Designing Water Journey™: Juliana Hamori and the Art of Inspiration

If you've been following our last few posts, you'll know that we're about to unveil three new designs in our Water Journey™ family. Leading up to the reveal, we've explored the current line's design philosophy, showcased its numerous features and spoken to our landscape architect about a few surprising applications. 

This is our final post before the big unveiling and so, we thought it might be fun to talk with the industrial designer and brainchild behind these exciting new designs, Juliana Hamori. Offering A-to-Z insight into the creative process, Juliana chats about how projects like this one get off the ground and some of the guiding principles that keep her, and the rest of the design team, inspired.

Thanks for taking the time, Juliana! How did you and Vortex get acquainted? Right after university, I moved from Colombia to Montreal where I began working for MEGA Brands Mattel. I always wanted to design for kids. I love getting into their heads, exploring their imagination-scapes.

By the time I landed in Montreal I had already heard of Vortex. Like everyone else, I was familiar with their Splashpad® line. The more I researched the company, the more I realized that their creative approach to play branched out beyond just splash pads. I knew pretty quickly that I wanted to work there. I applied but they weren't hiring at the moment. Some time passed, I continued my work with Mattel, and then out of the blue one day they called me back. A designer position had opened up and they asked if I was still interested. I was in! I've been with the company for a little over a year now.

Walk us through the developmental stage of a new design. Do the higher-ups come to you? Do you go to them? How does it all work? We're always receptive to a back-and-forth between different levels and departments. Sometimes it comes from above us; other times, us designers set the course after a brainstorm. In either case, we always start by asking ourselves what's missing. What holes do we need to fill to make play more accessible?

So, it's a collaborative process from the start? Absolutely. Everybody has different experiences and a unique style. I find Montreal's multiculturalism plays a big part in developing all these distinct viewpoints. I love it.

We face so many considerations that it's important to have a multitude of voices on board—voices like Monica's, for instance. Monica is a healthcare professional and play advocate who we bring into the fold during the early stages of a project. She helps us see the world through different child development stages and accessibility realities, sharing ideas that aren't always in the peripheral of our designers. In fact, throughout the course of a design, we outsource a lot to specialists from different disciplines and industries.

How was Water Journey™ conceived? The design team initially set out to make a tactile experience accessible to a younger age group. They wanted to create a series of aquatic events that promoted very a simple, stripped-down form of play. From there, they turned to nature for inspiration. They drew from their own childhood experiences like floating a leaf down a stream. The designers wanted to come up with ways to replicate these basic games. 

It would need to be easy to understand and, most importantly, play with. Everything would have to be open-ended featuring very basic rules any toddler or preschooler could understand. Monica came in really handy on this project. She got everyone thinking about the types of games and interactions that could be accessible to everyone.

Water Journey™ has four different landscapes: Race, Labyrinth, Tide Pool and Jet Dance. How were these distinct designs conjured up? We were working with an external design firm, Dikini, and in the research phase we simply started by observing nature and breaking down play interactions. In our office, we have a big inspiration wall. It's a pastiche of all types of visual references—magazine clippings, crayoned drawing from our colleague's kids, old photographs.... Designers can sometimes fall into this trap where everything becomes abstract. 

These visual icons serve as a reminder of what we're actually trying to accomplish.Using references like these, the team began pinpointing key interactions and patterns. They'd then take these different interactions and then break them down into categories (some would lean more toward cognitive play, others toward motor skills, etc.). I believe at first there were five categories but after noticing some overlap, they chiseled everything down to four. Each category gave life to its own unique design.

Tell us more about this inspiration wall.  From the beginning, when you study design, you have to be very visual. To really understand how water moves and flows, you need to see it. It's more than mere physics, it's experiential. So, whenever we come across a visual signpost like a river or volcano, we add it to the wall.

And it's not simply the project leader who contributes. Sometimes somebody from a different project will find a piece of inspiration for us. Or, maybe a clipping from our wall will pave the way for a totally new project by a different team. Like the design process itself, the wall is always evolving. We also have weekly one-hour inspiration meetings. We can spend a full 60 minutes discussing a single color, visual, texture, gadget, anything that inspires us.

Looking at the wall now, I see some icons used to inspire Vortex's upcoming Water Journey™ experiences. Care to elaborate on some of them? We're all sworn to secrecy about these new designs, so I can't get too specific. I will say that we started this particular undertaking by looking at textures. Kids learn through touch. This sensorial approach to learning was our initial focus. It's going to be an all-new kind of tactile experience. This project was the first one I spearheaded on at Vortex. I can't wait for it to launch so I can talk to you more about these designs!

Be the First to See Water Journey's New Experiences!

For our next post, we'll be showcasing the three new designs that have Juliana so excited!