Milo has been designed specifically with military families experiencing deployment in mind. It’s a kids toy that also allows the family to send and receive weekly video messages from home or from the deployed location.
Before deployment 24 tokens, one a week for a 6 month tour, are hidden around the family home. Each week the family at home receives a clue on Milo's screen which indicates the location of a token. Once that token is found it is placed in the base unit and the video from the deployed soldier can be viewed. The family can then chose to record and send a video message back to the soldier using the device.
The deployed soldier is able to send and watch video messages using an associated website.
Milo aims to be an engaging, interactive method of communication for the whole family. It was really important to me that the product was something that each member of the family would be involved with for the duration of deployment. The solution was the physical Milo device for the family at home, with a weekly activity to be carried out together and a separate website that allows the soldier to be involved by sending and receiving video messages.
This weekly activity creates a regular routine, something very important for young children. It also builds excitement and anticipation to each week’s video while also counting down the weeks until the deployed parent's return home.
The idea for Milo originated because I wanted to chose a project for my final year that meant something to me, so I looked at a problem close to home.
My father has been in the Army all of his life and, though I was lucky enough not to experience him going away on tour, I remember a lot of times when he was away with work or couldn't make it to my parents’ evening at school. It was an issue I had some experience of. My sister's boyfriend is in the Army and has now been on four tours to Afghanistan, so I'd also seen how difficult it was for them.
The actual design of the toy was a bit more difficult. For a while I had no clue what I could do to solve the problem but I really wanted it to be something people could do together, regularly and that involved videos so families could see each other. My user research had highlighted how infrequently families get to see a photo of one another on tour and children are much more engaged by a video of their parent than just text in a letter.
The treasure hunt aspect stems from my family life. My mother used to leave notes in my suitcase whenever I went away as a child. I'd still be finding these little notes when I got back. I always remember how fun that was and I still have many of the notes now because they were special to me.
The whole process started out with a series of interviews and focus groups with military parents, personnel and their children. This gave me a real feel for the problems people experience now and users also gave me areas to focus on, things that were most important that are currently unavailable. My focus group ladies were a great help and I went to them several times with ideas and discussed their positives and negatives. This focus group was really invaluable to making Milo what it is today.
I eventually settled on a lion character because animals often appeal to young children and a lion symbolised bravery and Britain so seemed an appropriate choice. To get the characterisation just right I worked mainly in 2D making tiny changes e.g. ears a bit bigger, now slightly more round, now further up the head etc. Then eventually the lion emerged from my sketches.
I created a prototype my 3D printing the lion and painting it to look realistic to how the real product might look when manufactured. To test the digital aspect of the product I created a rough version of the website to test on target users.
I also had to make sure the concept was actually technically feasible, so I spoke to software experts and looked at existing products to ensure this aspect.
For families who cannot physically be together I think this could be a really unique way of staying in touch. It's not just about sending an email or a photo or even a video message, there's something tangible with Milo.
Military personnel currently cannot use Skype or Facetime while on deployment due to bandwidth limitations and security restrictions. Therefore families can often go months without seeing their loved ones faces. Milo gives these families that opportunity again in a way that's enjoyable and interactive for the whole family.
So far, I've been lucky to receive really positive reactions on the concept as a whole and on the style of the lion character. Most people I've spoken to have really taken to the little guy, which is so encouraging to hear having carefully tweaked the design for almost a year now.
I've met a few toy companies who find the concept intriguing and seemed to really like the design and the style.
I've also had some good responses from people in the military or those with military friends or family. I remember one guy who had a friend in the army who kept saying, “there really is a need for this”. There's a huge need for something for families like this and I think that need is currently not being met.
I would now love to get Milo into production and onto shelves but there's a lot more development work to do before that can happen.
If anyone has any comments about Milo I'd love to hear them because I'd welcome all feedback to help get Milo on the market. I've started a blog to keep track of Milo's future journey so for further information people can take a look there at https://hannahcsage.wordpress.com.