Design Research Thesis

As a part of this research project, I worked on designing a learning kit by inspiration from Lego Serious Play. Implying the learnings of various researches to design a Learning Kit for primary student called ‘Nirmaan – Explorer Kit’ to build the world from their observation and imagination.


Design, Research, Documentation
Abhijit Chirde

Dr. Jayesh Pillai
Dr. Puneer Tandon


The aim of this study was to design an interactive learning method that will incorporate the activities as well as to channelize the child’s energy and interest in overall development. The theories of Constructivism and Constructionism enhanced by the philosophy of Epistemological Pluralism supports the work conducted in this project.


I had used a custom workflow for executing this project. The philosophy of Design Thinking and a generic product development process made the backbone of the work, and I added some more levels depending on the necessities.


In chronological order of the planned research and problem-solving activities, the following steps were taken:

  1. Open discussion with Primary School Teachers
  2. Expert’s Opinions
  3. Interactions with children
  4. Fun activities for children
  5. Drawing design directions
  6. Ideation
  7. Design
  8. Prototyping and Evaluation


From Prof. Jean Piaget’s Model of Cognitive Structures based on Age Groups, we focussed on an age group of 7-12 years, which coincides with the general Primary Education structure of the Indian education system. This stage makes a crucial period in the cognition development of a child.



Learning theories of Prof. Jean Piaget and Prof. Seymour Papers form the foundation of this work. There are various flavors of these learning theories proposed by different Philosophers and Educators like John Dewey, George Hein, Jerome Bruner, and also Lev Vygotsky. But, the theories of Constructivism and Constructionism supported by philosophies of Epistemological Pluralism make the foundation of the work conducted in this project.


The engagements and learning of the child with the system depend on a considerable amount of how simple the interactions are with the system. As stated by Prof. Terry Winograd, three basic Interaction activities define how the human being interacts with the world around him: Manipulation, Locomotion, and Conversation.


After the ideation, the interactions which would define this system for the children and provide a Multi-Sensory and Multi-Modal learning tool for focusing on the students of age-group of 7-12 years i.e. Primary Education students in India are discussed in the figure here.



A set of various methods was implemented for conducting primary and secondary research to clarify many aspects of the problems at hand and available opportunities to use for finding optimum solutions.

  • Literature review of available past and present resources including Educational Theories, Educational Movements, advancements in Cognitive Sciences and Design
  • Understanding of various technological, political, institutional, and social initiatives
  • Structural and open interviews of Primary School teachers
  • The opinions from experts in the field
  • Interviews and activities with the students
  • Ideation workshop and problem-solving among design fraternity


  • Limitations of Conventional Teaching Methods
  • Infrastructure Accessibility for Rural Schools
  • Accessible Technology and Expertise
  • Children and ICT
    • Language Barrier
    • Infrastructure for Digitization
    • Need-Supply Gap in Curriculum
    • Accessibility and Safety
  • The need for Less Theory and More Inclusive Practical Learning


After talking with different educational experts and students, we narrowed it down to the activity of map reading which is taught to the students in primary school. The need for improvement in the attitude of students toward the complexities of the topic us as geographical maps is important in this stage of learning. It will help these students in improving their observation and learn from their surroundings. 

Considering the effective learning methods for children, we decided to teach the skill of map reading using the activity to create maps themselves. 


Zilla Parishad Kendriya Prathamik Shala (Z.P. Central Primary School),
Chichgaon, Tehsil (Block). Ner, Dist. Yavatmal (Maharashtra)


50 Students of 3rd and 4th Standard (Age: 8-9 years)

Activity Brief

  • To observe their route from Home to School, different structures (natural, man-made) and events.
  • To list down their observations in a tabular format to make it easy to separate.
  • To create a visualization out of their observation using Paper, Colour Pens, Pencils etc. (Use of material not restricted)


  • Children love telling stories.
  • They create their own micro-worlds with the references they find. They have the ability to create the world out of anything small available.
  • They not only map the real-world physical objects and phenomena to the minimal abstract levels but also relate their imaginary schemas to the physical world to create new stories.
  • They observe and relate the behaviors from whatever they experience and see.
  • In a child’s world, a tree leaf can act like water, or a bridge made from a bird feather would be stronger than any of those steel structures out there.
  • The sky is the limit. Their unbiased perspective towards the world, always ready to learn attitude, and ready to blend cognitive model makes them the quick learners by exploration.


  • A medium to observe.
  • A language to express.
  • A space to explore.
  • A tool to learn.


  • Multi-Sensory 
    A number of senses are involved in the process with the availability of sensory redundancy for the learner to confirm and understand better
  • Multi-Modal
    Use of different ways to learn something. A modality is added in the process to increase the efficiency of it to convey the information so that the assurance of its receipt increases


We came down to the abstraction level from where it is possible to draw insights that will guide us through the design and development process.

  • Children and Programming: The importance of Computer Education to children since early schooling days
  • Manipulation as Conversation: It is crucial for a child’s motor skills development that she learns to manipulate the physical objects with her hands
  • Mental Imagery as a source of learning: Children are keen observers of their surrounding events and environmental features. There is a need to nurture their imagination and help them to visualize in better ways with the aid of concrete cognitive structures in the form of landmarks
  • Stories as a learning tool: Especially when talking about the subjects where children get a chance to live the story, e.g. History, Language Studies, Literature. This is termed by philosopher and educator John Dewey as ‘directed living’
  • Gamification in Education: Children show quite an increase in their interest in learning when they feel being appreciated and rewarded for their work. It is also a fact that they learn better from the stories when can relate themselves to some character or situation from that story. Gamification is a nice methodology for using multi-sensory input for enhancing the effectiveness of Primary Education.
  • Introducing Maker Culture in the formal syllabi: The need is to give children a chance to understand their world by making and breaking it.
  • Exploration is learning: Children will learn in a better way if they learn to understand their surroundings and feel like they are part of the events happening.


A physical activity toolkit will make them more observant about the material they see and the structure they build. They will also learn to observe the events from their day-to-day life, like short trips to parks, or nearby hill stations, or even a story from their picture books.

  • Designed to provide free to explore and build an environment for children to learn about their surroundings.
  • It gives them opportunities to create stories in the way loved by children the most, i.e. by using physical objects.
  • Learn by Exploration and ‘Directed Living’ (as called by John Dewey).


The ‘Nirmaan’ learning toolkit is made up of different kinds of components to help a child build the world from scratch, explore the possibilities, and learn. The building blocks (elements) of this kit are called ‘Bricks' and the exploration board is called 'Base Board'.



We attempted making a low-fidelity prototype using available material with us like wood MDF sheets, colored paper, adhesives, styrofoam board, and Epilog LASER cutter.

Actual product would be manufactured using ABS or MDF wood.




Universal Design Principles are a set of guidelines proposed by a group of Designers, Architects, Engineers, and Researchers at NC State University. These guidelines are created for the design of products and systems to be usable by everyone, ranging from children to the user with special needs.

There have been researches for designing open playgrounds for children using the Principles of Universal Design. Children need a place to wander, jump, swing, explore, create, dream. These principles are the guidelines for designing a physical or digital system which will provide anxiety-free interactions

'Nirmaan Explorer Kit' is designed for children to explore their surroundings and construct it into their own world.  It is imperative to take help of the guidelines of designing for all to be sure that the product provides them an appropriate and usable environment or learn.




A physical activity toolkit will make them more observant about the material they see and the structure they build. They will also learn to observe the events from their day-to-day life, like short trips to parks, or nearby hill stations, or even a story from their picture books.

"The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done."

- Jean Piaget