Hermit Crab Play Experience

Design Nature | Fall 2016

For our final project in Design Nature, my team was tasked with designing and building a play experience for fourth-graders, based on a given animal - for our team, hermit crabs. Over the course of seven weeks, we investigated biological behaviors, brainstormed experiences, researched existing toys, and iterated on our ideas.

Initial Designs

For the first several weeks, we focused on research of hermit crabs and ideation of ideas. We began by investigating the biology and behavior of hermit crabs in the wild: what did they eat? How did they move? What interesting or unique behaviors did they have?

Additionally, we began brainstorming ideas for our play experience, aiming for as broad a range of ideas as possible. We wanted to start with a large scope and a lot of ideas, then narrow and refine our ideas as we obtained more information.

Early on, a noteworthy behavior we identified was the shell-switching behavior of hermit crabs; at certain times, several hermit crabs will switch shells, with each crab lining up, leaving its old shell, and taking the shell of the crab in front of it. We wanted to simulate this behavior in our play experience.

We also conducted research into the user-centered elements of our design; we talked to fourth-graders at a local school to determine what they wanted in a play experience, and we researched educational standards for fourth-graders. From this research, we decided to add elements of hiding from predators and finding food, in order to teach about the environments in which hermit crabs live.

After going through several revisions, we had a fairly concrete idea of what we wanted the play experience to be. However, after our second design review, we realized that we had too many elements in our play experience; not only would it be very difficult for fourth-graders to understand and pick up the basics of the game quickly, it was far too much to be able to realistically fabricate given the time and budget we had. So, we simplified, changing the game from a four-person to a two-person game, and focusing on the movement and shell-switching behaviors.


Ultimately, we ended up with a game we called Hermit Crab Olympics. We built two “shells” out of foam, wire, and cloth; these shells were big enough for a fourth-grader to crawl into, and they were slick on the bottom in order to allow the players to pull themselves forward. We sewed claw-like gloves that players would put on, forcing them to use their arms to move forward as hermit crabs do. Our game was a simple relay race where participants had to switch shells halfway through.

Although we had to do pare down our ideas significantly, we were able to finish our final product, and on the final day, a group of fourth-graders came into playtest our project! Fortunately, it was a hit, getting high ratings in fun from the fourth-graders.