Gimble: introducing kids to team sports

My team and I carried out this project at Politecnico di Milano, in partnership with IDEO and Stanford University as part of my MSc in Product-Service System Design

The problem: how might we help shy kids enjoy team sports?

Through a range of Design Thinking methods we came up with a solution: Gimble.
Gibmle introduces kids to sport using motion sensors and music as means to support the physical activities and facilitate the interaction among them.

Year & location

2015 - Milano, Italy

Category of work

Service Design, Business Design, Industrial Design

Team composition

Service Designers [x5]

What's Gimble

Our team was tasked with finding an unmet need in the sports industry and we decided to investigate why many young kids don’t enjoy practicing sports.
We began by carrying out desk research and consulted with experts to understand the problem and find any untapped opportunity.

Our research showed that shyness is a common factor among kids who are deemed to be“lazy”.
The period of most rapid development of motor behaviors and relational skills is between 2 and 6 years of age so we decided to focus on a solution that would help young kids overcoming shyness barriers while encouraging physical activity.

By conducting further research we learned how psychologists rely on music to improve interactions between people, and facilitate the creation of new relationships.
Looking at how might we use music to help young kids get into team sports, we came up with a range of concept ideas and we focused on one: Gimble.

Gimble is an educational course that introduces kids to sports using motion sensors and music as playful ways to support physical activities and encourage interaction with others.

For each thematic lesson, kids movements are highlighted by sounds, helping them to perform specific activities. For instance, when motion sensors detect two kids jumping in sync, the loud speakers play a cheering “boooing”.

While learning about sensors to assemble a prototype, we devised a group activity and tested the product-service idea with a few kids and their families.
As a result, the concept received the interests of the Italian Psychomotricity Association for exploring potential further developments.

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“The feedback may be very useful for the development of regular motor activities - walking, running or jumping.
One of the problems of children is the difficulty in maintaining a rhythm.
Sound feedback will make it easier - and fun.”

Anne Marie Aline Wille, Psychomotrician and musician

The full story

Exploratory research

The final course of the MSc in Product Service System Design aimed at guiding students through the entire process of developing a commercially viable innovative idea to solve an existing problem in a defined sector.
Our team was tasked to focus on young people in the sport industry and, having looked at case studies to find inspiration, we started conducting design research. By carrying out extensive desk research and asking to parents with young kids what problems they were experiencing, we found out that, for many children, engaging in team sports is very challenging.

Between the two and four years of age, children go through a phase of "strangers’ anxiety" as they become afraid of people they don’t know. They experience an abrupt jump from being alone to be in big groups. It’s estimated that between 20% and 48% of children have shy personalities.

We also found that the reason why some kids face difficulties when interacting for the first time in big group sports is that they were not introduced early enough to sport. This might lead to problems later in their life, like difficulties in relationships with others or in participating in physical activities.

While some argue that it’s never too early to get kids active and involved in team sports, most experts believe that the focus should be on general movement and play, not learning specific sports skills. What’s important is that kids develop self-body awareness and learn to interact with others.

Concept development

As we realised how beneficial can be the use of music to facilitate interaction between people, we came up with a range of ideas that would rely on melodies and sounds to help children internalize basic motor skills while playing with others.

Initially, we wondered ‘what if a kid could make music by jumping around?’ and we started to explore this early idea further to see how could it’d meet our objectives.
We discovered psychomotricity and ‘giocodanza’, two disciplines that help children develop self-awareness so we reached out to some instructors to learn more about their activities and see if they were interested in co-designing the idea further with us.

Over the following few weeks, with their help and through a series of research and ideation activities, we refined the concept and got ready to prototype it.

The concept

Gimble is a course dedicated to children between 2 and 6 years of age.
During each lesson, the child is introduced to a range of activities within an imaginary, playful context. S/He is the character of an engaging story and the adult who facilitates becomes their guide and helper.

Kids are eased into each fictional environment with the help of background sounds. For example, might the theme be ‘a pirate adventure’, speakers would play adventurous melodies, parrots chirps, sounds of the sea and cannon explosions.

All participants wear sensors to wrists and ankles to track their body in the space. Datas are then interpreted by a software and translated into sounds associated to specific movements. Onomatopeic sounds are closest to the child, and easier to distinguish. Let’s take the pirates environment: a jump over an obstacle is underlined by an adventurous explosion.

Following the theories of psychomotricity, objects in use during each lesson are chosen for their "non-strong meaning".
With the help of sounds and music, kids can transform them in their imagination and give them a different meaning according to each activity’s theme.

In a “pirates” themed lesson, every time a child jumps inside a rope displayed as a circle, Gimble produces a sound of water, transforming the rope into a puddler; a ground line becomes the bridge of the boat, a sheets tunnel becomes the undergrowth of a forest.

From a technological perspective, we wanted to ensure our idea was going to be feasible.
We came across some relatively inexpensive Arduino prototypes that used sensors like gyroscopes to detect position and movement in the space. To start with, we estimated the costs of producing those devices by oursleves; however, as we also looked for any existing solution, we found Notch - a company producing exactly the kind of devices we were after.

The business logic

As we moved into designing the business logic, we explored a range of business models - and we eventually focused on training and licensing childhood professionals instead of providing the course ourselves, or selling individual products.
Inspired by business models like the one Zumba relies on, we considered how could our course scale up further, and envisioned a system of additional services, upgrades and even activities for entirely different audiences.

Mapping the key elements of our ideas on a business model canvas helped understanding the full business logic and estimating logistic costs associated to providing training courses. Looking at the average price asked by potential competitors, we established a starting licensing price.

For the supply and development of the product we realised that estabilishing a partnership with Notch would be the most cost-effective way forward. Notch is a company that produces wearable sensors designed to be attached to the extremities of the body to track and capture specific body movements. We assumed the partnership would be of their interest as, at the time, the company was about to release an API to open it’s product up to third party developers’ ideas.

When it came to designing activities and exercises, we thought we’d rely on the expertise of those psychomotriciants who helped us defining the idea in the first place and who showed interest in extending the partnership further.

Prototyping phase

To bring the idea to life and learn what would people actually think about it, we involved psychomotricy teachers, gyms instructor, kids and their parents to prototype Gimble.

Some of the questions we wanted to explore include:
> “How would kids actually react to our idea? Would they actually get excited about producing sounds by moving around?”
> “Would parents think Gimble’s value proposition differs from any other option already on the market? How much would they be willing to pay for the course?”
> “Looking at the theories of Psychomotricity, would the concept be valid? Would the product find any further application in the discipline?
> “Would any gym be interested in partnering up to offer a course like Gimble? ”

The activity took place in a nonprofit association for mums based in Milan. As the coordinators showed interest in testing Gimble, we organised an event and promoted it on the association’s social channels and collected a number of subscriptions.

The evening of the event, we welcomed a small number of kids and their mums and introduced them to the activities.

We prototyped a fictional lesson from Gimble course: we performed an adventure story, which suggested a path of exercises for the kids - developed with the help of psychomotricity instructors.

To simulate our main device’s features, we initially thought we’d rely on smartphone’s gyroscope sensors to produce music, but as that could distract kids and be heavy to carry around, we decided to opt for a simpler option instead. We used a sound sampler to imitate Gimble sensors behaviour, and every time a kid performed a correct movement, we played a specific sound.

At the end of the story - and activities, we sat down with the participants, had a snack together and asked them a few simple questions to hear about their experience. We eventually interviewed their parents to gather feedback and understand whether they’d consider a full-lenght course for their children.

Overall, the prototype proved to work well. The kids who took part in the lesson loved it, and their parents were really keen to receiving updates on any further development. We learned a lot about how different kids behave and would respond to activities like the one we proposed and got to understand more about what and how would mums be keen to invest for their children.

As towards the end of the course our team managed to successfully validate the concept idea , we spent the last few days having fun exploring other activities: how about using sounds to make an inflatable ballon into an adventurous “Star Wars” lightsaber? Or, perhaps, into a gracious fairy’s magic wand?

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