2018

UWMC: How I'm Feeling

Fostering emotional understanding and development for children as part of a University of Washington Medical Center parenting course.

Role

Experience Designer, Visual Designer

Toolbox

Figma, Adobe Illustrator

Problem

How can we help parents foster their children’s cognitive and social development in a collaborative way that is relevant for families of varying cultural backgrounds?

Background

My team partnered with Dr. Kim, an instructor from the UW School of Medicine (UWMC), to develop a parenting class for families of various cultural backgrounds. She asked us to design a tool for parents and children (ages 0-5) to help foster cognitive and emotional development. Learning during this time period will provide the foundation for future brain development, and these concepts are often overlooked, particularly with the demographic within the program. She emphasized the importance of creating a tool that could be used in both an educational setting and in parents’ homes.

Having limited experience designing for children and parents, my team and I had to understand how young children learn and process information. It was critical that we first understand the intricacies of learning and familiarize ourselves with children’s behaviors.

The affected stakeholders

We had a few stakeholders to take into consideration: the UWMC, parents in the program, and their children. We thought about concepts that could tie into families’ routines and be integrated within different cultural settings. Being cognizant of our users’ characteristics would help us develop a solution that is approachable and friendly.

We wanted their inputs and connected with a small sample size of stakeholders: a preschool teacher with extensive experience working with families, and a parent raising two children.

From this research we learned that it is important to meet children at their level by providing the correct tools to learn effectively, and they tend to gravitate towards interactive and collaborative activities.

Children often gravitate towards interactive, imaginative activities where they are able to work together with peers, whether that’s a parent or another child.
Initial concepts

Inspired by the concept of learning without the barriers of language, we chose to concentrate on the effects of music on young children’s social and cognitive development. We read papers on the role of music in family life and its potential for an aide in development.

But while secondary research led us to find that music has been recognized as a tool for all ages to enforce social bonds, we also found that today’s music-based toys and devices often misuse musical stimuli and its over-abundance frequently leads to the replacement of human interaction. It’s a powerful tool that could easily be misused.

DESIGN REQUIREMENTS

As such, based on our interviews and secondary research, our design should:

  • Encourage cooperation and interaction between the parent and the child as it will be used in an exercise during one of Dr. Kim’s parenting classes
  • Emphasize the use of sensory stimuli and human interaction because young children benefit from physical contact
  • Be aimed to be universal and adaptable between different cultural contexts and languages.
  • Reinforce social bonds and promote play between the child and parent.

  • Emphasize playing just to play and not to only teach because emphasis on exploration and social development is not as valued in most current parenting strategies
Ideation

Children often value cooperative play and the open-endedness of games. We confirmed this by speaking to two children along with their mother. Together we drew out instruments and wacky characters, discussing how they enjoyed games where they were able to explore and make their own decisions. Afterwards, my team sketched out concepts based on our conversations with the kids.

From our multitude of ideas, we worked collaboratively with our sponsor to finalize the idea that best suited the parenting program.
FINAL CONCEPT

An open-world storybook that demonstrates various scenarios in which children may feel particular emotions.

Pivoting from music

While there could have been an opportunity for us to incorporate music into this idea, we eventually chose to remove music over concerns that music would insufficiently explain emotions or cause confusion because of the varying demographics of families that partake in the parenting course.

After various iterations, we designed the final screens taking into special consideration the UI needs for young children.

An open-world setting encourages children to explore the elements on the screen
.

The app uses an incorrect choice as an opportunity to learn about other emotions.

The app prompts parents and children to reflect about their own emotional experiences.

We also created nine paper cut-out cards that parents and children can use at home as supplementary material independent of the tablet app.

In front of the users

As a means to test, we walked through our app with a two-year-old and her mother in our local community. We received validation that the app is useful in teaching particular emotions. While she recognized most of the emotions in the application, some were still too complex for her age.

We were also told that the cards would be useful in teaching the child about how to regulate and express her emotions since visuals are useful to reference, and they teach applications to what they may mean.

We also tested with a seven-year-old child who used the application primarily on her own. Her use of the application was more self-reflective, using the storybook scenarios as a prompt to think about her own past experiences. However, she expressed that some of the scenarios and emotions were too simple for her age, such as “happy” or “angry.”

Some emotions may have been more complex for younger children

And some emotions may have been too simple for older children

Reflection
TIME CONSTRAINT

If we had more time, we would have created differing levels for the different ages. The disparity between the abilities and understandings of children between 0 to 5 range greatly, and it is unlikely that there could be appropriately challenging stimuli for children on opposite ends of the age range.

CONSISTENCY

Creating the graphics was particularly difficult for our team. With three different people doing different storybook locations and characters, it was challenging to create style consistency across the screens. We had to curate a board of style inspiration to reference, and I had to create the first character and location to set the foundations of color and shape.

ADDITIONAL DETAILS

We also would have liked to incorporate the following smaller interactions and elements in the application:

  • Incorporate synonyms for the emotions, such as informing our users that some feelings may overlap
  • Validate our users' emotions by creating stronger character empathy through phrases such as "I would feel angry, too, if that happened to me" 
  • Include animations to make the application more engaging
  • Create more screens asking about the child's current emotions and thoughts about the different locations apart from the park, beach, and home