For the past few Halloweens, I’ve been DIYing my costumes as anthropomorphic (human-like) food characters. First creature in this series was Monsieur French Toast and he was thought up at a lovely coffee shop with friends in Montreal. Wouldn’t you say that was very fitting, oui oui? And the following year was Mr. Peanut, circa 1990s. Imagine walking down the street and seeing a big ol’ peanut amongst the crowd of X-Men characters or *yawn* sexy witches? That’s nuts, right?
For the most recent Halloween, I chose to be Mr. Potatohead, a childhood favorite that is easily recognizable and incredibly interactive with its changeable parts. Since this would be a huge undertaking with the many moving pieces to the costume, I wanted to design this not only as efficiently as possible, but in a manner that would allow for the best wearing experience as I immensely struggled with Mr. Peanut last year.
I decided to apply a few UX design methodologies to my costume making process because my ultimate goal is user centric and UX design is about creating solutions that cater specifically to user’s needs in order to achieve the best experience possible. This was done by:
- researching past costume pain points and successes
- dissecting findings and turning them into opportunities
- ideating and sketching drafts of how I could bring the design to life
STARTING WITH RESEARCH
Research is such a crucial part of the UX process because it’s here designers are able to find patterns and understand what exactly it is that users need, what motivates them to make certain decisions, what gives them satisfaction, etc. That is why to design Mr. Potatohead, I needed to do research and look back at my last Halloween costume.
WHAT WORKED WITH MR. PEANUT
- Structure: chicken wire is incredibly flexible, easy to use and pliable
- Low cost: newspaper or cardboard boxes were sourced from local stores. The only major purchases were the chicken wire, cane and paint.
- Appearance: not tooting my horn here, but the overall accuracy it had with the original mascot was aesthetically pleasing
WHAT WERE PAIN POINTS WITH MR. PEANUT
- Safety: chicken wires cut into my skin and latched onto my clothes
- Comfort: weight of the costume was rested on my shoulder edges, unfortunately centralizing the weight there and causing major discomfort
- Consumption: drinking/eating was not an option, unless two straws were doubled up and pushed through the mouth screen
WHAT AM I SOLVING FOR?
I love Halloween and DIYing my own costumes but it needs to be wearable when I’m out and about. How might I create a costume that is both comfortable and functional so that I can have an enjoyable wearing the costume?
Based on the insights gathered from my research, I quickly sketched out the costume and addressed each segment I would be incorporating to visually see and hypothesize my design. Additionally, a storyboard was created to give context to a clear story of how Mr. Potatohead would be worn during Halloween.
The next steps would have been to PROTOTYPE and TEST the design in stages. Unfortunately time and resources weren’t on my side, so I went straight into physically designing the costume and doing quick tests by wearing the costume when each segment was complete.
SAFETY & COMFORT: I came away with tons of scratches and cuts wearing last year’s costume because the sharp wire ends were exposed from the inside. To avoid this from happening again, I turned the ends outward and covered them with duct tape for added protection.
For comfort and mobility, I wanted to be hands free. It was crucial for rope straps to be tied on the inside of the costume so that the weight could be evenly dispersed and comfortably resting on my shoulders, similarly to a backpack.
STRUCTURE: to make the costume as light weight as possible, I used paper mache for the body exterior. Not only will this bring back childhood memories, you’ll get satisfaction knowing that the materials nearly cost nothing. Just use water and flour for the paste and grab newspaper from the bodega (they usually throw out unsold newspapers after 10pm). I also found cardboard in recycling bins for creating accessory/body parts.
‘FEATURES’: the real Mr. Potatohead pieces are inserted through holes in the body. But, that’s not something I could possibly do with my costume considering that the body was made out of paper mache and isn’t thick enough. As a result, I taped velcro on the back of each body part and onto the body so that they could easily be pulled off and put back on to the costume.
In addition, a hole (yellow circle) that was leveled to where my mouth would be from the inside was punctured into the costume so that a straw could be pushed through for ease of drinking. For Mr. Peanut, I had to double up my straws and slip it through my eye holes which just looked very strange and wasn’t efficient.
MR. POTATOHEAD RESULTS
He turned out quite alright for a spud considering I wanted to be very resourceful with time and money! All in all, for what I personally sought out to achieve, the costume worked out perfectly for me as the user. He was lightweight, comfortable, easy to move around in without discomfort and friends were functionally able to pull off the pieces with no problem.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK WITH MR. POTATOHEAD
Despite my satisfaction, there was a hiccup in the costume. Not all of Mr. Potatohead pieces were removable like the ears and hat, they were fixed and built into the body. And unfortunately, there was no way for anyone to know this. Anytime the pieces were about to be yanked off, I had to make a big ‘X’ with my arms to prevent the costume from being mangled. This was a huge design flaw and caused confusion that could’ve been prevented if I had considered there would be others users outside myself engaging with my costume and had done the following:
- found out how users interacted with the REAL Mr. Potatohead to gain insights on what their expectations were with the pieces and why
- created prototypes to conduct usability tests on how and which pieces users would remove
Reflecting back, I designed a costume that was catered to me as a user, but neglected what the experience would be like for those interacting with the costume because I was so set on making the experience better than last year just for myself. I also made an assumption that because the hat and ears were far from view, the focus would be on just the eyes, ears and lips but boy was I wrong!
Fortunately with every discovery and task we take upon ourselves that may not meet our expectations, there are always lessons to be learned. And in the case of my Halloween costume, it was the forgiving power of iterative design. Engaging with Mr. Potatohead’s interactive body/accessory pieces weren’t successful for other users, but I now have insight on how I can create new opportunities for my next costume and to always remember that there may be other ‘users’ to consider.
Thanks for reading along my costume making adventure! If you would like to see a full tutorial on how Mr. Potatohead was created, please check it out here.