Maeve Jopson and Cynthia Poon are co-founders of Increment, a company that designs inclusive developmental toys for children of all ability levels, including their first sensory learning toy, O-Rings.
Jopson and Poon spoke with Providence Business News about the O-Rings, their ongoing Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign and plans ahead.
PBN: What inspired the two of you to found Increment. Why the interest in creating developmental toys for children?
JOPSON and POON: Our collaborative degree project at RISD, was a research intensive journey to understand accessibility in play and education. We founded Increment to turn our degree project into something bigger, to continue our efforts and relationships with the kids, parents, teachers, and specialists we’ve met along the way. We wanted to bring our creations into the real world, and we wanted to be able to address the need for inclusion in the toy market directly.
Our interest in creating developmental toys stems from a range of paths. As designers, we learn and work through play, exploration, and discovery. With values in inclusion, universal design, childhood development, and education, we recognize that many skills that we use as adults need to be addressed in childhood, from gross motor and sensory development to empathy and interpersonal skills. Bringing together the nature of our personal work with the stories and research we’ve gathered, we want to make better toys for all children, regardless of ability, age, or gender.
PBN: How do Increment’s O-Rings help children of all ability levels learn through play and foster inclusivity in a way that other toys might not?
JOPSON and POON: The O-Rings are a multi-sensory toy that provides opportunities for social play, gross motor play, and sensory integration. Created in collaboration with our users, the O-Rings are open-ended for children of all abilities to be able to learn and discover on their own, but they allow for flexibility in guided play as well. To promote the idea of learning through play, we created the O-Rings to be a basic, platform toy that grows with children as they develop their skill set. Focusing on active play, we used a variety of materials and fillings that act as cues for a variety of senses, as well as moments of discovery.
New products today are very techy and based on apps, and toys are also moving towards this trend, catering mainly to the sense of sight. These products leave little to learn for kids who need a range of sensory feedback, including those with vision impairment or motor impairments. For children without special needs, sensory feedback is especially important for infants and toddlers as they are learning about the world around them through the senses. Through universal design and simplicity, we wanted to enhance the experience of touch, weight, and movement with the O-Rings, for all kids to play and explore together.
PBN: What has the development process been like for the O-Rings and how did you settle on the final design?
JOPSON and POON: We love to play, and we love to incorporate play into our work. Throughout our process, we did a lot of brainstorming, sketching, rapid-making, laughing, and scrapping of ideas, and we learned from all of it. After researching and interviewing, we wrote down our observations, and looked for gaps and opportunities in classrooms, sensory gyms, playgrounds, and homes. We looked at toys, school and therapy activities, methods of learning, and physical spaces, and then created concepts around them. Some of our concepts were a little bit absurd (like a foam puzzle-piece rocking chair), but by playfully exploring these ideas, and creating physical sketch models of them, we were able to reach interesting conclusions and gain real feedback from the specialists we work with.
PBN: If your Indiegogo campaign to fund manufacture of the O-Rings is successful, how do you plan to market and sell the toy? If it is unsuccessful, what's your next step?
JOPSON and POON: After crowdfunding, we will launch the O-Rings on The Grommet, a product launching platform, which will be a great way to reach individual consumers. We are also targeting schools, therapists, and libraries, and the catalogs and specialty retailers that provide their products. If our goal is not met through Indiegogo, we will certainly take a step back to evaluate our strategy. However, the response from schools and other organizations has been overwhelmingly positive, and we will continue to push forward to put the O-Rings into production.
PBN: What other products or projects do you have planned for Increment going forward?
JOPSON and POON: We have a few other toys in the works, and next up is the PlayMap! It is a faceted, textured foam globe that unfolds into a flat map of the world and has magnetic connections. Each of our products is designed as a platform toy, meaning that the first version will be very simple, but it can then be expanded into its own line of toys with varying complexity and add-on features.