This project is result of a collaboration between two programmes
MFA in interaction design and MFA product design. 



Overcoming the language barrier  

The focus of the project was to bring another value to the product by adding the sound. The topic was open and my team decided to explore how to break the language barriers between children of different nationalities to enable more interaction between them ?


Time // 2 weeks 

Team // Camila Näsholm / Pontus Edman 

Expertise // sound design / interaction design / UI /
Visual design / Prototyping / electronics & Arduino / storyboarding / Video shooting /user testing


In the current political and social climate, our societies need aid for integration and an increase in tolerance for diversity. We asked ourselves what design can do to create a more open minded future society. One initial and central thought was, if we grow up with friends from multiple cultures it makes us more open minded and tolerant for diversity. This led us to a questions that this project was then based upon. How  could we promote interaction between children who otherwise might not speak to each other?


Research - secondary research

We started by explored the topic of language barriers among children in secondary research. We looked through paper and articles about multinational kinder gardens and benefits they bring, strategies for dealing with multinational groups of children and also topics on importancy of language learning in young age. Those materials served for us as a guidance and also concept proof that ensured us that topic picked by us is relevant. 

Form Development


In the ideation we explored different ideas for a companion that could encourage children of different nationalities to interact regardless of their cultural background. We ideated on different characters that could express friendliness and humble character. We came up with a character of an language eating alien traveling through space to find new home. Giving the form to it was equally as important as building its character. Its look needed to be i testing and playful but also durable. From technical side we needed to think about incorporating a speaker and some electrical components into the dimensions of our model. For the final look we decided for an character of an alien. We sketched out the final shape.

As a product directed for children it was vital for us to give Telly an inviting and friendly shape that could match its humble and compassionate personality. The wooden base is a metaphor for the iconic UFO disc. It was to further strengthen the similarity to an alien and also for it to having the “ability” to travel through space. The base was designed to make Telly stand on flat surfaces.The face and head of Telly is designed to look like an capsule, both for the sake of its simple an inviting form but also for the resemblance of space suit helmets. Taking inspiration from 60´s and 70´s cinematic movies such as “Space Odyssey” and “Escape from the Planet of the Apes”. We also designed he shape of add ons that will enable customisation of your toy. 




Telly is made out of a wood and textile. Wood because we wanted a warm material, not plastic or metal. The textiles have colours close to nature, and is of very durable quality. It could easily be removed and washed when needed.  Overall We wanted the materials to reflect warmth and quality and connect to old analogue toys to highlight that the toy has an analogue feel since we go away from screens. 



The background story helps children empathise with Telly, and gives their imagination fuel. For us however, the story is a lot more than that. The idea of Telly being an Alien is for us a metaphor for someone who have moved to a new place, maybe a new country, a new city or a new school. When we are not part of the norm or we don’t understand our new environment we sometimes refer to this as if we “feel like an Alien”. On a deeper level, when we humans think of an Alien, a life form from another planet and solar system, it flattens out the differences we might think exist between different humans. In relation to an Alien, all humans are one and the same. Evoking feelings of unity strongly resonates with the aim of our project and that's why the story goes like this.

“Telly is  language-eating alien who’s home planet ran out of languages. In order to survive it set out into space to find a mythical planet it had heard many tales about. It was supposed to exist in a galaxy far far away and to have a rich diversity in language. Telly was heading for planet earth and crash-landed here hungry for new words.“



The core idea was to make it easier for children of different nationalities to communicate and interact. Could we create a fun learning experience for children when coming in contact with a new language? Learning a new languages can easily become repetitive and tedious for a younger mind. That ́s why we wanted to change the approach by letting the child take initiative. Taking the first step to talk to someone we have never spoken to before can be hard.Telly works as a playful excuse to approach an unacquainted child. But not just that, Telly creates and opportunity for children to have conversations about different languages, cultures and countries.  Furthermore, Telly is all about learning through listening and speaking and in this sense Telly beautifully complements language learning in schools which usually is very focused on reading and writing.


Expressing character through sound 


All the sounds coming out of Telly were created by us. No electronic sound has been used as we did not want Telly to seem robotic or mechanic in any way, instead We choose to only us vocals for our sound, to convey a more human like, emotional and warm character. The voice was not distorted but the the pitch and tempo was increased to create a childish and gender neutral voice. We realised that voice is a powerful medium that can evoke curiosity and build the character of Telly. We used soundboards to sketch out sounds and also discussed with professional sound maker how to approach sound making for our character. 


Prototyping - electronics 


Once our concept was done, we made a quick mockup from foam and fabric. We placed electronics inside and hid a phone behind the toy to prototype sound coming out of it. To make Telly come alive we designed set of facial expressions and prototyped them using Arduino and led backpacks. Simple animations of faces made the toy more playful and interactive. We used this quick prototype to test our idea. 



In testing arranged with children we focused on getting feedback on Telly's appearence, behavioyr and his story. We explained the story of alien and looked if it was clear and engaging for the child. We also created a little game of matching facial expressions of Telly with emotions. This test showed us if faces we designed are understandable. In the final part we showed the child our mockup and made Telly ask a child for a word. The child was instantly suprised and angaged. This feedback proved our concept right and gave us directions for refining it. 



Simple scenario of the background of Telly was sketched in simple animation. We decided to also focus on story telling to engage children into a play that could stimulate their imagination and give them a reason for interaction first with Telly and than with other children. We wanted this story to be an introduction for the parent and the child and also engage the child to take care of the little lost alien. 

Once Telly gets hungry the child needs to feed him. It needs to find other children that speaks some language. The child then tells Telly what language she/he found, Telly will then ask for a specific word.  In order to feed telly the child need to activate the recording function, this is done by turning Telly upside down and back up, a sound confirms when recording is activated. One child now inputs the word and the other child has to repeat it. The inputs need to match before Telly is satisfied and goes “omnomnomnom”. The repetition is a vital part of learning. To first listen to someone else say a word and then with our own vocals try to repeat it is a very efficient way to learn a conversational part of a language.


After deciding on the details and rendering the final shape we went to pick the right materials for Telly. For the natural look we picked grey wool and canvas alike fabrics in pastel colours. Than we milled the wooden base that was also hiding a speaker and sew the top part of the toy from chosen fabrics. Parallel we soldered components that were building Telly's face with led lights and animating them with Arduino code. Challenge was to fit all parts and match the dimensions with having enough space for all the elements that were supposed to be hidden from the user. We also added remote control function to be able to change facial expressions of Telly with a remote for concept video filming purposes. 


Once the sounds were tested and approved we re-recorded them and adjusted them using audacity to get rid of background noise. We also explored how material around speaker will influence the quality of the sound and defined what was the best position for optimal sounds quality. 


Telly has two ways of communicating with the child. One is sound and the other are facial expressions created with light. Combined they create fun learning experience for the child. Telly has 10 different expressions that show 10 different emotions. Our goal was to make them interesting and fun so that interacting with Telly becomes playful. In exploring different variations we focused on consistent look and expressiveness. To make the expressions more interactive we created few different frames of each face and animated them through switching between them. This contributed to making Telly even more alive once interacting with child.


Communication with Telly is a dialogue. The child also has ways to communicate with Telly once wanting to play or practice with Telly. Incorporating simple gestures was important for us since we wanted intuitve use  without buttons, but still ability to engage with product. Through shaking gestures Telly will be woken up. Afterwards he will listen for voice commands like : “play time” or “practice time”. Those allow the child to interact with Telly not only in moments when he will wake up but also when the time is good for the child. 


We didn’t want to have an app as a part of the system. We wanted the child to get an screen free experience. App comes only as a tool for set up and engaging parents into their children's progress of learning new words. Before Telly can be used he needs to be set up. For this purpose parent uses the app. In set up the native languages and locations are chosen known minority languages in your area will be recommended below. In the practice mode parent can see what languages have been practiced and how many words per language. Once language is chosen more detailed information on what words have been recorded will be shown. Parent can also listen to the recordings.  


Telly comes with an set up app that also allows the parent to track children's progress. Once the language in with you want to communicate with Telly is set our little alien becomes hungry. The child needs to find new words. Feeding makes Telly satisfied. Afterwards he is very eager to practice the new learned words with the child. The flow chart above illustrates single steps in use of Telly.  We also created simple use scenario to unsure the logic between each steps the child takes while interacting with Telly and other child in order to collect and record words that will feed Telly. After learning Telly will ask for practice to review the material recorded and through this make child remember the words. 



We decided to explain use of Telly in a simple concept video. For this purpose we created a storyboard and engaged children to help us enact the story. 


Big goals
behind simple solution

On a micro level our aims are that children finds more friends, that we increase the interaction between children that otherwise would not have interacted, to evoke curiosity for language learning and other cultures and to achieve a training in Empathy as the child is the caretaker of Telly. On a macro level our aim is to provide an accessible aid for Integration, to increase the tolerance for diversity and in the long run to create a more open minded future society.




In this course I learned that once you have hardworking, driven and curious team you can achieve a lot even in such a short time as two weeks. The highlight of this course was collaboration between my program and master program in advanced product design. Having a industrial designer on the team enabled us to think more about the form and different materials. This collaboration showed that working together brings more rich result that has and advanced model and functions and also in depth thought through interactions. 

We all as a team took very active part in ideation and form development. My role in the project was to design and code facial expressions of Telly. I designed the inside of the Telly making sure the electronics are hidden while still keeping the designed shape. I also created graphics visualising use of Telly and prepared, designed and structured our final presentation showcasing the product.