Reimagining the birthday ritual

TU-Delft - 2020
Zen Product Design

Current birthday supplies are often disposable, low-quality products designed to be thrown away after the ritual. This project aims to create a set of birthday products that bring back the quality and excitement of birthdays by offering a set that can grow with the child through the first five celebrations. The main element of the set, the candle, evolves each year by growing an additional flame. This evolution of the candle reflects the growth of the child and the passage of time.
The set further includes a crown to which each year a crown element can be added, three hats and coloured crayons to personalize the birthday set.

This project was part of the TU-Delft Master's elective Zen Product Design, focusing on everyday rituals and social interactions. The focus is on designing rituals and interactions that restore a lost quality and subsequently on the products needed to facilitate this. This process, therefore, involves creating a storyboard of the desired ritual and the emotive, memetic vision before working on embodiment design, ultimately leading to the development of a real-life model.


Emotive vision
The emotional collage represents the desired emotional qualities of the birthday ritual. Surprise, warmth, wonder and exitment are the main characteristics, and the design should stimulate them.


Memetic vision
The memetic collage describes the desired material and form qualities. It shows soft, playful/ minimal forms combined with colourful/ bright materials with a translucent or speckled finishes.

Current VS Desired Scenario


The current birthday ritual scenario shows how the quality of the birthday ritual is deteriorating nowadays. Disposable cakes and low-quality items from the supermarket are bought due to the lack of time allocated to the ritual. This lack of time reflects impatience, which leads to the loss of qualities such as wonder, surprise and excitement. Eating the cake instead of the ritual of lighting a candle becomes the primary objective.

The desired ritual attempts to bring time back and material quality into the ritual by introducing a recurring birthday box that is meant to be used for several years. Children's patience and wonder are stimulated by having their personal candle that changes over the years like themselves. In this way, an attachment is created to the objects in the ritual, causing attendees to care more about the ritual, invest more time and develop a closer bond.


5-year candle
The aim was to create a candle that, like the child, changes over time and builds a bond and wonder. This inspired the idea of a candle that branches out each year, adding a flame and transitioning into different colours.

5-year crown
Just like the candle that transforms over time, a new element can be added to the crown each year. After five years, the child has the complete crown, which will provide a sense of accomplishment.


Paper pulp packaging
A paper pulp speckled with coloured accents of wax houses the different birthday objects, the top of the packaging also serves a Birthday horn. The cone/triangle shape was used as it proved to be a reoccurring shape in the birthday ritual appearing in The shapes of birthday flags, a slice of cake, spikes of the crown and the birthday horn itself.

A surprise inside!
Additional elements in the Birthday Set include colourful crayons to personalize the outer packaging and extra hats for friends, family of the birthday child.


Model making

Extensive experimentation was undertaken to attempt recreating a model of the birthday set. 3D printing moulds were used to shape the paper pulp packaging and the hats, and numerous experiments were made in wax casting the candle. The Paperpulp material proved difficult to mould accurately; the efforts can be seen in the overview below.


Final candle model
The final candle model was made with a 3D printed base that was coated with paint and then immersed in the candle wax material.


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