A task learning system that teaches children important life skills and fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility.
The prompt given to us for this class project was to design for the home of the future. We were to imagine some sort of speculative future and create a design response for it.
Drawing inspiration from the situation we were in, we imagined a future in which remote working and remote schooling continue to be prevalent. We wanted to take a look at parents and guardians who were juggling work and taking care of their children in this pandemic environment.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, families are staying at home in accordance with safety restrictions. Parents now have to juggle remote work and caring for their children at home while navigating this unprecedented situation with no end in sight, all alone with no help from their usual external support systems. As a result, parents are feeling overwhelmed and stressed out.
Helply is an educational system that teaches children important life skills and helps them foster a sense of ownership and responsibility. As children gain mastery over various skills and become more independent, the cognitive load on parents is reduced.
Together, at the beginning of the week, the parent and the child align on tasks they want to work on for that week along with the expectations and rewards associated with that task.
All the tasks, expectations, and rewards can be customized and adjusted allowing both the guardian and the child to work together on making an agreed-upon task.
On the first day of a new task, Helply recommends for the parent to do the activity with their child together. This provides a model for the child to follow.
Once a task is agreed on, the child can begin their learning through a themed, story-driven game. In the story, the child has a companion that they will complete the adventure with. The game helps the child prepare the task by guiding them through digital learning exercises related to the task.
If the child gets stuck, the game will offer support through in-game hints when their parent isn’t around to help.
After completing the game on the tablet, the child then attempts to perform the task in real life. This is when the wearable takes over and guides the child to complete the task within a given timeframe through its voice assistant and haptic feedback features.
After the child attempts the task, LEDs on the watch will light up, prompting the child to rate how difficult they thought the task was.
The parent is then notified about their child's progress, either when an activity has started or when it has finished. In the parent app, they can see a report of their child’s progress, which includes details of the storyline, which day they're on, and how difficult the child thought the task was.
In addition, the parent can send their child words of affirmation to encourage their child throughout the day.
At the end of the day, Helply will provide the parent and the child discussion prompts to reflect on what the child did earlier in the day. Helply also provides hints, tips, and tricks for when the child attempts the task next time.
Finally at the end of the week, after all of the practice tasks have been completed, both the parent and the child will sit down together and discuss the child's progress over the past week. Together, they will pick a reward that the child can buy with their in-game currency. These rewards are based on real items or activities they can do in their household and with their family members.
Having picked the pandemic's effects on families as our focus area, we conducted literature review to get a better understanding of the problem space. We looked at academic papers and news articles on how families have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of prolonged social isolation.
Taking what we learned from literature review, we created a stakeholder map to visualize all the different parties that might be involved. Our three main stakeholder groups were young children, their parents, and friends and other family. For these three main stakeholder groups, we wrote down the challenges they face, preferred outcomes to work toward, and negative outcomes to avoid.
We decided to focus on parents and guardians as our main stakeholder group. Guided by secondary research insights, we formulated a research question that we wanted to answer through primary research.
For primary research, we conducted semi-structured interviews with parents and guardians of young children to learn about how their daily lives might have changed due to the pandemic as well as how they might be adapting to it.
We also did a photo elicitation activity where we asked parents to take pictures of particular areas or objects of interest in their home in order to get more context about the spaces they were living in and working in.
Parents and primary caretakers suddenly have to become more than a parent or primary caretaker. Now they have to also act as a teacher, manager, and more for their child while balancing their own work obligations, which can be overwhelming.
“I'm not only there as her task manager, I am her teaching assistant. I'm her short order cook. I'm the principal. I'm the school counselor. And those are things that I was not told to anticipate doing.” –P5
Parents and primary caretakers are in a constant state of stress and anxiety with no opportunity for catharsis. So many uncertainties around the pandemic with no end in sight.
“Well this whole quarantine I have been in that ‘okay-okay-okay’ mode with a few minor breakdowns and then the fall came and school started and that's when I realized that I haven't had that moment of utter collapse into a heap, and I obviously I won't get that for a long time.” –P1
It is difficult for primary caretakers to find free time for themselves, which is negatively impacting their mental wellbeing and relationships within the household.
“The main thing that I have noticed is that [my partner] doesn't get breaks from the kids… Not that she got breaks from them before, but she really doesn't get a break at all now… I have seen [her] stress levels go through the roof.” –P4
Parents and primary caretakers can’t look to external support networks (e.g. extended family, friends, neighbors, etc.) for help due to social distancing measures. Also, they can no longer leverage childcare (e.g. daycare, school, babysitters, etc.).
“... I had lots of great strong friendships and family relationships outside of the household that I leaned on. But then this pandemic really just shrank and collapsed that world ... I feel like [my husband] has now become much more of support because of that.” –P2
A solution that can adapt with the guardians’ needs as their landscape continues to change.
A solution that help guardians regain a sense of control in their ability to manage their daily tasks.
A solution that manages and shift responsibilities to help guardians accomplish their goals.
Assist guardians with task switching through assisted prioritization and delegation to help reduce stress and anxiety associated with cognitive overload.
Provide assistance for guardians who feel discouraged, stressed, and physically exhausted to help them gain a feeling of competence and recovery.
Reduce the number of roles guardians have to take on in their household to decrease tensions associated with having to balance these multiple roles.
Encourage children to take ownership and responsibility over some of their own tasks to help reduce the guardians’ required roles in the house.
We each came up with 30 concept sketches for a total of 90 ideas.
To downselect, we utilized several methods. We grouped together similar concepts and dot voted to narrow down the initial pool of ideas. We also evaluated concepts against our design principles. We also took a look at form factor and management method by placing concepts on a prioritization matrix. Eventually we landed on our final concept, a task management and learning system for children, which would go on to become Helply.
We planned out our key paths for our concept and created paper prototypes for each. The three key paths we wanted to test were the onboarding process, which the parent and child would do together so that they would be aligned on expectations and responsibilities. The second key path we wanted to test was for the wearable and how it would guide the child through performing a task. The last key path we wanted to test was a reward system to incentivize the child to complete tasks.
We tested our paper prototypes with a few parents and their children. We walked them through each of our key paths (as best as we could through Zoom). Some of the major points of feedback were:
Language used in the child’s side of the system must be understandable to them. Visuals would be more understandable and more engaging.
“You know what would be beneficial… Having a picture or photograph...having a visual chart of what needs to be done is highly recommended... having the ability to snap a photo in this just so that he has a visual of this.” –P1
Need to make sure parent and child are aligned on expectations. Onboarding has to be engaging for the child as well as understandable. Expectations around rewards need to be clear.
“Incentives go hand in hand with expectations...it’s going to be on a harder sale during task alignment without incentives” –P1
Enough guidance and feedback should be given to the child through the process so they don’t need to rely on their parent to direct them. Parents also want to know how their child is doing.
“Make sure to show the steps as you move forward so they know where they are going and what's to come.” –P1
“I would love to see charts of what he’s done. So maybe a report card of chores...to see that he’s thriving, that’s a good feeling.” –P2
Children’s desires can change frequently. Parents need to be able to adjust incentives accordingly based on their child’s mood and interests.
“For a couple of days it would be a new thing, but if there’s a day that it wouldn’t work on him...and didn’t care about pizza or watching more TV... those things will just fly out that day.” –P2
I created 3D mockups for three different variations of the wearable device, with different variations of the difficulty rating system. One variation had a screen display, similar to a Fitbit. The other two variations had an LED display, similar to a Nike FuelBand. There were two variations for the difficulty rating system: emoji-based and color-based.
We ended up opting for the LED display. We wanted something durable, considering that the wristband would be worn by a child, and felt that the screen display would break more easily than the LED display. As for the rating system, we decided to move forward with the color rating system as we didn't necessarily want to cause confusion by associating a particular emotion with a particular difficulty rating. (Of course, this is just an assumption that we would want to verify through testing.)
Building and iterating off of our paper prototypes, we began to create higher fidelity screen designs. Shown below are some wireframes and early screen designs of the child's tablet app and parent's phone app.
Parent and child sit down together and choose a task for the child to learn for the week, along with the expectations and rewards associated with the task.
Rationale: Fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility in the child by increasing their involvement in the decision-making process.
Presets are provided as starting points but all tasks, rewards, and expectations are adjustable and customizable.
Rationale: Accommodates family’s needs and available resources.
Recommendation for parents to do the activities together with their child for the first time and model the task for their child.
Rationale: Scaffolds and supports child's learning experience, helps them reach higher levels of skill acquisition and independence through incremental levels of temporary support.
The story theme is chosen during the onboarding and task alignment process.
Rationale: Overarching story-driven narrative makes learning more engaging.
Activities are centered around a companion character that the child is responsible for taking care of.
Rationale: Teaches ownership by having child be responsible for companion.
Teaches the child how to perform the task through a series of games. Games teach the child what materials are needed to complete the task and what the correct order of steps would be to complete the task.
If the child is stuck, hints provide help for completing the activities.
Rationale: Allows child to learn and practice tasks in a fun and safe environment.
After child practices the task through the game, they will attempt to perform the task in real life. The wearable guides the child through the task using voice instructions and haptic feedback.
Rationale: Provides guidance for the child as they go through the task by themself, reducing the need for parental supervision.
After completing the task, child is prompted to rate how difficult they thought the task was using the controls on the wearable.
Rationale: Tracks perceived difficulty of task for later review and discussion.
Parents can see the progress of their child throughout the week.
Push notifications are sent to the parent's phone when their child completes a task.
Rationale: Allows parent to see how their child is doing, which feels good for parent to see their child succeeding and also lets them know what they're having trouble with.
Parents can send their child words of affirmation and encouragement through the app.
Rationale: Allows the guardian to encourage and support their child when they would normally be unable to.
At the end of the day, parent and child sit down together to reflect on the day's tasks. The child's difficulty ratings provide specific talking points to discuss what was challenging, what could be improved for next time, or if they need more help from the parent.
App provides helpful hints to improve the experience for next time.
Rationale: Encourages reflection between parent and child and helps develop problem solving skills.
At the end of the week, the child is allowed to claim a reward using the in-game currency they earned from practicing tasks.
Rewards are based on real items and activities that can be done within the household or with their family.
Rationale: Develops positive reinforcement with realistic, tangible rewards that accommodates families’ changing needs and resources.
For detailed product specifications and visual system documentation, please see our Specification Document below.View full Specification Document
If we had more time to work on this project, our next steps would include conducting user testing on our high-fidelity prototype as well as testing with families from a variety of backgrounds.
We would also consult experts in child psychology and child development to see how we could improve our design based on the existing body of child research out there.
We’d also be interested in exploring different form factors for the physical component and take a look at other ways children can engage with technology.
Finally, we’d like to expand the variety of story content to account for children with different interests. We’d likely want to work with game designers who specialize in children’s games on this.
With this being one of our first design projects in school, there were definitely quite a few learning moments along the way.
Our How Might We and design principles went through many, many revisions because we were oversimplifying the problem and we weren’t being specific enough.
Admittedly, we recruited research participants in a pretty haphazard manner. We relied on convenience sampling due to time constraints and basically just took anyone who worked from home and had a child. As a result, our participants leaned more on the affluent and privileged side. If we were to do this again, we’d want to interview families from a larger variety of backgrounds and circumstances.
During our research phase, we had planned to conduct a particular research activity (contextual inquiry) to better understand participants' home environments, but we ended up not conducting it properly due to misunderstanding on our part. Luckily, we were able to improvise and have our participants do a different activity (photo elicitation) for us.