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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!