In 2014, a UX consulting firm called PXD carried out a Playground UX Project that uses a contextual inquiry approach. For more than 100 hours over a span of six months, they observed parents and children at several playgrounds and interviewed more than 10 groups of parents and children for more than 90 minutes each. The purpose was to understand the user experience and significance of playgrounds from the child’s perspective. As opposed to asking question from the point of view of adults like “What is the best playground design?” or “What are playgrounds for?” they asked “What experience do children have at playgrounds?” from a child’s perspective. They determined the frequent user groups by timeframe over the course of a day, categorizing the children by their type of playing and looked for what kind of play routines gave children the most enjoyment. This project shows how UX analysis can be applied to projects other than mobile, web, tablet and other IT device screen designing. It also shows how playground designers can offer better solutions when they analyze user preferences to discern hidden interests.
A Day at the Playground
PXD analysts observed playgrounds from noon to 7 p.m. to investigate how playgrounds were being used. They found that nursery school children occupied the playground from noon to 1 p.m. At 2 p.m., elementary school students take over. By 4 p.m., they’re joined by kids their own age who had to go to private institutions after school was out. Between 3 and 4 p.m. parents showed up wheeling their preschoolers in a stroller. According to the findings, the analysts categorized users by age (nursery schoolers, preschoolers and elementary students) and the time in which they were at the playground.
Two Types of Elementary Students
At playgrounds, kids either play in a group or by themselves. Groups can also be categorized into two types: Family types have close relationships based on their school classes or the private institution they attend, while Party types are those that are spontaneously formed on the spot.
Party type groups, however, seemed to have trouble while they were playing. Therefore, their play time didn’t last long. There were external factors (moms telling them to leave, conflicts with private institution schedules, or a lack of objects to play with) and internal factors (differences in play preferences and characters) that hindered interactions among Party type children. In addition, Party type children were unfamiliar with each other and so it took a little time to break the ice. Also, they were only able to get involved with others quickly if they had a clear object to play with. Furthermore, they often found that they had different rules for same kind of playing. As a result, different rules would often put an end to the playtime.
The first option to avoid these four hindrances could be a hammock. Character or preference does not get in the way of playing with a hammock because children can immediately engage in role-playing by either getting in with or pushing the person in the hammock. The second option was “ground play,” like hopscotch, for example, something with clear rules that could help children interact with each another.
Two Types of Single Players
Single players can also be divided into two types: “overstayers” (those who stay for a long span of time) and visitors (those who stop by). Both found it hard to join others’ groups. In particular, overstayers didn’t have a chance to play for a long time despite the fact they were there for a long time. They were either playing at several playgrounds or left alone in a playground waiting for their friends to join them. Consequently, it’s important to shorten the waiting time and to extend the duration of playing with friends for this type of single player. For these kids, ropes or hills can help them “stealthily” approach their peer groups and play along.
Two Types of Parents with Strollers
Interviews with parents found that they didn’t have positive thoughts about playgrounds. They were sending out their children because they had no other options, so they didn’t attach any significance to the experience or make full use of the space. There are two groups of parents accompanying their children to the playgrounds. Those who want to have their own time at the entrance of the playground while their children are playing, and those who are having a good time with their children at the playground. Additionally, dads didn’t know how to play with their kids even if they wanted to spend time with their children. All they could do was follow their children around the playground. Parents need some kind of play structure where they can interact with their kids. Swings and hopscotch are good examples of parent-child interaction because the adults can instruct the children how to do this.
Playgrounds Are for Interacting
There are four steps to playing. It starts with a single child waiting or wandering around. Next, they are joined by other kids their age. Third, they form a group and play with one another. Finally, they have fun playing. We defined this magical moment and stage of interplay as the “Magic Circle.” When they are provided with enough space to run around and the appropriate play equipment, children tend to set stages—like hell, heaven or prison—at a playground and that’s the amazing moment when they experience the extreme joy of playing. Also, kids have a special experience of “dreaming with their open eyes” at a playground. This is where the imaginative world meets reality, with rules in place that children made on their own and uninterrupted by adults’ direction or expectations. That’s why we need something—an instructor or equipment, for instance—that can help children develop social skills at playgrounds.
* Contextual inquiry (CI) is a user-centered design (UCD) research method and part of Contextual Design methodology. A contextual inquiry interview is usually structured as an approximately two-hour, one-on-one interaction in which the researcher watches the user carry out their normal activities and then later discusses what they observe with the user.