a game, furniture, a playground, a magazine…. The possibilities are endless. So that it could be an open-ended play.

Having a unity branding identity for the program is very important. It will act as a visual framework that allows the public to recognise it easily.

The brand identity contains visual elements to be incorporated into future designs, whether it's an app, product, or magazine… giving those various designs a unity look and feel.

The geometry shapes felt just right, as geometry is the fundamental shape of all things. For example, children learn to draw or recognise something; they often first associate with basic shapes, such as circles, rectangles, squares, and cylinders. So from here, my visual expression was formed and the project's objective became clear.


Creating opportunities to play at anywhere, anytime. Sometimes it's almost like a spontaneous interaction. The solution is to create opportunities for people to find joys in interacting with their surroundings.


Back to the concept of Play, our modern society is not lacking playfulness in design, but how many of those are affordable and easy to reach for people in need? The wonderful Play objects or toys that I found during the research for this project are either more on the expensive side or didn't have enough exposure to general public (thinking of Miller Goodman’s toys, designers’ objects or Lego’s are not affordable in low-income countries…). I don’t feel like it's play that some people can get on a daily basis. Play should be in daily activities, spontaneous and inspiring despite different situations and backgrounds. Everyone should have access to it within their communities. That's why I think making this project a collaboration program would broaden the accessibility of Play, making it adaptable and feasible for developing countries by working with local communities. On the other hand, it could be an opportunity for brands and corporates to get closer to people and do more for communities through collaborations.

“The traditional purview of corporate design is making objects and other artifacts. The traditional view of designers is as talented (but somewhat narrow and usually outside) experts who apply their personal vision to the creation of products, communications and services. The value of traditional design is measured by its direct contribution to bottom line. Companies that produce sustainable products understand that you need to consider the entire system of which that product is a part.”
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