"Non-designers often think that design consists mainly of decorating something - adding color and flourishes to make it "pretty". Designers make a big distinction between decoration and design. Whether it be in graphic design, product design, or environment design would-be "designers" have to get past the early "decorating" tendency. The need to first create the underlying structure is why many architectural models are done in plain white. In architecture, interior design, product design and, or for that matter, graphic design, structure is key."Earlier, I would have read this statement and then, forgotten about it. Design was not my forte, and it is unlikely that I would have stopped here, at this e-magazine. Since I became a parent, however, I have been very gradually getting aware of how all children's books, not to mention toys and toy boxes and other paraphernalia are designed. Not just the designer clothes one associated the word design with earlier, but also the layout of a book, the colour co-ordination on a box, the ease of use of a website, the comforting feel of a toy - all the myriad components that make a product attractive in one way or the other. There is a kind of beauty in suddenly finding a world to discover at this age, at learning to piece together the various elements of design that make me like this or that, much like my child is doing with the rest of the world. It is fun! Take a look at all the sites I have reviewed so far. Bold bright colours, simple lines, non fussy layout - one look at the site's screenshot gives you an idea of how much you or your kid will like it.
Check out how true it is in today's featured site - Caillou's. This is another of the English/French sites with beautiful visuals.
When you click the play with Caillou button, an animation starts which leads you to Caillou's house, and there you meet up with him to play on games in his room, or the kitchen, the garden, the playground, or the school. Each scene is beautifully detailed and mouse movement leads to attractive changes. This scene is the playground, where you have two games highlighted -
In the beginning the child is asked whether he/she is playing alone or with a grown up - the games are then presented to involve the grown up as well. Each game has three levels of difficulty, but there is no choice about which level. You invariably start with the lowest unless you have been to the site recently, in which case it will start at the last level, and you can't change it. (But perhaps if the child is playing alone - something not very common with us - you do start at the lower levels repeatedly. Just a thought.)
The games are well designed, and hold interest for a long time. The train conductor game (from the playroom) and the dinosaur game (from the garden) are special favourites, but that changes with time, and varies from child to child. There is an element of learning associated with all games, even though they may not be designed to be as educational as say, BBC, or Uptoten, or Poisson Rouge. I particularly liked the dinosaur game for the way it introduced the concept of fossils. Followed by the Dr. Seuss publication, "Oh say, can you say?" (Cat in the hat learning library), this made an abstract concept very simple to visualize.
The url for the main site - http://www.caillou.com/indexEN.shtml
The downside for Caillou of course is the time it takes to load up, and if it ever gets stuck in the middle, you have to restart from the beginning, i.e. from the main page. That is the price you pay for the whole experience being in Flash. (Or whatever it is!)
The site, and the tv series is produced by Cookie Jar Entert
Also good is PBS kids Caillou at http://pbskids.org/caillou/games/index.html. A simpler interface, and simpler games.
P.S. Also, while talking of design in books, I have been fascinated by the Art in them. Many a times my decision to buy a book when just glancing at it has been influenced by the quality of the illustrations. Some of the books I have are so detailed as to be too confusing for a young child, but I keep them in the hope that with time its intricate lines will become easy and the beauty of the whole more apparent. I have bought books simply because we didn't have any in the patchwork style or collage like illustrations, or the art resembled tribal designs, or African, or traditional Indian - and I am always looking! So, when I discovered a pictorial blog by Priya Kuriyan, who has designed for Scholastic books, I was thrilled to find, as a bonus, three very short but very cute films about animals meant for preschoolers. Check the June entry.