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Play Taking Shape: Your Guide for Designing Playgrounds

It takes all kinds of minds to design playground equipment.  Buyers, administrators, and investors understand budget capacities. Children understand fun and adventure. Parents understand all too well the importance of safety over cost.  The best playground designs are conceived when all of these perspectives think and work together.

So, how can independent playground designers account for this diversity of thought and outlook?  As it turns out, there are some easy steps to ensuring you keep all your bases covered.

1) Sketch

Playground designs can take several shapes.  The smartest affordable designs are hand-sketched based off of measurements taken by the customer. You’ll only need basic survey tools (tape measure, graph paper, and a pencil) to put a play area sketch together.  Take all potential hazards into account such as trees, exposed pipes, concrete, walkways, doors, fences, drainage, utility lines, and other site-specific issues.

If you have the resources and a little extra budget, 3D modeling software is widely available and easier than ever before to learn and use.  By assembling a 3D digital mock-up of your playground equipment designs, you can present ideas and construction plans to potential investors and/or customers before you expend any capital for construction costs.  This comes in handy especially for the strongly recommended third step.

2) Select

Once you have properly mapped out your area, you are ready select playground equipment.

There are many options to keep in mind when selecting the materials for your playground equipment.  Wood is cheap and easy to assemble, but metal is more durable.  Modern plastic play equipment requires the least maintenance of all and can be developed from recycled materials.  Plastic is also proven to be the safest for kids of all ages.

Most people start with the swing set.  This classic playground component is guaranteed to entertain a wide range of age groups, but it requires an enormous amount of space. We only recommend swings for playground plots with an area large enough to safely accommodate the unit.  

Fun Fact: A single 2-seat swing set requires a minimum ground area of 32 feet by 24 feet.

Using 50-70% of the estimated budget, select equipment based on cost, available space, user age, and whatever exigent requirements your organization may have.  The other 30-50% of budget should be reserved for professional installation by a certified playground contractor, installation materials, and shipping costs.

3) Consult

Commercial playground equipment manufacturers are usually pretty good at bringing fiscal concerns to the design table.  Many employees are likely parents as well, making it easy to incorporate matters of safety, but it’s rare for an adult mind to truly grasp what children will find stimulating.

For that last key perspective, it is recommended to go straight to the source: kids!  Bring together a focus group of volunteer youth from the community that your conceptual playground is intended to serve.  Let them engage with your designs and highlight what interests them.  

Sometimes, you may discover that those expensive bells and whistles don’t actually add to the crucial fun-factor, and you may save a few hundred by forgoing an extravagant design.

Other times, you may find that simply adding a plastic tree canopy or a themed panel makes all the difference in a child’s enthusiasm about a new project.  

Kids’ playground design is at its best when designed for kids by kids!  The only downside to focus groups is that they can be expensive if not managed frugally.  

If All Else Fails, Seek Assistance

For further assistance, contact a certified playground specialist at, one of the most trusted playground equipment companies in America.

We offer a variety of playground equipment names, styles, and models along with tips and resources for quick and safe installation.  Take the first step in designing your very own playground by calling (317) 747-0203 today!