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A collection of  Phantasy Pharmacy  design explorations.

A collection of Phantasy Pharmacy design explorations.

How might we turn embarrassing childhood moments into badges of honor?

How might we empower kids to celebrate the sometimes awkward illnesses of childhood?

How might we use speculative fiction to disrupt and redefine industries that are notoriously drowning in red tape?

How might we design for rites of passage, or inspire rituals that spark a contagious creativity?

Drawings and models from pre-Phantasy Pharmacy SASU.

Drawings and models from pre-Phantasy Pharmacy SASU.

So, we let our imagination go into a world with monsters in the closet, serpents under the bed, and yellow eyes peering out of the darkness. And we asked ourselves how to take the trauma and the terror out of routine childhood experiences like pink eye, earaches and eczema. One thing we knew for certain: solving problems technically and explaining them rationally wouldn’t get us very far. First, we had to address them on an emotional, even mystical plane.

We explored the possibilities of going literal or representational, creating things that were physical or metaphysical, practical or purely playful. We ended up doing a little of everything! Trolling through a world of magical realism with one foot in the concrete world of adulthood, and the other in the fantastic, anything-is-possible world of childhood.

Bringing IDEO kids into the process.

Bringing IDEO kids into the process.

At IDEO, we like to use the phrase “How Might We?” to focus our thinking in a practical way while still inspiring a realm of possible ideas. It was in this spirit that we created the Phantasy Pharmacy, an imaginary project of design fiction created to help us stretch and push our personal limits.

For this design fiction exercise, we challenged ourselves with finding ways of turning kids into the heroes of their own young lives. We set out to create empathetic tools for childhood ailments and illnesses that recast painful, awkward and embarrassing experiences as rites of passage, spirit journeys and superpowers. To that end we asked ourselves:

Rhinoceros model showing in progress design iteration.

Rhinoceros model showing in progress design iteration.

The Phantasy Pharmacy was conceived  by our Boston studio’s weekly “design fiction” craft lunch, called SASU (Saturday/Sunday) for the feeling of freedom and creative inspiration many of us save for the weekend. Other sources of inspiration: our 2014 design fiction exploration, Made in the Future; germ-fighting robots created at IDEO London; the New York IDEO studio’s Monyays (instead of the dreaded Mondays); and IDEO San Francisco’s Design for Education project to help redesign school lunch for the San Francisco Unified School District.

Phantasy Pharmacy was also an excuse for us to play with tools and techniques that many of us had no experience with—Rhino, Keyshot, and 3-D printing, among others. And finally, it was a chance for us to re-learn the way children learn: full of wonder, unfettered imagination and no fear of failure.

Early low-fi prototype of Super Earos.

Early low-fi prototype of Super Earos.

We challenged ourselves to mirror the feeling of helplessness of childhood, so no one in the group took on a job that was in his or her customary skill set. Business designers learned 3D modeling, while environment designers shaped a brand, and a communications designer built a website. It was a messy process with everyone working in an unfamiliar discipline, but perfection wasn’t the goal--we wanted to open ourselves up to growth. We hope our design exercise helps parents, kids, and even physicians think differently about these experiences.  

The Phantasy Pharmacists  

Sheena Benavente

Danny DeRuntz

Nick DuPey




Shaun Fisher

Richard Herstek

Bri Patawaran

Mitch Sinclair

Adam Spitalny

Ryo Takahashi

Justin Wan