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Target’s newest furniture is for kids with sensory sensitivity

Weighted blankets. Rocking chairs. And a big, soft bag to hit at full speed.

Sensory sensitivities occur when kids need a certain amount of stimulus–but also not too much stimulus–just to feel right in their skin. And when they don’t, it can lead to anything from a loss of attention to complete meltdowns. Some kids have tested as being on the autism spectrum. Others may always be scratching at their clothing tags, or just can’t seem to sit still.

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[Photo: courtesy Target]
Now, Target is releasing a new collection–as part of Pillowfort, the company’s line of whimsical kids furniture–designed specifically for those kids. Available online now with prices that range from $20 to $100, the approximately 20-item collection includes the sorts of adorable items you’d expect in Pillowfort, like a pineapple rug or an indoor tent built to hold a desk. But with muted hues, soft-yet-tangible textures, and plenty of items meant to move or even be tackled, it’s designed specifically to accommodate the senses: To offer safety and reassurance, but also respond to the needs of more stimulation on demand.

[Photo: courtesy Target]
Pillowfort’s new desk chair is built to rock, allowing a child to fidget while working. A foam crash pad can take the abuse of a child ramming it at full speed again and again. A weighted blanket and “cocoon” chair provide the sensation of being hugged. (Lest this stuff sound like new aged nonsense, children on the autism spectrum have been shown to focus and socialize better in classrooms when seated on a bouncy balance ball rather than a chair. And weighted blankets, while not necessarily proven to help kids sleep better, have been validated to be favorable for kids over typical blankets.)

[Photo: courtesy Target]
Like all of Target’s super-successful, 36 in-house brands, the project was born from talking to customers–both in person and through Target’s special app built just for that purpose–and listening for their unmet needs. As Julie Guggemos, SVP of product design and brand management explains over email, sensory sensitivities have become a popular topic for parents who are often forced to shop for clothing and furniture in specialty item stores where aesthetics are low and prices are high.

[Photos: Target]
It’s what led Target to create sensory-friendly items in their Cat & Jack line of children’s clothing in 2017, which incorporated flat seams, heat-transferred labels instead of tags, and graphic tees that used fewer, stiff layers of decals so they wouldn’t scratch at someone’s chest. And it’s the same rationale that led Target to develop the new Pillowfort collection, out now. The design team interviewed parents and attended focus groups. They also consulted with an occupational therapist at the University of Minnesota to validate some of their thinking.

[Photo: courtesy Target]
“Overall, working on this assortment heightened the team’s awareness and helped them build empathy for the end users,” says Guggemos. “They learned that small changes in a product’s design could have a big impact. While it’s just a few pieces in the line, for some families, they’ll make a huge difference.”

[Photo: courtesy Target]
Which makes us wonder, will Target get a true return on investment for its Pillowfort sensory line? Guggemos declines to comment on the topic. Meanwhile, Target is only doubling down sensory clothing, expanding into kids’ uniforms.

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In any case, Target is approaching the topic of inclusive design–or designing with the needs of fringe users at the forefront–as a core tenet of its business. Guggemos’s team simply makes no differentiation between a customer’s needs and customer’s special needs. They’re all an opportunity to gain another loyal customer and keep those profits growing.

“At Target, our purpose is to help all families discover the joy of everyday life,” says Guggemos. “We want all guests to feel welcomed and included through every experience they have with our brand.”

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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