Bowl: Token-based media for children

In spring 2007 interaction design students at AHO participated in a research-driven course called Tangible interactions that investigated themes around RFID, NFC and the Touch project. This is one of the projects that emerged from the course.

Bowl is a project by Einar Sneve Martinussen, Jørn Knutsen and Timo Arnall and investigated two design briefs: RFID and the everyday and Playful RFID. The concept, technicalities, process and results are described in detail in the paper at the end of this post, read on for a summary.

Simple access to media

The Bowl is a simple media player that can be used by people of all ages, particularly young children. A bowl sits on the living room table and range of physical objects can be placed within it. When an object is placed in the bowl related media is played back on the TV.

The Bowl and TV

For example a physical Moomin character like Little My will play a sequence from the Moomin cartoon where she is featured. Through this simple interface, Bowl encourages new, engaging and playful activities around the media experience.


The project draws on a long history of research into ‘tangible interfaces’ for media (some examples). But it is distinct from other projects in that it applies the idea of tangible manipulation of media to the very specific context of the home. It also disregards complex editing, browsing or manipulation of media in favour of providing simple interactions that work for young children.

There are very few products which allow access to media in a way that can be used by children younger than four. Although it might be argued that children under four shouldn’t have access to media, there is no doubt that they do and in fact there is an enormous amount of content designed exclusively for this audience (see Teletubbies).

Existing media interfaces are overly complex, allow access to unsuitable content and encourage extended viewing habits. By creating a space for physical and playful engagement where screen-media is only a part of the experience, the Bowl intends to create constrained but self-directed activities that are not only passive, lean-back experiences.


Einar’s daughter, Anna – who features as our main user in this project – was 2 years old at the start of the project. We saw an opportunity here to design, evaluate and iterate an interface aimed particularly at children of that age.

Playful activities around the TV

The prototype has been developed through an extensive user-driven process where the product was tested and developed in-situ. The interface has been refined and the content re-edited as we learnt about problems and opportunities through a series of tests.

Bowl prototype.

A standard platform was built very early in the project, from which many bowls and tokens could be evaluated. It was important for this set-up to be lightweight and dynamic so that important interaction parameters could be tweaked and altered. The early prototype was constructed in wood from a simple 2×4 with existing bowls as the interface. This allowed rapid modifications to the setup and although not aesthetically pleasing, didn’t disrupt the home environment or introduce any explicit new ‘gadget’ to the living room.

Some tokens and objects with RFID tags

Through the development of the physical prototype the technical possibilities and challenges were rapidly discovered. Interestingly many technical limitations inherent in the RFID system that we used for prototyping turned out to be non-issues. Some of these limitations actually turned out to be opportunities in the interaction design of the interface. See the paper below for more details.


This study has been rich in both the details of physical interactions and conceptual possibilities. We have come a long way towards realising a suitable home media interface for children, using everyday objects and containers. The interaction is simple, natural and works seamlessly as a media experience. The interface can be immediately satisfying without guidance or instruction. As a simple interface rather than a ‘gadget’, it doesn’t depend on changing media infrastructures, standards or platforms. We have designed it as a ‘front-end’ that can be adapted to any kind of home-media system, thus its requirements are likely to stay the same over the lifetime of it’s use and even be adaptable to future technologies.

The initial planning involved five user-test tasks but due to the richness of the process, we ended up conducting about ten discrete topics and twenty different tests. We regard this sustained, rich access to relevant people and contexts and essential part of developing new interactive products.

One of our goals was to examine the effects of the changing role of digital technology and content in the home as a result of new interfaces. The long-term testing has offered us an insight into this changing television-based experience. We see increasing connection between playing and watching and more physical activity around media usage.

Further work

Beyond this testing process we are in the process of building the next prototype. It has been designed as a durable product that fits within the home context by using standard components and high quality materials.

Second generation bowl

Here the project is being extended to look at how it might be turned into a product. How it might be ‘shelf explanatory’ and how it might relate to existing media products and services.

More about Bowl

Einar has posted more pictures and information about his design case study presentation at DUX 07 including an annotated PDF of his very accessible presentation.

Bowl paper

This paper contains a full account of the background, the design process, the testing, technicalities and a discussion of the results. The paper from ‘Designing For User Experiences’ in the Proceedings of the 2007 conference on Designing for User eXperiences are available at the ACM digital library. You can also download the full PDF here.

See more student work from the Touch project.

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17 Responses to Bowl: Token-based media for children

  1. Jb Labrune 5 December 2007 at 17:11 #


    very nice project, could be nice also with videogames ! maybe you would be interested to read about the Interliving project that developped similar RFID based interfaces for domestic interactions (especially the StoryTable that allow children to operate television through RFID-Tangible tokens)


  2. Timo 5 December 2007 at 19:38 #

    Thanks jb.

    There’s lot of potential in simple RFID on/off commands, yes, definitely applicable to some level of games too.

    Wish I could find a paper specifically on interaction design and results from storytable, rather than on general probes methodology.

  3. Ben Arent 9 February 2008 at 23:56 #


    This is a great project. I’m currently working on a project to use Rfids as a tool to enable communication for the Elderly. I’m a product designer by trade, and my RFID reader is giving me some C# head aches!

    Very well written up, its great stuff. I will keep you posted on how my site goes.

    Keep RFID-ing!

  4. glen 14 April 2008 at 23:26 #

    Dear students,

    I’m interested in this bowl concept. Please get in touch with me when you can. Thank you.

    “We make toys, we sell toys, we like toys, we bet you like them too”


  1. links for 2007-12-05 (Leapfroglog) - 5 December 2007

    [...] Bowl: Token-based media for children · Touch More goodness from the tangible interactions course: a bowl in which tokens are placed that controls media playback. Lots of opportunities for game play here. (tags: play tangible physical nearfieldcommunication nfc rfid tokens bowls interfaces interactions interactiondesign IxD children media playback) [...]

  2. Two Touch projects on show at DogA · Touch - 31 March 2008

    [...] at the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture (DogA) in Oslo for the next month. Sniff and Bowl are part of the Unge Talenter exhibition that runs until 27 April [...]

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  5. movito – Musical evaporation - 18 February 2009

    [...] still looking for a better cover browser (Microsoft Surface could be interesting) and a physical, token-based interaction that my kids can use. Retrofitting my BeoCenter 7007 with a multitouch screem for [...]

  6. Touch at Kreative Oslo - 13 March 2009

    [...] to describe various aspects of designing with RFID. In this presentation we use the Touch-projects Bowl and Sniff to illustrate the process of designing RFID products. The presentation is available on [...]

  7. iPhone RFID: object-based media - 14 April 2009

    [...] afford tangible manipulation that screens cannot, and this is great for playful products. Our Bowl prototype showed a natural blending of media consumption and playful activitiy in children, where media [...]

  8. L’internet des objets va-t-il changer la nature des objets ? « LocalLab : Foire aux Infos - 24 June 2009

    [...] repose sur des interactions tangibles. Et d’évoquer de nombreux projets de son laboratoire comme Bowl ce capteur de puce en bois avec lequel les enfants peuvent interagir via leurs jouets quotidiens [...]

  9. L’internet des objets va-t-il changer la nature des objets ? | MKT planet - News Web Marketing - Nouvelles Technologies - 27 June 2009

    [...] repose sur des interactions tangibles. Et d’évoquer de nombreux projets de son laboratoire comme Bowl ce capteur de puce en bois avec lequel les enfants peuvent interagir via leurs jouets quotidiens [...]

  10. Next Generation Media – das Internet der Dinge Teil 2 – Spielzeug | Studio B12 Blog - 11 August 2009

    [...] Bowl ist ein Projekt von Einar Sneve Martinussen, Jørn Knutsen and Timo Arnall der Gruppe Touch. Ein einfacher Media Player für kleine Kinder jeden Alters reagiert auf physische Objekte, die in [...]

  11. Skål: playing with media - 22 September 2009

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  12. Planner Reads » Blog Archive » Skål: playing with media - 24 September 2009

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    [...] is a product that emerged from the Bowl project. I really like the simplistic design which allows the personal objects, which are used as [...]

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