Fostering emotional understanding and development for children as part of a University of Washington Medical Center parenting course.
Experience Designer, Visual Designer
Figma, Adobe Illustrator
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?
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.
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.
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.
As such, based on our interviews and secondary research, our design should:
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.
An open-world storybook that demonstrates various scenarios in which children may feel particular emotions.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
We also would have liked to incorporate the following smaller interactions and elements in the application: