Bridge the Digital/Physical Divide with NICO: A 360-Degree Camera Toy


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This semester's Product, Brand, and Experience class—taught by Aruliden co-founders Rinat Arul and Johan Liden, focused on "social movements and the processes by which they can become inextricably linked to physical product and the marketplace." (Think Hells Angels + Harley Davidson.) Students were asked to explore an up-and-coming social movement or trend, and then to develop representative, even iconic, products. 

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The designers—Isioma Iyamah, Leila Santiago de Oliveira Santos, and Eden Lew—initially explored technology-mediated connectivity and impermanence. They investigated the intersection of virtual and augmented reality with social media, and developed products that merged the two.

The movement they settled on aimed to bridge the gap between digital and physical play. While digital media such as video and photo are emerging as children’s primary means of play, exploration and communication, physical outdoor play is in decline. Children are retreating behind screens. 

The team believed that their product offerings—while contemporary—would occupy too niche a marketplace, so they shifted their focus to children’s interactions with technology. The movement they settled on aimed to bridge the gap between digital and physical play. They found that while digital media such as video and photo are emerging as children’s primary means of play, exploration and communication, physical outdoor play was in decline. Children are retreating behind screens.

Nico, a 360-degree camera toy companion, provides children with an entry point to the digital world, allowing them to remain firmly anchored to the real world by engaging their sense of adventure and imagination...and encouraging them to go outside!

The design team argues that "Nico is environment versatile. This means users can take Nico anywhere—outdoors, indoors, under water. Kids can drop her into in washing machine or tumble with her through grass." Nico's multiple camera lenses allow her to record her surroundings close up, then and show her users new perspectives and vantage points. Her bendable, magnet-tipped arms allow Nico to clasp onto things like branches or or stick to items like steel poles—useful for recording spaces that her playmates can't otherwise get to! 

Leila, Eden and Isioma went from a very adult, sophisticated and perhaps alien brand to a playful, warm and childish one. This is reflected in their below brand identity. 
 

The designers developed packaging that doubled as a “home” for Nico. Components include die-cut Nico furniture, and also incorporated materials for abstract diorama construction. This provides young users the tools and materials to create physical environments alongside their small companion. In-store display also encourages interactive user participation. Children visiting the MoMA design store, for example, would have the opportunity to build large-scale, multilevel dioramas, and then use the device to see their creations from Nico’s point of view!

The designers had a lot of fun concepting and creating Nico. "In designing Nico, we were able to bring some of our childhood adventure fantasies to life—using both technology and analog methods." They add, "Young children of today’s generations are at a crossroads, and embracing the digital shouldn't negate the physical. We want to set out youngsters to exploring the world again, and perhaps this toy will prompt them to do just that."