PLAYWORKS
And there is no better way of feeling play at work than when one is working - or designing - for play. As one works for play, one never does: indeed one plays for work, demonstrating Brian Sutton Smith's point that' the opposite of play is not work. It is depression'. Since its inception in 2004 as the Toy Design Lab, School of Design faculty members collaborating with what is now known as the PolyPlay lab have supervised hundreds of design for play projects, contributing to the creation of a repository of experiments the creative spark for which was mostly struck up by students.

Over the years, Students 'playworking' on projects supervised by lab collaborators have developed an appreciation of:
Play theory definitions & categorization
Entertainment, education, recreation
Child development: age grading, physiological, sensory, psychological, social, and emotional abilities
User research & experimental workshops
Toy market research
Technology and innovation
Interaction
Play pattern, depth, & value
Toy development & manufacturing technologies
Techniques for toy presentations and communication
Critical analysis of cultural conventions

The resulting accumulation of playworks eventually clustered around 9 play categories: an organic classification, representing local youth's preferences and (mis) representation of what play is about in an Eastasian contemporary society. They are:
- Art & science play - Character play
- Critical culture play
- Eco play
- Game & media play
- Leisure play
- Magic a-dime play
- Music play
- Taste play

Curating this natural emergence in various trends of play, the PolyPlay website showcases over 120 playworks, along 9 branches of play.';
ART & SCIENCE PLAY
The toy is the child's earliest initiation into art, remarks Charles Baudelaire. To art one should add science. And magic. And then some. To design art or science kits is to play with art or science. The exploratory, creative, and development steps involved in designing an art or a science kit naturally foreshadows those players will follow. Also as one manipulates instruments, tools, ingredients, and components, one gets to appreciate Albert Einstein's assertion that play should be seen as the highest form of research.

Works featured in this section naturally merge both disciplines'characteristics through a whimsical game of mirrors, using art to stage science's wonderful nature, and science to substantiate art's fundamental aesthetic qualities.
CHARACTER PLAY
Play patterns generated by the reification of a popular myth are derived from an original narrative. Character toys are interfaces to a world of motivations, and mediate value; as such they combine toy with storytelling, inviting players to identify to role models, adapt adventures to their social needs, and act out their emotional development. In a global economy dominated by mediated images and fabricated narratives, characters are everywhere - no wonder then that while children instantly connect with the many characters presented to them, many young toy designers want to create character toys.

PolyU Design students are no exception, and more than a third of the Playworks featured in this website are characters to play with. For toys to feature in this category, a figure needs to be staged in a specific story, purposely written for the toy, however short: with character toys, all it takes is visual personality and a narrative spark for children to engage in a world of fantasy.
CRITICAL CULTURE PLAY
Design Schools are privileged spaces - where and when else would designers make the best of their youth and play with material culture and the generation of meaning in a consumer society? From within the necessarily safe confines of a University, design students should be given the opportunity to revisit conventions of interactivity, affordances, identity, and everyday tasks, to formulate objects that 'talk' as much about us as they do about...and between themselves.

Toying with playful interactions, the projects featured in this 'Critical culture' section get as close to artistic interpretations of functionality as it is desirable in the context of functional design. Turning the tables on so-called 'pure design', function here follows irony, poetry, humour, fantasy, or nonsense, while offering practical solutions to everyday needs.
ECO PLAY
A great way to look at the toy industry is through the lens of its raw materials. Toy materials take millions of years to make, while toys themselves are at best played with for a few hours. More, it takes seconds to discard a toy, and a few thousand years for its materials to biodegrade and be absorbed back into the Earth's natural cycle. So much resource for products which are acquired through discretionary spending, and are qualified as superfluous, trite, or inessential...but then toys, like art, are essential, precisely because they do not serve tangible, easily defined purposes.

This section showcases one of PolyPlay's preferred areas of innovation: the design of tools for play. Tools that process easy-to-find recyclable or biodegradable materials, such as moulds to form sand or ice elements for construction toys, or cutting tools to process PET bottles. Concepts featured also include hardware which 'parasitically' upcycle found objects, such as clips and fasteners assembling everyday objects into playthings. A common feature running throughout these tools is that they facilitate the creation of toys that make-do with their environment, and 'disappear' after usage.
GAME & MEDIA PLAY
Are games play? If games involving dynamics of power are considered a corruption of play (winning or losing leading to players' dominance over other players), then how should they relate to play, given that the moment play involves power it ceases to be play? By definition games are platforms mediating social interaction: a game is a social medium. Today, much of games' social interaction is electronically mediated through online social networks. While games played alone are shared online through digital media, multiplayer games do not necessitate the physical presence of partners to engage in play... other players become figments of one's imagination, or constructs one projects through carefully constructed 'profiles'.

Grappling with the complexity of contemporary social play, students designing for game play have slid design for play concepts on Roger Caillois'Paidia/Ludus scale (a conceptual continuum opposing unstructured, spontaneous activities, or free play on one end, to rule-based structured game play on the other). Thus they explore the possibility of structured yet progressive social interactive play, so as to foster appropriate symbolic and value exchange that nurtures benevolent and inclusive socio-cultural development.
LEISURE PLAY
Have we forgotten how to play? The rise of a Leisure Society, much trumpeted in the 1970s, never came to be. The current globalization paradigm has people leading commoditized lifestyles, characterized by overwork and stress - especially in Hong Kong and China's major cities. Also, while the media and the fashion industries have reshaped sports into a spectacle, leisure activities have become branded affairs, thus defeating the purpose of leisure.

In study trips and design for leisure projects, students were brought to critically discriminate between play and work conventions, and contextualize the social, cultural, emotional as well as physical importance of recreation and exercise in modern society. They have ascertained the relevance of play to contemporary culture. Exploring emerging recreation and outdoor activities in China and the region, they have created innovative solutions for the way people will play and replenish, to lead healthy lives, create 'situations', or simply escape from branded consumer 'experiences'.
MAGIC-A-DIME PLAY
At the root of all toy inventions lies a playful interpretation of natural phenomena: many toys mediate scientific knowledge under the guise of narrative and poetic license. Consequently much wonder emerges from playing with the most elementary playthings. Arvind Gupta's online repository of easy-to-make Toys from Trash celebrates the magic one can find in the simplest of physical or chemical principles. Likewise, with as little materials as possible designers can conjure pocket-size magical trinkets, from one-time marvels to skill-building training tools, thus elevating the lesser tchotchke, gadget, premium, curio, or novelty, in to whimsical ephemeral play wonders.

One, two, pick up sticks. Three, four, toy galore. Learning to acquire the ability to conjure up magic for 10 cents should be part of every toy designer's training - or every designer for that matter - as simplicity is often the hardest thing to capture. This section gathers works students have produced illustrating this toughest of design challenge: simple play, maximum bang for the...dime.
MUSIC PLAY
While we compose visuals to admire, cook food to taste, concoct fragrances to smell, apply textures to touch, we PLAY music. Music is as much a form of expression as it is an impression; it is an intentional arrangement of sounds we produce through the use of our body or instruments, for sharing emotions or ideas, resulting in an immediate appreciation of these. Music is soothing, entertaining, pleasurable, as well as violent, exciting, distracting, unbearable, dividing. It is a universal language, a powerfully effective conveyor of passions. An aesthetic and social construct; music is about us, and helps us understand, or transcend the world we live in. As such it is one of the highest forms of play. Music is also about those sounds we leave out, and as some artists have suggested, those we have no control on: the music that is produced is not the same as the music that is listened to.

A perennial and recurrent project of choice among PolyPlay students, music has often been a battleground for music neophytes trying to rest the unreachable virtuoso ghost. The Music play section features musical playthings derived from simple physical principles: excitation, transmission, vibration, resonance, etc., or digital 'app'-lications using the endless possibilities of smart phone interactions.
TASTE PLAY
Designing for Taste play is a challenge few designers take up; and for good reasons: the category is often referred to by industry insiders as a 'liability industry' - hence this category showcasing the smallest selection of playworks.

The product range in this area is more often than not limited to table ware, candy products sold with separate premium items, or cooking implements - the latter requiring as little usage of electricity as possible, avoiding heating devices, and not having to involve too much time spent preparing outcomes before the actual play starts. One easy way out of such limitations has been to insist on parental supervision. The other is to design sets that do not involve electromechanical hardware. Gelatin, cold infusions, or simply make believe, for with the latter air never tastes any better.