On Becoming a Playground Designer: tell your story!

Dear readers,

It’s the time of year when I go around delivering microscopes to elementary schools in my home state as part of my scientific society’s Ugly Bug Contest, which is putting me way behind on the blogging!  So in the interim I hope you can help me address the many emails I’ve been getting over the last six months which ask me for advice on where to study, or how to get into playground design.   If you’re a play designer, please share your story, and any advice you have to budding designers, in the comments!   Advice on relevant academic programs you know of, as well as unconventional and serendipitous paths you’ve followed, are all appreciated!  I’ll award a prize–free download of all the playscapes press books–to one comment selected at random.


P.S.  For inspiration, the images accompanying the post show the ‘Jules Verne’ inspired design of Galopin Parques.  There should be more playgrounds  inspired by Jules Verne…

15 Responses to “On Becoming a Playground Designer: tell your story!”

  1. Catherine Park said:


    I’m a high school student of Korea, too!
    I’m absolutely with Liande.
    I want to change the playgrouds in Korea.
    I tried to find inforamtion about to become a playground designer,
    but I couldn’t find any of them, frustrating.
    When I found this posting, I was very surprised and pleased.
    Thank you for your posting. I had so much help.

    April 17, 2015 at 7:25 am

  2. Paige Johnson said:

    Hi Liande,
    Thanks for your comment. I hope that you will become a playground designer and change playgrounds in Korea! Let me know if I can help, and be in touch with any interesting things you find in your part of the world.
    All best wishes,

    January 14, 2015 at 1:24 pm

  3. Liande said:

    Hi, I am a high school student in Korea.
    Playground in Korea maybe you know, is so boring. It seems a prison..And I think I want to change this.
    When I saw this page, I was really really inspired. Thank you for your comments!!! I love it.

    January 13, 2015 at 12:40 pm

  4. David Verbeck said:

    I was working on my master’s degree at The New School for Social Research and realized that we were not being trained to challenge the system but to be part of it. There was a famous mural painted on campus by José Clemente Orozco depicting revolution and strife on one side of the classroom and common good & peace on the other. I sat by myself in that classroom many times trying to get some answers.
    After dropping out & becoming a bit radicalized, I began to feel that the best possible solution to social well-being was to support the welfare of children. I worked for a few organizations that reported on the conditions of children here and abroad and once again found it unsettling to assist in a manner that was so disconnected.
    I became discouraged and retreated into a personal journey in the arts. A daily ritual of sculpting and museum hopping eventually simplified my view of the world where joy and beauty became the catalyst for change instead of disgust and ugliness.
    I quit my editorial position at UNICEF and took a minimum wage job at NYC Parks and Rec where I inspected playgrounds throughout the five Boroughs. The diversity of place, people, and design was extremely informative and demonstrated that there wasn’t just a single pattern for play as it seems our modern mindset strives for. Play is diverse and dynamic from stickball to slides. It’s about freedom, opportunity, and invention.
    Gradually I became more hands-on with my new medium of plastics, metal, and rubber. I moved away from the City and found myself building numerous, commercial structures throughout the Hawaiian Islands. I felt, however, I was only poisoning paradise with objects that were not only destined for landfills within ten years but had only a minor role in serving as a resource for play.
    I shifted over to designing & building custom playgrounds for private schools where the freedom to try new things wasn’t squashed by mediocre aspirations and standards. I not only discovered that equipment could be made to last 50 years or more, but it can also be reasonable in cost, locally produced & supplied, and crafted with a minimum of sophistication. Attention to play features eventually gave way to concentrating more upon the space children encountered – the process of rejoining ground to play.
    While tempted to apply the heavy hand of design & leave my own signature mark, increasingly I feel children are better served by the fragmentation of preconceived spaces that should instead be highly adjustable and conforming to spontaneous acts of whim and fancy. And out of chaos … a universe of discovery just might emerge. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

    September 15, 2013 at 10:35 pm

  5. James said:

    I need to make beautiful and fun playgrounds!
    Please assist me for I do not know exactly what major specializes in designing playgrounds.
    Is it landscape architecture?

    Hope to hear from anyone soon.

    Thank You

    Also, I want to beautify parks the way it originally was created by God and hope people can take time off to relax and rejuvenate their souls.

    Looking forward to your help.


    August 29, 2013 at 5:13 am

  6. Bob said:

    I got into the field of Playground Design and Construction, with a Fine Arts and carpentry background. Unfortunately, in the US, which is the only environment I am truly familiar with, the path I followed would be very difficult to replicate in the complex and big business of Children’s Play, today. To my knowledge, in the US, there are no professional scholastic opportunities for learning the Art of Designing Play Equipment or Play Environments for children. Everyone practicing, involved and attempting to make a living and career in this field has come from some other field or falling into it because of some extenuating interests. The following is my advice for possible pathways to becoming a part of this relatively new field of Design. Take Art and or any area of Design classes. Discover if you have the aptitude to think creatively. Go to school and become proficient at AutoCAD and computers. A prerequisite to get a job at one of the large manufactures (the ability to think creatively does not seem to be a necessary skill set for this position) or refine your sales and closing talents and become a sales Rep/Designer. If you have a handicapped child or know someone that does, start a non-profit organization designing accessible play environments. Specialize in running and fundraising for Non-Profit organizations and go to work for an organization like Kaboom. Study child psychiatry and theory; learn to string a lot of big words together about the importance and benefits of play for a child’s development. Get involved with your local Parks District. This can be as simple as just being a concerned mother on your child’s school PTO looking into replacing the schools old playground. Truly, anyone can call themselves a professional in this field; there is no one or official organization to challenge your claim. This field is wide open to anyone who cares enough, has the energy and time, believes they have a better vision and can find someone willing to give you the opportunity to prove your worth and your title. One other option, move to the UK, where the large manufactures do not dominate the field and there seems to be more opportunities and less liability issues. What I would not do is spend money and time going to school to get a degree in Landscape Architecture; you would be disappointed with the lack of any exposure to this area of Design.
    Finally, get involved, volunteer; get an internship with a Company/Design Firm working in this field. Community Build Companies like Leather’s and Learning Structures are a great resource. Actual hands-on experience and exposure is the best classroom. Most important of all, after the project is complete, spend as much time, if not more, observing, listening and learning.

    April 13, 2013 at 11:30 am

  7. Alice Reese said:

    I entered play ground design as a vehicle to connect children with nature. I was frustrated that the public school play grounds I was working on were plastic and metal in a sea of asphalt; even the surfacing was synthetic. I earned a master’s degree in landscape architecture and became more aware of the health benefits of play. I am still fighting the fight to make public school grounds more play-full places and raise awareness of the importance of play as play opportunities & recess time decrease. I have great support from parent groups but the school districts will not fund any site elements that are not curriculum driven and mandated by the dept. of public instruction. I am undeterred and will continue to try to make a difference in play on public school grounds.

    April 10, 2013 at 11:14 am

  8. Cynthia Gentry said:

    I don’t so much design playgrounds as I do instead come up with a vision and then bring in the landscape architects, architects, artists, industrial designers, and, yes, playground manufacturers to make my dream (and, more importantly, that of the community) a reality. I, too, fell into my first playground project and was so enthused that I began reading everything I could get my hands on about playgrounds and playground design. I have visited a lot of playgrounds in Europe and have been inspired by the uniqueness I found there. Too often the playgrounds we have in the States all look like the next playground (although it is getting better).

    Ten years after my first playground I have begun working on my Masters in Play Theory at the University of Gloucestershire in Gloucester, England. I am half way into the first class and over the moon. I didn’t know how much I didn’t know! One of the biggest “Aha!” moments was realizing how much of what grown-ups think is “the right way to do it”, is really nostalgia. We don’t need point ourselves backwards to the “way it used to be” to create better playgrounds, but forward to newer and better designs be they natural, hand-crafted or manufactured or a combination of the three.

    During the summer break I am going to study for the Certified Playground Safety Inspector test which will be an enormous help.

    I find the juxtaposition of the simplicity and complexity of play fascinating. I feel that in order to be a success at designing playgrounds that resonate with and benefit children you must hold the love of play in your heart while your mind masters the complexity of play theory and child development. I am finding it well worth the effort.

    April 08, 2013 at 11:08 pm

  9. Peter Grønfeldt said:

    I got in to playground design by chance!

    After my design-BA I got an internship at Danish company that produces playground equipment. At that point I’d been working free-time as a video-game journalist, and my interest in video-games and my BA caught the attention of the company’s former Design Lead.

    Since then I’ve taken my MA, worked as a design teacher and a whole bunch of other stuff.

    In the spring of 2011 I started working as a consultant for the same company which lead to them eventually hiring me in September same year.

    At the company we have a lot of interns coming through – by far the most qualified are the ones from the HDK, Gothenburg Child Culture Design program!

    I’d recommend that to anyone wanting to get into the business!

    April 06, 2013 at 5:08 pm

  10. Tyler said:

    I basically fell into the playground design field. I stumbled upon an internship at PlaygroundIdeas.org (which is always looking for more) and have been volunteering for the past 2.5 yrs. It’s been great. It was alot of work in the beginning but it felt good doing it, since Playgroundideas.org is a non-profit that works to build playgrounds in underprivileged parts of the world while also providing open source playground instructions for free! It’s pretty great.

    April 06, 2013 at 4:05 pm

  11. Elizabeth said:

    I got involved in play design through working on playground builds with the playground building NGO, Playground Ideas. Their open source library of designs make playground building accessible to anyone. They also offer 6-month internships for those interested in gaining experience in the field of play design. Interns have the opportunity to create their own new open source elements and get involved in the process of community designed play spaces. http://www.playgroundideas.org/involved/Become-an-Intern

    April 06, 2013 at 2:59 pm

  12. Alex Haynes said:

    Anyone interested in creating designs, learning about the process of community constructed playgrounds, supporting communities and making an impact right now can collaborate with playground ideas as an intern. See playgroundideas url: http://www.playgroundideas.org/involved/become-an-intern Even if you cant volunteer the website is well worth a look to see some amazing low cost community driven playgrounds happening all over the world. Thanks Alex

    April 06, 2013 at 2:04 am

  13. Jay Beckwith said:

    I too got into play design from an art background and I would recommend that path to anyone interested in the field today. Spending time learning “design” will lean one towards products rather than process. The playground industry is full of designers and engineers who produce lots of products that are only marginally better than what already exists.

    I would also recommend that you not “study” play but live it. And not create playgrounds but opportunities to play. And not focus on playgrounds but rather “play everywhere”.

    Finally, what the world of play needs is more complexity, more variety, more of the unexpected, places that make one just stop and wonder. When people ask “What do I do with this?” you are on the right path.

    Play … you know when you see it. You know when you do it.

    April 05, 2013 at 5:33 pm

  14. Elizabeth Renton said:

    I am a landscape architect; my passion and specialty is designing children’s playscapes. I became interested in this topic while I was getting my landscape architecture degree at LSU; I read Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods and it resonated so deeply with me because my entire childhood was spent playing outside!! That’s not the case with kids these days and I am determined to help children discover the joy of playing outside again! I spent an entire semester researching the history of playgrounds and the basics of child development, and this research greatly influences my playground designs today. I love reading through all the posts on this blog for design inspiration; as a designer it’s very helpful for me to show clients pictures of all the wonderful playground designs already in existence because so many of them are very leery of doing anything different than the typical plastic equipment playground. I would encourage anyone interested in designing nature-based playscapes to consider attending the Arbor Day Foundation’s upcoming workshop. The 2013 Nature Explore/Outdoor Classroom Project Leadership Institute will be held at Arbor Day Farm, Nebraska City, NE, July 21-24, 2013. I have not had the pleasure of attending yet but it is definitely on my wish list!

    April 05, 2013 at 3:44 pm

  15. Jennie Nayton said:


    I have started to design playgrounds through the path of public art. I have been a practising artist for a number of years specializing in photography, sculpture and paper engineering. I first started to do public art and then a job came up for an artwork in a school. Your blog was of tremendous help to me in coming up with the design which won me the contract. I was very inspired by Egon Möller-Nielsen and his sinuous concrete designs. The artwork entitled Earthworks, Waterway and the Inhabitants was a complete success, the school love it and I love to see the kids actually interacting with my work. It can be seen on my flickr page. I have now won another job doing work for different school and I hope to continue designing interactive artworks for children. Thankyou so much for your blog, without it I doubt I would have found the information I needed to inspire me.

    April 05, 2013 at 11:05 am

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