An educational system that teaches children important life skills and helps them foster a sense of ownership and responsibility.
Maisie Howard
Nathan Keyes
Angela Xu
Hero image: first image depicts a mother and her child looking at an iPad, screen of Helply interface is overlaid on top; second image depicts child wearing Helply wristband; third image shows a hand holding an iPhone, iPhone shows the Helply parent interface.
Oct 2020–Dec 2020
(10 weeks)


This project was done as a part of our Ideation Studio course in the MHCI+D program. 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.

Formative Research

With a general direction in mind, 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.
Thumbnails of academic papers and articles, sticky notes with insights next to articles.
[Literature review and notes on Miro board]
Stakeholder map.
[Stakeholder map]
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 parents of young children, the children themselves, 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.
Stakeholder challenges, preferred outcomes, and negative outcomes
[Challenge/preferred outcome/negative outcome mapping]
Research question

How have guardians of 6-8 year olds been able to deal with remote work, school, and social life during the pandemic?

Primary Research

For primary research, we conducted semi-structured interviews with parents and guardians of young children over Zoom 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.

From these primary research activities, we obtained the following insights:
Primary Research Insights
Taking On More Roles
Suddenly becomes more than a parent or primary caretaker. Now has to act as a teacher and project manager for child while balancing their own work obligations.
Perpetual Stress
Constant state of stress and anxiety with no opportunity for catharsis. So many uncertainties around pandemic, no end in sight.
Lack of Time
Difficult for primary caretakers to find free time for themselves. Is negatively impacting mental wellbeing and relationships within the household.
Diminished Support
Can’t look to external support networks (e.g. extended family, friends, neighbors, etc.) for help do to social distancing measures. Can also no longer leverage childcare (e.g. daycare, school, babysitters, etc.).
From our primary and secondary research insights, we formed a How Might We statement to guide our ideation process.

We also determined a set of the desired outcomes we wanted our design response to lead to.

How might we...

How might we alleviate stress and responsibilities for primary caregivers with young children to allow more personal time and space away from their day-to-day responsibilities?

Desired outcomes

Manage Schedules to Reduce Stress
Help primary caregivers manage their schedules in order to reduce stress and anxiety associated with their day-to-day responsibilities.
Utilize Untapped Resources
Exposing and mobilizing existing untapped support networks in primary caregivers’ lives to utilize local resources.
Provide Additional Support
Provide useful resources and continuous support to primary caregivers when their support networks are unavailable or inaccessible.

Ideation (First Round)

With our HMW and outcomes in mind, we each generated 30 concept sketches for a total of 90 sketches.
[Thumbnail sketches of concepts]
To downselect, we started by dot voting based on interest. Concepts that were similar or could work well together were also grouped. The concepts that had the most votes then went through downselection again.

For the second round of downselection, we determined a set of design principles that we wanted our solution to follow and evaluated the remaining concepts against those.
[Dot voting and grouping]
[Design principles and evaluation matrix]
After downselecting, we ended up with three final concepts, shown here in the form of storyboards. We created these storyboards to illustrate how each concept would work and more easily elicit feedback from our peers and instructors.
Concept 1
App that pairs families with other families in their area. Expands families' external support networks.
Concept 2
Sensor system that creates boundaries for “work” and “home.” Alleviates feelings of burnout associated with the merging of work and personal life.
Concept 3
App that allows users to crowdsource tasks to the community. Frees up time in a parent's schedule by asking the local community for help completing errands.

Pivot Point

Based on feedback from our instructors, who were actually part of the stakeholder group we were focusing on, we realized that we weren't ideating for the right problem. We were being too broad and oversimplifying things.

Written as is, “reducing or alleviating stress” is an unattainable goal because stress can have so many different sources— there’s no one solution that’s a cure-all for stress.

Since none of us were parents, we had a lot of misconceptions about what being a parent was like and made a bunch of assumptions. We made the assumption that external support networks were what parents needed the most in this situation. We were also assuming that if given free time, parents would spend that free time relaxing, which is not necessarily true.

Returning to the drawing board, we looked back at our primary research insights and did some additional secondary research regarding the particular sources of stress we heard about from interviewees. We then revised our HMW statement and desired outcomes to be more specific. We also revised our design principles accordingly.
Revised HMW
How might we assist primary caregivers dealing with a constantly shifting environment better manage their private, professional, and familial schedules & tasks?
Revised desired outcomes
Reduce Task Switching
Assist guardians with task switching through assisted prioritization and delegation to help reduce stress and anxiety associated with cognitive overload.
Manage Crisis
Provide assistance for guardians who feel discouraged, stressed, and physically exhausted to help them gain a feeling of competence and recovery.
Mitigate Role Switching
Reduce the number of roles guardians have to take on in their household to decrease tensions associated with having to balance these multiple roles.
Develop Ownership
Encourage children to take ownership and responsibility over some of their own tasks to help reduce the guardians’ required roles in the house.
Revised Design principles
A solution that can adapt with the guardians’ needs as their landscape continues to change.
Reclaim Control
A solution that help guardians regain a sense of control in their ability to manage their daily tasks.
Shift Responsibilities
A solution that manages and shift responsibilities to help guardians accomplish their goals.

Ideation (Second Round)

We did a quick 8x8 session to generate more concepts. We also looked back at our original 90 sketches and picked out ones we could still use. To downselect, we arranged our concepts on a set of axes and then picked out ones that we thought were most interesting and addressed our HMW, design principles, and desired outcomes most adequately.

After downselecting, we landed on three final concepts:
[Downselecting the second round of ideas]
Final concepts
AI Voice Assistant That Reports Emotional States Related to Cognitive Load
AI voice assistant that tracks user’s routine, tasks, stress levels, and emotional states over time. Finds patterns in data and provides suggestions on how to best prioritize tasks, manage schedules, and deal with emotions. Connected to user’s support network and prompts intervention when user is unable to self-manage stress and emotions.
Crisis Management Toolkit For Parents
An app or physical book that would educate user on crisis management. Guiding questions to help user understand the state they are in.  Provides resources, guidelines, and framework to help the user move from a state of disillusionment to reconstruction.
Product-Oriented Task Management for Children
Children’s wearable or interactive toy that allows parents and guardians to input tasks that their child needs to complete. Encourages child to take ownership of their responsibilities by motivating them to complete tasks in a fun way. Child given rewards for finishing tasks.
Out of the three, we ended up choosing the product-oriented task management system for children. We were wary of AI-based solutions due to the “black magic-y” nature of AI and wanted to do something that could actually be implemented with current technology. While the crisis toolkit was a unique and interesting concept, we felt that it would have been difficult to prototype. The task management system felt the least abstract and wouldn’t have been too hard to prototype in the time that we had left for this project.

Prototyping + Testing

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.
[Paper prototypes. L-R: onboarding, wearable, rewards system.]
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:
Testing feedback
More Kid-Friendly
Language used in the child’s side of the system must be understandable to them. More visuals would help the child understand as well as keep them engaged.
Clear Expectations
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.
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 want to know how their child is doing.
Children’s desires can change frequently. Parents need to be able to adjust incentives accordingly based on their child’s mood and interests.

Final Design Response

Helply is a three-part system that aims to gradually reduce cognitive load on parents associated with switching between work and caregiving by teaching children how to perform day-to-day tasks and help them foster a sense of ownership over their responsibilities.

Shown below is a video that summarizes our design response:
[Helply summary video]
Onboarding + Task alignment
Collaborative: 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.
Shifting responsibility: Fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility in the child by increasing their involvement in the decision-making process.
Customizable tasks, expectations, and rewards: Presets are provided as starting points but all tasks, rewards, and expectations are adjustable and customizable.
Adaptable: Accommodates family’s needs and available resources.
Task Learning
Modeling prompt: Recommendation for parents to do the activities together with their child for the first time and model the task for their child.
Adaptable: Scaffolds and supports child's learning experience, helps them reach higher levels of skill acquisition and independence through incremental levels of temporary support.
Gamified tasks
Themed story: Overarching story-driven narrative makes learning more engaging. The story theme is chosen during the onboarding and task alignment process.

Companion character:
Activities are centered around a companion character that the child is responsible for taking care of.

Educational activities:
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.
Fun and engaging: Practice tasks in a fun and safe environment.

Shifting Responsibility: Teach ownership by being responsible for companion.
Task Attempt + wearable
Voice assistant + haptic feedback: Guides the child through the task as they attempt to perform the task in real life.

LED visuals + Up, Down, Confirm buttons: After completing the task, child is prompted to rate how difficult they thought the task was using the controls on the wearable.
Adaptable: Extends parent's reach through technology.

Control: Track perceived difficulty of task to discuss later.
Task Management
Progress tracker: Parents can see the progress of their child throughout the week.

Notifications: Push notifications are sent to the parent's phone when their child completes a task.

Notes + voice memos: Parents can send their child words of affirmation and encouragement through the app.
Control: Gives the guardian a sense of control over their child’s activities.

Adaptable: Allows the guardian to encourage and support their child when they would normally be unable to.
Discussion prompts: 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.

Hints + tips: App provides helpful hints to improve the experience for next time.
Shifting Responsibility: Encourage reflection between guardian and child and help develop problem solving skills.
Reward Alignment
Collaborative: Parent and child align and agree on rewards together.

Customizable: Rewards are customizable to adjust for changing desires and resources.

Real life rewards: Rewards can be purchased using in-game currency earned through completing tasks, but rewards are based on real items and activities that can be done within the household or with their family.
Fun and engaging // Adaptable: Develop positive reinforcement with realistic, tangible rewards that accommodates families’ changing needs and resources.

Future Work

If we had more time for this project or if we were to revisit it in the future, our next steps would include:
User Testing
Conduct usability testing on high-fidelity our prototypes with families  to refine onboarding and overall experience. Also test with families from a variety of backgrounds.
Interview Experts
Consult subject matter experts such as child psychologists and social workers to see how we can incorporate existing research into our design.
Non-Wearable Options
Explore alternative form factors for the physical component and look at other ways children can engage with technology.
Expand Story Content
Increase the variety of story content to account for children with different interests. May want to work with game designers who specialize in children’s games.

Lessons Learned

From this experience, we had two main takeaways and places to improve on in the future:
Specific, Evaluable Outcomes
We were oversimplifying the problem with our first HMW and desired outcomes. We were making too many assumptions about parents’ stress, the sources of their stress, and what they actually need help with. Our desired outcomes were too broad to be evaluable and achievable.

We learned that we needed to be more specific when it came to forming our HMW and desired outcomes or else our design concepts may not actually be able to achieve the outcomes we want to achieve or solve the problem we actually want to solve.
Sampling Bias
We relied on convenience sampling for stakeholder interview participants due to time constraints. We were only looking at whether participants worked from home and had a child within our target age range.

We acknowledge that our participants leaned more affluent and privileged than the general population. If done again, we would want to interview families from a larger variety of backgrounds. We would also prepare a screener.