Jun 2015 - May 2016 (1 year)


A learning toolkit for preschooler

Product Design

We partnered with an occupational therapy center to collaborate on learning tools for preschoolers to improve visual attention skills through play.

IDEA Finalist

  • Role: Product Designer, Visual Designer
  • Team: 1 Product Designer, 1 Software Engineer, 1 Hardware Engineer
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Young children with special learning needs visit their occupational therapy center once a week for an hour of learning. The scarce amount of time can hardly improve their visual perception skills which are crucial to the upcoming learning journey. What if there’s a tool that can guide parents and children play while learning at home setting?

Team Setup

My design partner and I had a close work relationship in this project. We shared an equal contribution to big design decisions. In terms of the nitty-gritty of implementation, I focused on the visual end (e.g., illustrations in the pop-up books and UI design); while she studied the mechanism for the pop-up books and the hardware design. We negotiated ideas with hardware and software engineers to come up with practical solutions that met our goals.

My team (left to right) - me, design partner, hardware engineer, software engineer.

Research Process

Our first few research questions are — what is visual perception skills and why are they important. To answer those, we did in-depth desk research about children development from 4-6 and field research in a therapy center, a preschool, and a children library, seeking ways to see the world through the lens of young children.

User testing with our therapist partner.

Design Process

Since we were all excited about the tangible interactive play, we explored various sensing technologies to get the design parameters. Building an interactive storytelling game from scratch was way complex than we could ever imagine. I made the greatest number of design decisions in my life ranging from characters, narratives, scripts, scene, user flow to circuit design. Knowing that iteration and testing were the keys, we brought our ideas/prototypes to our therapist partners every two weeks to make sure we were still aiming our goal.

The evolution of our toy design (from left to right). There is a chunky car meant to carry the phone to send signals to the map to give interactive feedback.
The previous version of our game. Considering the room size of most people's houses, we ended up breaking down the map into individual scenes.
The evolution of our circuit design (left to right). The biggest design change was separating the entire board into pieces for more flexible positions.

Design Rationals

Let’s dive in the process of making a pop-up book!
My partner was in charge of paper mechanism, whereas I focused on illustrations that matched to our learning objectives. We refined our design at least 30 times just to ensure that the movement of the book was not only smooth and surprising and but also hitting our learning goal. For instance, Who is Hiding behind the Coral Reef was designed to improve visual discrimination skill which referred to being able to recognize the shape of an object and tell the similarity/difference from other objects. Thereby we used patterns and a set of color to blend physical animal and the coral reef.

My partner was testing the paper mechanism for the coral reef scene. She learned it by hacking well-made popup books. So brilliant!
A prototype of our popup book. We were in the process of exploring visual style for popup books and toys.
The black and white version for testing the movements of popup scenes.
Form testing - no colors!
The semifinal version of the popup scene. After this, we tweaked the patterns and the color.
Vualá - the evolution of the popup book!

Final Design

We did the filming ourselves from sketching storyboards, scene design, visuals, recruiting actors, light setting, shooting scene, editing, music, and recording scripts (yep, that's my voice!).

One Fun Story

I experienced children’s wonderful imaginative play projecting on our toy. Here’s what happened - I explained to our kid model that there was a storybook about the mushroom forest and showed him the mushroom toys. A few minutes later, I saw him holding the mushroom on top of his head, running like crazy and making ambulance sound. Oh, it’s a siren. Another minute later, he started licking the mushroom. Oh, it turned into ice cream. What a powerful imagination!

We took this photo after wrapping our film work. Big thank-you to our actor and actress!

Lesson Learned

Having bi-weekly user testing with therapists was one of the great things in the development process. However, I wish we could have more feedback from preschoolers. As an educator who now whole-heartedly believes that children have their voice, I told myself - in the future, I shall always include children's voice in my design, regardless of their ages, or the tedious paperwork.
At the end of this project, we share our final design with our occupational therapists. Seeing them having fun with our game was one of the best moments in this year!

Final Thoughts

It was my first time driving a year-long design project from finding a research topic to crafting a hi-fidelity prototype. During the process, it became clear to me that having sufficient understanding about a topic (e.g., learning and children development) or a user group was so important that it shaped the entire mechanism of the toolkit. Due to many doubts and questions about cognition and learning theories held I'm my mind, I left my industrial design bubble and entered the study of education.
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