By Zoe Clark

 

The future of education and learning is both exciting and dynamic; it is a field in a continuous state of evolution. Pushing at the forefront of this change are two recent RISD graduates, Maeve Jopson (ID ’13) and Cynthia Poon(ID ’13), founders of the company Increment.

Maeve and Cynthia spent their senior year degree project developing a series of sensory learning toys for the blind and were able to test their toys (O-rings and Halflaps) at the Meeting Street School. Brought together by a shared passion to change the world and a love of education and health, these two Industrial Designers are pushing what it means to experience learning. Currently, they are Marker Fellows at Betaspring and further establishing Increment.

With the Toys for Rehabilitation workshop fresh on our minds, D+H was excited to asked Increment a few questions:

Your degree project was a partnership. How did you guys come to work together? What do you each bring to the group?  

The first class we had together was Production Ceramics during our Junior Year, and after that, we just kept running into each other. We were then placed in a group together in Design for Entrepreneurship. It’s all been very serendipitous. That was the project that started it all–the PlayMap. It’s our baby. Throughout the project we began to recognize the many things we have in common: similar core values, love of an iterative design process, need for collaboration, fascination with health and education, a desire to change the world, and the inexplicable need to regularly work until 5 in the morning.

Toward the end fall semester senior year, we discussed the idea of starting a company together, and we decided that the best way to decide if we really wanted to do it, was to do a collaborative degree project. Our chemistry as a design duo was just too much to ignore. We learned quickly how to balance each other’s personalities and work styles. Maeve is broad-thinking, word-vomiting, and multi-tasks a little too much. Cynthia is nit-picky, detail oriented, and hyper focused. Since meeting, our antics have rubbed off on one another, and together, we’ve turned into a weird, but balanced combination of opposing qualities.

While we are constantly collaborating, co-designing, and now cohabiting, it’s rare that one of us is seen without the other. We spend so much time together that we can start/finish each other’s sentences, and we somehow end up wearing matching outfits.

Were there any surprising constraints or requirements you encountered while designing for your user group (initially the blind)? Things maybe a seeing child wouldn’t be very aware of?

We began our degree project by revisiting research. Heavily. It’s something that we place a lot of value in, and especially with our user group, it is the best way to get to know their needs. Even though we had worked on a fairly similar project only months before, we knew there were still gaps in our knowledge of how these kids learn. We knew that there was more to it than just add textures to everything, and we wanted to gather as much information from users and experts as possible to avoid any incorrect or condescending assumptions. We met so many awesome people along the way, and building these relationships was a very humbling experience.

During our time at Meeting Street School, we spent a fair amount of time shadowing physical therapy in the Sensory Integration Gyms, which are rooms filled with mats, ball pits, swings, therapy balls, and toys that stimulate the senses. These rooms were fascinating to us because they were used by all of the children, with and without disabilities for therapy and play. These spaces are particularly beneficial for blind children (who often have additional cognitive or physical disabilities) to train their bodies to balance, orient themselves, and move around independently. The “why” behind this hybrid of play and therapy was what really inspired us: through this, kids gain skills to learn to walk with a cane, but even to develop pre-braille dexterity, and other skills for independent living.

It seemed that iteration and model making were really important to your process, usually met with many late nights in studio–any funny/crazy stories from one of these nights?

There isn’t really just one story, but our approach to senior studio got a bit nuts. Or we got a bit nuts. By the last few weeks of the semester, our play-mess had spread over several classmates’ desks… We would just kind of ooze over onto their workspaces when they weren’t in studio. We had one table that we had taken over, entirely dedicated to making the mold and casting the Half Laps. There was clay, and fiberglass, and plaster, and expanding foam EVERYWHERE. Eventually we actually just bought our own shop vac.

We had also stolen tools from just about everyone on our floor (and from some other floors as well), and consistently left these obscenely large messes in our wake. The cleaning staff actually just stopped cleaning up after us for a while. We don’t blame them. And of course it was awesome when, on that last night/morning, at about 5am before our crit, some of the cleaning ladies came in to wish us good luck (and good riddance).

You were able to test many of your ideas with a local user group at Meeting Street School. What was it like seeing your toys being used?

Incredible. It is amazing to be able to watch how our toys can fit into real-life education and therapy. Seeing a kid play with something you designed, with a huge smile on her face, is pretty much the best feeling ever. It’s a feeling that’s addicting, motivating, and so encouraging. It made all those late nights worth it, and we look forward to plenty more.

What can we expect from Increment in the future?

We’re currently Maker Fellows at Betaspring, taking part in the fall session as newbies in the startup world. It’s been an awesome experience for us so far, since we get to shadow all the events and programming, pitch with the rest of the cohort, and mingle with mentors, without having to deal with the investment/equity tradeoff. The program itself is a bootcamp environment, and it’s got us hard at work on fundraising, networking, and finalizing the O-Rings, which will be our first product to bring to market. Kickstarter coming soon!

On the product development side, we will be branching out to work with kids on the autism spectrum, as well as those with more physical impairments such as cerebral palsy, and creating toys and equipment accessible to their needs.

In addition to production and further product development, we’re really invested in the relationships we’ve formed along the way, so we are planning to hold some community based play events in the near future. Lots of kids, lots of play, lots of fun.

Anything else you want to comment on, or include?

We’ll be presenting at Betaspring’s Launch Day event on November 14th, and we’d love to have you there! Can we get some RISD folk to cheer us on?

Also, feel free to learn more at our super bare-bones website, incrementstudios.com! Contact us at hi@incrementstudios.com, follow us at incrementstudios.tumblr,com, and tweet at us @IncrementTweets! All of the social media!

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