Playmobil as a design and communication tool

PhD students at the OU are encouraged to engage in ‘research dissemination’, so that we can share our research with lots of different audiences with various knowledge levels. Every year in early June the graduate school holds a Postgraduate Research Poster Competition to give us an opportunity to share our research. As a first year PhD student I thought this sounded fun and my supervisors encouraged me to enter.

In addition to traditional posters they also have a multimedia category. I therefore decided to make a short animation about my research into reducing carbon emissions from heritage buildings while retaining their heritage values. My Phd is a multidisciplinary project being funded by Design Star which attempts to explore both technical and socio-cultural dimensions. I have fine collection of Playmobil figures and buildings and decided that they would be just what I needed to visually represent my research in a fun and accessible way. Having previously studied U101, I had used Playmobil to good effect when representing design problems for some of the TMAs so I felt it was a tried and tested method!

I know from experience that I can quickly get lost when I start playing (sorry, working with!) my Playmobil so I tried to be quite structured. I thought about the key messages that I wanted to get across about my research, the value of heritage, the importance of reducing carbon emissions and some of the opportunities and challenges that my research would be looking at. I then engaged in a bit of storyboarding to work out what I needed each scene to say. I thought about the best location to make the film, space, light levels and angles etc, and decided that with the addition of a spare tabletop and a neutral coloured tablecloth the sofa in my conservatory would make a splendid mini film studio!

I used a mix of film and photographs on my (hi-tech!) iPhone and then assembled them in to something coherent using iMovie and the transitions and cropping facilities within it. I then used the voice recorder function in iMovie to do my voice over, and added some sound effects.

After getting some feedback from my long suffering parents I added an additional  sequence to explain embodied carbon and recorded the voiceover in smaller chunks so that they were easier to manipulate. Having got some positive comments from my supervisors I then submitted the animation for the competition and discovered that the hardest part of the process was trying to make it play properly on the competition website!

Although I didn’t win the competition I really enjoyed the process of making the video and having to distill my research into its essential elements for a non-specialist audience was a very useful exercise. In addition I have been able to direct a number of the people that I have contacted for my research to the video as a quick introduction to what I am talking about! They have all found it very useful and entertaining, so from my perspective it was worthwhile just for that! And of course it was an excellent excuse to have fun with my playmobil!

Here is my video, I hope you enjoy it and that it provides some interesting information about my research. Any comments/feedback gratefully received! (Remember to press the full screen button in the bottom right hand corner! It’s better bigger!).

Freya Wise







2 responses to “Playmobil as a design and communication tool”

  1. Georgy Holden avatar
    Georgy Holden

    What a brilliant video, so well made. Your research sounds really interesting and valuable and I look forward to hearing about its progress.

  2. Emma Dewberry avatar
    Emma Dewberry

    Freya – why have I not seen this before! A fantastic use of Playmobil in representing the scope of your research . I’m looking forward to seeing what you have to say to Harry in a year’s time 😉

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