Designing UNICEF Kid Power for Families

We aimed for the impossible; create an experience that would take the excess of calories in the West and send them where they’re truly needed.

The Big Idea

Kid Power for Families is “empowering kids to get active while helping kids around the world” with the Kid Power Band and companion iOS & Android apps. The Kid Power Band tracks physical activity and converts it into theraputic food packets (RUTF) which are sent to kids suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). UNICEF Kid Power has saved over 40,000 lives, and counting.

UNICEF Kid Power for Families is one of three programs, including UNICEF Kid Power for Classrooms and the latest UNICEF Kid Power Workplace.

Designing the Core Experiences

Kid Power’s effectiveness can be measured in physical activity converted to RUTF packets. We knew that designing the ‘stickiest’ app possible wasn’t the answer for Kid Power. Every active moment outside the app is a #win. The sole goal is to get and keep kids active.

Kid Power Bands

With no suitable activity trackers on the market designed for kids, we knew we had to make our own. Ammunition (Beats by Dre.) stepped in and created a beautiful hardware experience that allowed Kid Power to come in at a very low price point of $39 USD, but also enabled us to supply “mission credits” with the purchase of each Band.

Since most kids don’t carry a smartphone with them all day, we knew the Kid Power Band on their wrist would make up 90% of their experience. The Band has simple interactions and information designed to encourage physical activity.

Each time a Power Point is earned, the Band gives haptic feedback and an encouraging message. For kids, they’re just earning Points all day.

The Band firmware was designed to be flexible enough for us to add features in the future, as well as to push custom data to the Bands during sync events. This allowed us to customize the user’s experience in a way that was both timely and relevant, while avoiding disruption.

We learned that this flexibility was crucial for keeping the Band experience variable and contextual, and the breathing room we created has been a point of constant brainstorming.

Kid Power App

We wanted app interactions to be social, quick and inspire more physical activity. We created “Missions” that correspond to real-world locations where RUTF would be sent. If you’re doing the Uganda with Meryl Davis Mission, the RUTF you unlock is actually sent to Uganda.

The app enables kids to follow their friends & family privately, and to cheer them on by sending custom stickers — some of which are easter-egg content that’s unlocked during a special mission, such as the Star Wars: Force for Change Mission. Missions typically last between 3 and 10 days; depending on how physically active kids are. During the Mission, kids learn about other cultures and see the impact they’re having when they unlock fun and educational content every time they sync; souvenir stamps, postcards, GIFs and videos.

Postcard designs in Sketch

Testing Prototypes

We designed prototypes using Sketch and Figma, then built them with InVision and Prott in order to test iOS, Android and Apple Watch apps. We identified both power users and newcomers to participate in Interaction and A/B tests with UserTesting.com, LookBack and frequent Guerrilla testing.

A/B & Interaction tests revealed issues that we could redesign and test again before releasing new app builds. Guerrilla tests allowed us to iterate quickly and re-test to prove new concepts. This agile approach enabled us to run lean and fast.

Sketching changed the Game

While acting as a small startup with limited resources, our agile team needed to be more nimble; to ideate, prototype and test features at an incredible pace. Sketch and Figma helped a lot, but we needed to design even faster. I began using sketches on an iPad Pro with Apple Pencil and the Paper by 53 app to rapidly prototype new concepts, and it changed the game for us.

In fact, I found multiple iPad apps that let me prototype small design interactions very quickly, like Juice for animations and Pop for rapid prototyping. Designing these within an iOS environment reduced the amount of steps necessary to run guerrilla tests because the prototypes were already on the test devices, and it only took a fraction of the typical time to create them.

What we learned was that assumptions were costing us time; we were assuming that designs and prototypes needed to be relatively polished before a user would understand them. We were wrong. In fact, I found that the rough aesthetic of sketched prototypes made test participants feel more comfortable giving constructive feedback more often. This boosted the quality of early feedback, which helped us to move faster.

Administrator’s Dashboard

To enable our Support team to more easily help our users, I worked with the team to develop an Information Architecture and Business Requirements. Then, I designed a re-usable web-app framework that would let us scale the design, layout and responsiveness to other back-end admin dashboards. We ended up using the design twice more, for the UNICEF Kid Power Classroom Administrator’s Dashboard, and then the same program’s Teacher’s Dashboard to manage their students. The dashboard web-app was designed for fast use and extensibility. I worked within our developer environment to code the front-end prototype using HTML5, CSS3 and a little bit of jQuery.

Responsiveness and browser compatibility were crucial requirements; our Support team is remote and uses various hardware & software combinations. The dashboard is pixel perfect back to Internet Explorer 9, and works just as quickly on mobile devices. The dashboard allows every aspect of the Kid Power Family product to be managed remotely without the need for specialized hardware or software. Here’s a video demonstrating the responsiveness in action.


The Team

The team building UNICEF Kid Power is an incredible bunch of brains. It’s been my pleasure to work with them over the years. Meet them on Twitter:

Troy Hickerson, Rajesh Anandan, Dan Byler, Ryan Modjeski, Jeanette Duffy, Micah Mount, Lindsay Bramel, Sohaib Nehal, Justin Bergen, Daniel James, Ady Ngom

Some of my favorite Kid Power stories are on YouTube:

Media & Awards

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