Light work

This wind-up flashlight kit was designed in collaboration with its intended users.

Social enterprise Ambessa Play has collaborated with Pentagram partner and industrial designer Jon Marshall to design a DIY flashlight for kids. With 10 separate components and 16 build steps, the DIY kit turns learning about kinetic energy and electronic components into a hands-on adventure.

Ambessa Play, a London-based social enterprise founded by Sara Berkai, creates science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) toy kits and workshops that support children around the world to learn and develop through play. The idea to create a ‘useful toy’ came to Berkai in 2019 while she was running STEM workshops and volunteering with children in Eritrea in East Africa. It was here that the children proposed a light instead of other projects like radios: ‘If we don’t have light, it’s more helpful to actually learn how to make a light.’

Berkai then approached Marshall, of the independently owned multidisciplinary design studio Pentagram, to develop the industrial design of their very first kit: a DIY flashlight. With the aim of creating a distinctive, fun and attractive design that would work equally well as a STEM kit and as a usable product — particularly for displaced children — Marshall and his team paid close attention to the tactile and visual details of the project.

In order to get the ‘kid stamp of approval’, the team partnered with charities to involve children. By visiting a refugee camp in Calais, France, and regularly meeting with children via the Refugee Council, the design team was able to test numerous early design options using functional 3D prototypes. ‘Children were involved at every stage of the process as co-creators,’ said the Pentagram partner. ‘This ensured the designs were optimised for displaced children to provide a meaningful benefit for Ambessa Play’s one-to-one business model where for every kit purchased a displaced child receives one for free.’

The ‘useful toy’ is battery-free and uses a dynamo to charge a capacitor which powers the LED lamp for around fifteen minutes after one to two minutes of winding. The use of a capacitor rather than a battery makes the design more compact and avoids safety issues associated with batteries. 

Ambessa Play's product is available on Kickstarter until the end of April 2023. Visit the Kickstarter page here:


Read more

Music by design

Baby steps


Photographs: Ambessa Play, Jon Marshall.