Senior Capstone: Inventure Lab

This in-process blog is written by Faith Kaufman, Gilly Johnson, Noah Johnson, Alex Palatucci, and Ty Van de Zande and chronicles our research into a interactive experience for kids that centers around the themes of gardening and repair culture.


  • Tangible interactions and highly visual (rather than textual) design
  • Show kids how zero-waste and sustainable activities can be fun and a part of everyday life
  • Start a conversation between kids and their parents around sustainable habits that are feasible in the home

Interviews with Local Exhibition Designers and Professionals from Museums to date:

First meeting at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Joy at the Children’s Museum

Lea, Mandi, and Regina at the CMOA and CMNH

Laurie works on accessibility at the museum. Mandi works in the Innovation Studio at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Carver at the Children’s School

The Children’s School is a education and research program at CMU. Their outdoor garden and playground are possible venues for us to implement our project.

Judy at the Gelfand Center

The Gelfand Center is a facility at CMU that specializes in STEM education for young children.

Researching Children’s Books

We went to the Carnegie Public Library in Oakland to look at the books in the childrens section. We gravitated towards The Lorax by Dr. Suess and Sheila Says We’re Weird by Ruth Ann Smalley and Jennifer Emery.

First Concept: Showing the Connection Between Outside and Inside

An interactive space for kids that highlights the connection between the home and the natural environment. It features garden beds, open windows, and compost bins. The standing panels are foldable so that it’s temporary and transportable for travel to other venues.

Second Concept: Focusing on Repair Culture

Repair culture: giving objects a new or extended life through alterations, additions, or mending.

After meeting with Mrs. Hancock at the Children’s School at Carnegie Mellon University, our new direction is to create a temporary installation that focuses on repair culture. We want to stick to our goal of creating an activity or set of activities that can be replicated for future uses.

Group work session — February 25th, 2018

Our team has been doing literature reviews post-meeting with the Children’s School so that we can zero in on our concept and the activities that we want to bring to the kids. Our focus is on repair culture, so we’ve been building content and language around the topic so we can start to figure out how we will talk about this theme with children.

To the left is a rubric for making sustainable design; this includes combating negative consequences and working towards absorbing extra resources to avoid any waste. The closer to 10 that you get, the more of a positive impact you will have on the environment.

We want all of our activities to promote the most sustainable ways of living. Our focus will fall around “reuse as is” and “achieving longevity of use” since we are going to use all reclaimed materials and we’d like the kids to create things that can stay within the environment of the playground as decoration and toys. They could possibly become heirlooms — if they’re kept long enough at the school. Our goal is for pieces of our activities to live on through the Children’s School, their satellite locations, and through outside parties that want to replicate our work. We also hope that by using discarded materials, we’ll have a minimal impact on the environment and contribute zero to landfills.

Several activities that we’d like to include:

  • Magic Shop (something science-y that makes the kids go “Whoa!”)
  • Crafts table (paper pulp activity, making letters)
  • Wind Crank (interactive mechanical machine)
  • Takeaway Toolkit (empowering kids to repair after the event)

We also want to create instructions for other facilitators to use who want to replicate our work; the Children’s School said that they look for summer activities, so our project could live on into the summer months.

Introducing… Inventure Lab!

We prepared a presentation to share with our peer review group that introduced our concept for Inventure Lab:

Written part for round robin activity from last week Some of the feedback that we got from Lily, Jasper, and Lois during our round robin session included:

  1. Making the activities and takeaways worthwhile
  • Could what we make be permanent decoration for the space?
  • Avoid parents throwing things away that their kids make immediately after they bring them home

2. Does the concept of a closed loop system really fit with all of the activities

3. How do we reach the parents and their behaviors (sustainable/un-sustainable) through the kids?

  • Toolkit that we give the kids to take home
  • Parent observation during the activities we do with the kids?

4. The sense of ownership that the kids have over the work

  • Names on little lab coats the kids get?
  • Writing their names on the pinwheels for the wind machine

Weekend Work — March 4th, 2018

Paper pulping

Over the weekend, we did some paper pulping of our own to understand the process and potential obstacles when adapting the activity to make it age appropriate and guided with instructions.

We used shredded magazines and Elmer’s glue. It takes about 5 hours for the paper pulp to bake, so we’ll have to prep paper ahead of time to speed up and show the kids the transformation.

Construction Junction and Creative Reuse

We also took a field trip to Construction Junction and Creative Reuse to look for material inspirations for branding and the craft table activity (musical instrument making).

In class workday — March 5th, 2018

We met with Kristin and created this map:

We have finalized our activities for our final workshop, established the overarching concepts we hope to communicate, and have started brainstorming ideas for what the takeaway will be. This week we will be observing children and finalizing our target age range, which we believe will be kindergarteners. We will also be meeting with Ms. Linda Hancock and finalizing the dates of testing sessions and workshop, inquiring about materials that we can use, and establishing a level of reading and activity involvement that will be appropriate for the kids.

Children’s School Observations

Our team went to the Children’s School to observe children ages 3 to 5 while in school. We are most interested in engaging with the kindergarteners because they are extremely conversational and work with each other on activities while the younger groups do more individual work and exploration.

Meeting with Linda Hancock — March 6th, 2018

We are meeting with Linda to update her on our progress and confirm that they will support our design direction. We also want to talk to her about structuring the activities for their Kindergarten class.

We are presenting our plan for the paper pulp activity. They currently have a method for a similar activity, so we want to compare processes and see the best way to structure it (individual, small group or large group).

We also showed her our presentation that we created for the in class peer reviews, which really helped us communicate our new direction. Ms. Hancock was extremely excited and supportive, and she offered to help us locate some materials to reduce our overall budget.

2 Day Sprint

Today we presented some of our work to Lily, Jasper, and Lois as a progress update from Monday. We spent a lot of our time solidifying the flow of experience in the space at Children’s School. We also experimented with different making processes for letterforms that will be displayed in the space.

After critique from the professors we were told to focus more on portability and program development in the project. What makes Inventure Lab special? Why would anyone want this? After considering these questions for a day we decided to rethink our business model and consider Inventure Lab more as a service, with a testing location of Children’s School, rather than a one-off workshop that we conduct with kids.

Friday work session to switch gears

During our work session today we shared some ideas of how to make Inventure Lab more portable, who we envisioned facilitating and sharing the labs with the kids, and how we see this developing to a larger scale in the future.

We considered different form factors and decided the one that makes the most sense with our vision for the project is a bike with a hitched trailer on the back. We also discussed nested box forms as a means of consolidating and then expanding our experience so that it can happen at schools or at community centers or festivals over the summer. We’ve also started exploring different ways of delivering actual learning content to the kids.

Mindset shift from singular event to a traveling pop up via bike trailer

Instead of having a singular event at the Children’s School, we imagine a traveling pop up that is easily transported via bike trailer. Through folding walls and tarps that can be rolled up, we can construct and deconstruct our pop up wherever it is taken.

Our challenge is to make this feasible for transport. Right now, the form includes a lot of solid walls that fold and collapse. But how can softer, lighter materials be incorporated to lessen the load? And how can this be made out of reused materials so that we are not overusing natural resources like wood?

We also attempted a service blueprint as we begin to veer into service design alongside social innovation. This has helped us account for other touch points that we may have not addressed yet like how do people hear about us? What digital touch points are necessary in addition to all the physical ones?

We brought our sketches, blueprint and activity ideas to the Children’s School this morning for our meeting with Mrs. Hancock and Dr. Carver. The asked us to think about the dialogue that happens during the activities. How will we engage the kids and get them to participate verbally?

The also asked us to think about time and scale. If this becomes a pop up, kids will only want to participate for 5 to max 15 minutes. So, activities like paper pulp are not as feasible anymore. What activities have immediate feedback and impact on kids?

Focus on Content

Our project needed more depth, it needed a ‘why’. We all get very excited to jump into the form, but we have definitely skipped over the real meat that makes this all worth while.

Mission Statement: (Taking inspiration from last class’s lecture)

Inventure Lab is an interactive and educational pop up booth that provides quick reuse activities that have a low impact on the environment. It is unlike for profit pop up shops that provide goods for sale made out of eco friendly materials.

Learning Outcomes:

  1. Manufactured materials and items that are brought into the home have more uses than their intended or designed use
  2. “Getting a good use out of it” means that materials should be exhausted until they can’t be used any more (and can be then recycled)
  3. Reuse takes some creativity but the process is fun and rewarding

Researching Biomimicry

Returning to Children’s Museum

Images of the Makerspace

Our key findings this time around were

  • Docents actually take a pretty hands off approach when kids are interacting with activities
  • Parents like helping their kids build/make/explore things at the museum
  • Parents are willing to learn with their kids and engage with installations or objects because they are approachable, easy to understand, but foster creativity

Understanding Biomimicry

“Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies.”
- Janine Benyus

Biomimicry is an intentional practice of learning from (not just copying) living things, and appreciating the “genius” in how life has evolved countless well-adapted solutions that have stood the test of time, within the natural constraints of our planet.

Biomimicry is an intentional practice of learning from (not just copying) living things, and appreciating the “genius” in how life has evolved countless well-adapted solutions that have stood the test of time, within the natural constraints of our planet.

Biomimicry is fundamentally about minimizing materials and adding design.
“A simple concept that underlies biomimicry is the understanding that humans are part of nature, and that we are dependent on and inter connected with natural systems just like all other living things. Students get excited about biomimicry because it’s “Visionary” and applying creative thinking. “In this way it taps into young people’s innate creativity and desire to shape their world, while enhancing problem-solving skills through design and project-based learning.

Some initial examples we have found are:

  • Whales have ridge-like patterns on their fins to maximize speed and reduce energy use while traveling through water as a strategy of increasing efficiency in wind turbines.
  • Sticky buds off of weeds that cling to fur like surfaces helped inspire the concept of Velcro.
  • King fisher birds are able to penetrate water swiftly, without disrupting it. It’s beak shape inspired the design of a bullet train that made no noise when passing through sound barriers and increased overall efficiency.
  • Buildings in the desert have a hard time staying cool without expending tons of money and energy on air conditioning. This is a building inspired by a cactus in form, movement (angling windows to maximize cooling), and system (flow of energy throughout the building/ day and night
    energy use)

Frameworks of Biomimicry

We want to incorporate these frameworks to help kids learn from nature.

Levels of Biomimicry:
1. Imitation of Form
2. Imitation of Movement
3. Imitation of a System

Principles of Biomimicry

  1. Nature runs on sunlight
  2. Nature uses only the energy it needs
  3. Nature fits form to function
  4. Nature recycles everything
  5. Nature rewards cooperation
  6. Nature banks on diversity
  7. Nature demands local expertise
  8. Nature curbs excesses from within
  9. Nature taps the power of limits

Design Opportunity: Gap in Teaching Biomimicry to Kids

In its current form, biomimicry is not delivered to kids in an immersive, comprehensive way that gets them to think about how design can improve sustainability.

Janine Benyus, founder of the Biomimicry Institute, is able to deliver compelling information to adults about the benefits of having scientists, designers, biologists, and architects collaborate to come up with more sustainable solutions developed around nature’s profound understanding of how ecological systems work.

She has not been able to communicate ways that children can begin to design their own solutions around biomimicry.

Kids learn best through making, interacting with objects and systems, and communicating their experiences to their parents. Biomimicry, in its current state, has not offered interactive exhibitions or activities that focus on
learning biomimicry and its principles through making.

Learning Methods

These frameworks are guiding the design of our experience.

Learning Approaches

Silent Critique

We presented our findings by separating it into three phases to show how we got to where we are now.


Through separating our work on a timeline of phases, we were able to also find things we might have lost along the way as our project developed.

Phases of the Process


Board with sticky note feedback


Two gaps that we had when we put this up were:

  1. How to connect our current concept to creative reuse?
  2. What kind of activities should be part of the learning experience.

We got lots of feedback that we were excited to parse through later including role-play dress-up for kids as animals and building blocks related to nature’s shapes/patterns.

Prepping for Monday Crit — April 8, 2018

Learning Goals + Content

We met with Stacie twice this week since she is an expert on Learner Experience Design. She showed us a framework for defining our learning goals and coming up with forms based off of this. Through doing this we fell in love with the idea of each Inventure Lab being themed around different keystone species, such as bees. They would dress up as the bee and then get to do activities that get them making more sustainably. This was super exciting because we felt like we were finally able to cross off everything we were looking for on our list:

  • Fits our Mission Statement: “We aim to help kids and parents value and understand nature’s processes through an exploration of biomimicry.”
  • Recycled Materials
  • Interactivity/Making
  • Metaphor
  • Integrated Learning
Coming to our Form

From there, we starting ideating on the bee Inventure Lab, since that will be the one we flesh out this semester. We also determined what we would want to deliver for class on Monday.

Bee Brainstorming

Lastly, we plotted out our program, learning objectives/frameworks, and activities that would fit different biomimicry principles.

Inventure Lab Frameworks

Lastly, we met with Stacie to run these by her.

Critique with Local Professionals

First pass at poster series:

Drawings of the four activities with the bee activity being the most developed since it is the one we will be executing:

Every activity involves a scavenger hunt to find the puzzle pieces as well as a way for the kids to dress up so that their actions best resemble the animal that they are emulating.

Storyboarding a Scenario

Gilly wrote a scenario using the framework of a version of a service blueprint. We spent the next studio session illustrating it, making sure to identify the physical touch points that need to be fabricated in the next two weeks.

Build Weekend

We met with Ms. Hancock at the Children’s School and got the green light to go ahead with our activity. We’ll be testing April 24th and 26th. She was so excited that she donated scrap fabric to us to use for part of the plush flower baskets where the puzzle pieces will be hidden.

Alex and Gilly spent the weekend quilting and assembling the flowers for the bee activity. The petals are still in a prototyping phase and have been constructed out of test fabric.

We also prototyped another puzzle piece in materials and scale that more closely match the final.

Ty also worked on another iteration of the wings, making them kid sized and developing the fastening method. The goal for the wrist band is for it to be as comfortable as possible while functioning as a way to pick up the pompoms while the kids are searching for the puzzle pieces.

Everyone in the group has been contributing to pompom making since they will fill all of the flowers in the scavenger hunt.

Website Iterations

The Inventure Lab website is a one-stop-shop for parents to gain a deep understanding of the programming IL offers via facilitated workshops, as well as the concepts that drive IL and their associated learning outcomes. The website is simple, digestible, approachable, and delightful and emphasizes parent involvement. The Inventure Lab website serves as a container for IL’s current programming, including an archive of past workshop documentation.

Poster iterations

The posters are targeted at parents who might want to sign up their kids for a workshop. We want to emphasize that Inventure Lab activities are ways for kids to learn, get their energy out, and be creative. The assets are hand-made to demonstrate that kids will be creating and playing. The words will speak to the type of activity that the kids will be doing. The visuals will be animals so that kids will get excited when they see the posters and possibly show it to their parents who will sign them up.

Second Build Weekend

This weekend and week Alex and Gilly have been working on developing the physical forms of the activities. Set on using reuse materials for the most part, we visited the Children’s School again to see what they had for us to work with. They provided us with a ton of scrap fabric, which we used to develop our quilted pattern that fills the center of our flowers. Alex created a pattern for the flower petals and we purchased different colored fabrics to create those, using the scraps as stuffing for the petals.

Noah created a puzzle pattern graphic that we then laser cut/etched into wood and layered to create a shape that was easier for kids to pick up. We are interested to see how the kids are able to put it together in our testing session and have developed some ideas for how to improve it before our May 2nd presentation.

Site Visit

Our original date for testing was rainy, so we pushed the test date by two days. After rescheduling and checking in with the Children’s School, we took measurements of the tables and entry way while also walking through the space and planning the sequence of events.

Testing Preparation

Today we used all the final physical touch points to walk through the dialogue that we’ll be using to guide the kids through the activities. We focused on the kinds of questions that we want to ask as well as how we introduce and transition to each phase.


We tested with two groups of four kindergarteners at the Children’s School.

Because of privacy issues, you can access our testing footage through the link and password found in our final submission folder.

Main takeaways

  • It was difficult to get them to listen to the content in the playground/activity environment
  • Once kids start playing, it’s hard to get them to stop
  • The puzzle was not effective because it required too much focus when all they wanted to do was keep running around and being bees


Our final presentation for the School of Design.

Exhibition Day

We set up all of our final deliverables to show and talk about with visitors. We even got to share the bee wings and flowers with a few lucky kids that stopped by. Fortunately, the adults that stopped by weren’t afraid to get into the bee mindset either!

Link to our Invision prototype:

We got a lot of positive feedback from everyone that stopped by our exhibit. It was great to talk through the concept while having participants try on the bees and play with the puzzle. The image of Inventure Lab that we created convinced those that visited and had them asking where the concept was going next!