Workshop Archive

Hybrid Toys Workshop

Develop prototypes for playful hybrid world applications

23 Jan 2008
25 Jan 2008

In this concentrated hands-on course participants will develop prototypes for playful hybrid world applications. We will focus on designing physical toys with digital and/or networked components. We'll work with Arduino's and sensors, we'll apply ideas from physical computing, and we'll use the cultural and social possibilities of RFID to eventually build creative and innovative prototypes.


RFID Monsters, made by design team 'The Chupacabras' -


Unique digital identification and GPS tracking devices link digital media to places and objects. Mobile phones and urban screens allow the media to be everywhere people are.
And the internet, which is still thought of as a virtual space, is quickly gaining foot in the physical world. An internet-of-things is underway.

This Hybrid Toys laboratory explores design and media making in the context of the increasingly intimate fusion of digital and physical space. How can we expand the physical nature of toys with networked and digital components? How can we make tangible and playful interfaces for new layers of data that connect to the physical world?

Workshop approach

The workshop is an intense process in which the participants design playful projects (applications, services, games, programs, formats) that connect physical objects of places as interface to digital media.
Every morning lectures and lessons bring in new perspectives, and interesting project presentations. Some of the topics that will be investigated in this workshop are: the cultural and social possibilities of RFID technology, the internet-of-things, uses of RFID in combination with other kinds of sensors. Locative media tools, Geotagging and mash-ups with Google Maps& Google Earth.

Every afternoon the participants work on their own workshop projects. In 3 workshop days every participant will develop a prototype of a hybrid world media project, assisted by outstanding international trainers, lecturers and technical assistants. The workshop closes with a public presentation in which the issues are discussed and the results are shown.

Workshop tools

As practical research tools the participants can use Arduino board with a collection of sensors. We also have the Symbolic Table 2.0 : a networked, RFID powered media player. See Symbolic Table. There is also a collection of various RFID readers and tags, and a Nokia NFC enabled phone.

Trainers & lecturers

Jean-Baptiste Labrune's dissertation is about creative epistemology, i.e. the way children document and explore their creative processes and artifacts. His research consists in designing reflexive tools to support these activities and let children generate new tools.

Dana Gordon graduated from the masters program of Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in the summer of 2006.
During the last two years, as part of her Interaction design studies, she focused on physical computing and particularly tangible interface design. She exhibited her work at the Victoria and Albert museum (‘Touch me’ exhibition 2006), and Salone del Mobile 2005 and 2006. She collaborated with companies such as Tecno and Droog Design.
Currently based in Paris, she develops new tangible design projects and consults for artistic interactive installations.

Auke Touwslager is an Information architect, graduated from the Design Academy in Eindhoven. Founder of, an international network for research, collaboration, exchange of knowledge and concept development.

The Tokyo-based online magazine Pingmag published an article about our workshop!

You can read all about it here.

Workshop Report

"Hybrid toys is an open invitation to come out and play. After three days of making concepts, inventing and realizing at the same time, you’re ready to give up your daily job and become a full time toy creator for the rest of your life!" - Jenny ter Horst, workshop participant

Day 1

The participants of the Hybrid Toys workshop trickle into the Mediamatic cafeteria, but it's still early, 9:30. They are at the brink of a new adventure and curiously, but modestly settle in. Loaded with coffee, tea and cookies they head over to the workshop space at 10:00. Klaas Kuitenbrouwer welcomes the group and after a quick introduction round Dana Gordon and Jean-Baptiste Labrune take the floor.

Dana provides a presentation that predominantly can be assessed as thought provoking. Her first act is to rename the Hybrid Toys workshop to "What are good toys?" She suggests we momentarily discard with making value judgments and simply think of toys themselves. Toys, she claims, are the mediators for play. Leaning on ample case studies she provided several qualities of toys; pleasurable, intriguing, evolving, narrative and open. Simplicity, however, is often the key. And everything, even a simple stone, can be turned into a toy!

Jean-Baptiste compliments the presentation to introduce us to the miracle product called "Silly Putty." He shows it as an exemplary toy of the characteristic intrigue. Silly Putty falls in-between liquid and material and is an object of exploration. All participants are given the opportunity to fiddle with the stuff.

As an example of the evolving quality of toys they reminded us of the Tamagotchi toy, with a dynamic interaction. Toys furthermore, they tell, need to be appealing and engaging to the senses. Toys should encourage storytelling.

The presentation made my personal interpretation and definition of toys problematic. You think you know what can be classified as a toy and what can’t, but it turns out, you have no idea! The presentation provoked a "class discussion" on inquiries pertaining the social function and gender attributions of toys. They provide many examples of newly developed toys and a presentation on "reality check" toys (those who prove not as engaging as one may have hoped for) ignited ideas for workshop concepts to follow-up on.

After a short break Auke Touwslager, an information architect provided a presentation on bridging the physical with the virtual. Reformulated, about networked objects. He emphasized that play can be ad-hoc. It can be about surprise and discovery. He provided a couple of fascinating examples: from ways of interfacing information, about overlaying technologies and mash-ups. Auke was primarily interested in questions related to the use of information and how this can be playfully adapted in toys.

Noam wonders why the flower doesn't talk back!

Lunch was there before we knew it. Time to let the material sink in and think long and hard about what toys are, and what ambition one has for the toy. What should it be capable of doing?

The time for listening came to an end and it was the participant's turn to do stuff. The framework had been established and participants where now armed with a little background knowledge and armed with plastic bags filled with toys they had purchased in stores. They were divided into groups and asked to brainstorm about projects they wanted to develop. The whole group consequently discussed these ideas . There was a general tendency to think of the "rules of game" rather than the object of the toy itself.

Dana, JB and Klaas helped to bring the abstract ideas to concrete form. What object is the toy going to be? What material form will it take? The process was above all creative. It was important not to let the technological drive the project, but to reflect on the qualities of toys and see how one would like to develop the objects.

The Mediamatic workshop room became a platform for active creative thought. Whilst one corner of the room I heard ideas of talking oranges, the other was considering social projects from an RFID driven low-budget whisper toy that made going out even more fun.

When the ideas had been brought back to more concrete ideas an inventory was made so that a last minute shopping spree could be realized. Which technologies are needed to realize these ambitions? With the materials ordered, the clock was ticking. Two days left on the calendar. Two days to realize these creative ideas, to make personalized toys.

Day 2

The day started with a fruitful endeavor: the tunneling of the brainstorming and conceptualizing had been done yesterday and now the objective was to fine-tune these. The groups got grip of what they wanted to make. It was time to get down to the nitty gritty! In the groups themselves a technical discussion was taking place in order to get at better grips with the incorporated technologies for the relevant projects. When the chat was over, it was all about making. With Arduino boards, sensors, other technical tools, but also the more everyday materials such as tape, needles and so forth the workshop participants start making their hybrid toys prototype. It is a race against time. A technical 101 is provided in the morning, a quick rundown, but soon it is time for the participants to start MAKING. They did so with the assistance of Tim, Dirk, Klaas and of-course Dana and JB. Time slips away quick and as the night dawns in pizza is ordered and the participants actively and above all enthusiastically work on materializing their ideas. It was magical to see, this act of trial and error. What works in theory after all does not always work in practice. Materials are swapped and ideas are fine-tuned.

Day 3

Everyone arrives just as the clock strikes 10 o'clock. A contrast to the impatience of the first workshop day. Everyone seems tired. The morning is a race against the clock. Dana and JB "threaten" the participants by setting a 12 o’clock deadline for the prototypes. Dana nuanced the tough words by adding a wink. Both Dana and JB knew very well that the deadline they just set would not be met.

The group has split into two areas of production, across two spaces: the workshop room and the atelier. Ironically these places are all but playful, but mandate professionalism. Cables and electronics are ubiquitous. The amount of laptops has quadrupled since day one. Everyone seems to be consumed by getting the right reaction from the toy. Whilst the one group records sounds the other is constantly switching lights off and on to test their light sensors. Another group is working with pressure sensors, yet another with liquid sensors. Collaboration is the motto, a sharing of knowledge and skills is the only way to get the prototypes done.

When lunch arrives the rooms are abandoned. What remains is the image of a workshop battlefield. And indeed there are many casualties. People have been tearing apart and hacking the store toys. They are also actively mending other toys. But these toys have been transformed, and are now capable of so much more. During lunch it is announced that the deadline has been shoved to 2 o'clock. At this time all groups are expected to be able to present their results.

It is two clock. Dirk gives a brief presentation on the computer program “Fritzing.” Fritzing is a tool to help you design PCB's using a virtual breadboard. The tool is also handy for documentation. It is beneficial to everyone over a network, a good way to document.

After Dirk's presentation was THE moment everyone had worked for. The workshop groups had to present their projects. It was an enormously dynamic moment, the closure to three days of hard work.

Dana and JB concluded the three intense workshop days with these closing thoughts:


The results are really brilliant and it was very interest to listen and we have interesting topics about design process and trying to mix it with technologies. We did not know what level to expect. The first day was a big confusion when it was more hands-on it changed.


It was interesting to work with you. Struck by the complexity, how simply you get to structures. How very fast the process broke down to simple material, long process. The contraction of time is the most superb of this workshop. It was the major achievement. We remain contactable online. Creativity was in the details. Thank-you!

When the clapping has seized, business cards rapidly exchange hands as many new acquaintances have been made and the sharing from expertise is far from over.

Making Hybrid Toys: Participant reflection

by Jenny ter Horst

Basically, developing and making toys is about having fun by yourself and the group you are engaged in. If you wanna have the feeling back from your childhood, this workshop is an excellent way to start. By thinking, creating things from scratch and working with different kind of materials and tools, you open up a new world, most of us adults have forgotten about a long time ago.

Hybrid toys is an open invitation to come out and play. After three days of concepting, inventing and realizing at the same time, you’re ready to give up your daily job and become a full time toy creator for the rest of your life!

Hybrid Toys Projects

Results of a three day enterprise

The Kiitos

We started out different than where we ended up, which is actually the fun part of the workshop. It was a process of evolution and it was fun to work together. We choose to work with light. We hid RFID chips in the creatures called "Kiitos." The Kiitos are creatures from out of space that are connected and communicating by light and color through a mother Kiito. The brightness and the color both present the mood they are in! Kids in the city can bring the parts of the project back to each other. The hidden surprise of the project: the mother Kiito has a tongue!


It would be see how the system of mood can be connected to Internet. If you consider the presentation given by Auke. This would be very interesting to bridge the two worlds. Very nice!

The Participants

Suvi, Zhenya, and Jenny

The Flowers

The only instruction is that you align the pins to the pot, go ahead and play! The group had no formal presentation, but what resulted was that all the workshop participants started playing with the flowers and putting them in the pots. The result was a sound explosion. "You are a real florist" one of the participants reaction. An interesting project as on the one hand you can think about the visual aspect of the project [bringing the flowers to form a bunch] and on the other hand you become a musical composer. With this project it was especially cool to see that everyone indeed starting playing!

The architecture: Every pot has three RFID readers, every slot has a reader and they are all connected to the computer. Each flower has an RFID tag. Every pot has its own sample sound. Each flower has a pitch tuned according to their color. The tone is like the black keys of the piano. There is one flower with a Wii controller that registers the shake and this determines the pace of sound.


I would really like to help you guys if you are planning on working more on this. It can be taken much further and fine-tuned.

The Participants

Arjan, Alun, Noam and Nina

The Three Hippos

Mean, Nice and Social hippos, and when we connect together we keep on talking actively until you take us apart. The process of dissecting toys was nice. We discovered that from idea to reality there is always a step in-between: practicality!" We tried to take the characters as basis for the technique. Try and define the triggers according to the identities of the hippos. Allot of sketching was done. It was all working, but not united yet. Different kinds of sensors determine the character. You can record a message in a different manner.


It was a beautiful process to watch, but disappointing not to see the best feedback in seeing it in unity. Changing of perception, questioning things. It is a great pleasure.


What we were really disappointed in was the quality of traditional toys. We had the chance to tear them open for the workshop and it turns out they are made so cheaply!


A nice metaphor, you feel your toy with things. Brilliant.

The Participants

Martijn, Mathieu and Carin

The light pony

Participant: Janny
It is a pony embedded with a photosensitive sensor and a recorder. You can capture sound and it will play the message at random until it is dark. It will stop repeating the recording only once there are no more light sources switched on.

Extra project: The Necklace

Dana and JB

A last-minute project, built in two hours. You can feed the necklace by giving it light. It is a 9-volt battery, but because it is conductive thread it provides lots of resistance, which prevent that the lights go really bright. The process is totally analogue, as you control when it goes on and off by your movement. Furthermore because the material is fabric it is very easy to work with.