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Why we made The Extraordinaires® Design Studio

Anita Murphy

The Creativity Hub publishes games and playthings that foster imagination, empathy and self-esteem. We, as co-founders (Anita Murphy and Rory O’Connor), envision a world where these attributes are valued and fostered in every individual. Since 2010, we had been attending education conferences with our story-telling game Rory’s Story Cubes®.

We listened as education experts and industry professionals discussed the skills that children need to learn to be prepared for their future life and employment.

Today’s children will have to continuously problem-solve and learn new skills throughout their lives. This will be essential to keep up with exponentially changing job roles and technology. When we reviewed the skills being called for, including:
Divergent Thinking, Problem Solving, Multiple Outcomes, Making Connections, Discussion Skills, Presentation Skills, Self-Expression, Evaluation of Ideas, Giving Feedback, Collaborative Work, Empathy; I realized that these are the skills we learned in the first year of Art school.

We set out to create a toy that let children explore these skills in a playful way. I hit upon the idea of using ‘Personas’. In user-centered design and marketing, personas are fictional characters, written to represent a user of a product or a system. Instead of using regular people as personas, I decided to use the archetypal storybook characters that children were familiar with. I thought it would be fun to design things for a pirate, a superhero, a robot or a fairy. The larger-than-life nature of these characters would allow us to amplify real human needs. They would be no ordinary personas, they would be extraordinary! They would be The Extraordinaires®.

We launched the first version of The Extraordinaires® Design Studio in 2013. We had made an activity kit to introduce children to the world of invention, design and creative problem solving. It let them role-play at being a designer. The ‘sand-box’ experience invites children to design wildly imaginative solutions while building empathy for the Extraordinaire characters.

The Extraordinaires® Design Studio quickly picked up eight awards and many positive reviews. One reviewer described it as “almost like landing an internship at a real design studio”. This sentiment was echoed by others saying that we “drop children right into the design process” and that it “takes children’s creativity seriously”.

We introduced the compact range to offer an introduction to design at a lower, more accessible, price range. Each set in the compact range features a different design discipline: Inventions, Gadgets (product design), Buildings (architecture) and Clothing (fashion design).

We heard that professional design studios were embracing The Extraordinaires® as a creative workout for their teams. By designing for The Extraordinaires®, their skills were being stretched. It changed the way they designed in the real world. We added more Extraordinaire characters and added Vehicle design projects to Inventions, Gadgets, Buildings and Clothing. We overhauled the Think Card questions for an older audience and wrote a detailed book about the design process.

This has become the product that schools and teachers are embracing. We are now focusing on the creation of teacher resources to complement this in the classroom. See the Education section...

I love seeing young people being amazed by their own creativity, proudly presenting their designs to others. The research project ‘Play with Design’ has reinforced to us how worthwhile this Extraordinaires journey continues to be.