Design for people that really care.

Lessons from my 7-year-old’s dragon-themed birthday party.

Last August I was up around 1am on late evening drawing maps. My daughter thought it would be fun to have a scavenger hunt for her birthday party. I thought it would be fun to create a treasure hunt that of course led to treasure at the end. Based on my daughter’s input, there was a need for puzzles and teamwork.

Is design sometimes created to satisfy the needs of the masses — the bell curve of a demographic? This might be true when you want the greatest number of people to understand how something works. But what if there’s an opposite way of going about design. Design accessible and elegantly; design for people that are extremely perceptive and intelligent. Always be as precise and excellent as possible with your product.

Here was the game:

STEP 1. INITIALIZE

Each child got a name tag along with a brightly-hued clothespin attached to their name tag along with one large puzzle piece. There were three teams (purple, red, and blue).

STEP 2. CREATE A LARGE MAP

The kids were told to try and put together the puzzle with the pieces they each had in their hand. Some kids immediately dove into the project and circled around the middle. As my husband later explained, there was a heat vortex of little kids talking and arguing about where each of the black-and-white pieces belonged. A good time overall.

STEP 3. ASSEMBLE TEAMS

The large black and white map, now completely assembled, had 3 dots on the matching the color of one of the three teams. Purple dot, blue dot, red dot. We talked about directions, and how the map corresponded to the park. I told each team that if they looked in the park where there was a dot on the map, they would then find the next clue. Then the teams split up in search of their next clue.

STEP 4. ASSEMBLE SMALLER PUZZLE

I figured the kids would need to run around a bit after eating chocolate cake. I told all of them that there were 3 boxes in the park now, with another puzzle inside. Once the kids put together that puzzle, they would see a huge “X” marking roughly where the kids would find the treasure (the goody bags).

STEP 5. CANDY AND A BIT OF CONFUSION

Just so you know, everything was crudely drawn. For the most part the 7-year-olds didn’t care that the maps were roughly accurate. It was a sketch, a prototype, giving just enough information to get by. It was accurate, but not perfectly accurate.

So from my personal experience, don’t settle. Make the best possible design that time will allow. Try your hardest to make an awesome impression when making a game, art project or lesson. Don’t aim for the majority, the middle of the bell curve. Aim for the edge users, the people that will really care and give a damn about what you were staying up late to try and accomplish. Unless there’s a time crunch, where in the end I was — sorry, little one. You will have to accept that the game was a prototype. I’ll get it right next time.

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