User Experience Research: Interactive Toy For Kids To Improve The Fine And Gross Motor Skills

The task assigned to us was to design an interactive toy with a digital and physical component to it for an age of 5 to 10-year-olds. I had a pleasure working with Jade Willburn, Colin Lew, Rebbeca Brown, and Fredric Freeman.

Rebbeca Brown is an occupational therapy student, she brought some interesting perspective to the project.

Looking at the current observations, the kids were getting used to playing games on their IPads which was affecting their motor and social skills, Rebbeca told us about how it’s affecting the fine and gross motor skills and being a major problem with the child growth.

With this general direction, we headed forward with the research.

Observations

To understand the type of toys kids are already buying I went to the king of Prussia mall, Pennsylvania. The two main questions in mind were, what type of toys kids are already buying? what types of toys kids were interested in?. I looked into, education, creative and fun section of toys.

The most commonly bought toys were legos, puzzles, blocks, and ball.

Pictures From The Toy Store

Jade, visited Washington parks and conducted her observations there. Most kids spent most of the time running and jumping around the fountain, not many toys were brought by kids and guidance, however, she found a group of kids playing with a red ball and running around the park, the kids were full of energy.

Picture From the Park Observation

Research Insights from the above observations.

The educational toys were simple but involved a learning curve to it, when I asked the salesman, he said these toys are not sold often. To understand the other side of this, I spoke to the parents, they said they prefer to use these types of toys under the supervision of an instructor.

To get another perspective on this we decided to talk to the students.

User Persona

Kids spent most of their time at school, so we decided to talk to teachers and students. Jade interviewed four current elementary school teachers to get more information about 4–8 year old.

Though we synthesized the information and pulled out specific insights, later on, one of the biggest insights was that children didn’t have a playground to play on during recess, they were relegated to playtime inside the classroom at the teacher’s discretion for anywhere from 5–20 minutes but they still needed a way to get rid of excess energy. One way that the teachers did this was play Just Dance videos on Youtube so the kids could dance along.

This meant that whatever movement based toy we built, it would need to be something that could be played inside and had a quick game period that you could finish in a very short time frame.

USER PERSONA

Colin interviewed a museum educator at the Smithsonian. The educator indicated that overcomplicated interfaces are hard for children to learn to interact with and can discourage children with developmental disabilities. This interview also revealed that caregivers prefer activities that enable children to entertain themselves over activities that require frequent adult intervention. To this end, the educator suggested open-ended activities that allow a variety of outcomes.

stakeholder Analysis

Our teacher stakeholders are the ones who would introduce the toy to their students and encourage their use of it, We created a quick stakeholder chart to highlight quick but important references from the interviews she conducted. The chart is based on teachers’ needs, challenges and expectations for toys/styles of play for their students. Our team later went through the entire interview to pull out all of the relevant research insights.

Bull’s Eye Diagram

We synthesized key insights from our interviews and observations. The majority of input from the educators we interviewed revolved around the problems posed by children being high, energy and being in need of physically stimulating creative activities. This includes activities like large building blocks, climbing, and role-playing.

We further refined our observations using “rose, thorn, bud”. From this method, we gathered that some of the greatest opportunities we could explore in the classroom revolved around encouraging kinetic group play that provides children with a constructive creative outlet for their energy that otherwise has a tendency to cause disruptive behavior. This direction also required us to circumvent some thorns associated with digital interfaces like charging and temperamentality.

Team Implementing Rose, Thron, Bud Research Method

We further refined our observations using “rose, thorn, bud”. From this method, we gathered that some of the greatest opportunities we could explore in the classroom revolved around encouraging kinetic group play that provides children with a constructive creative outlet for their energy that otherwise has a tendency to cause disruptive behavior. This direction also required us to circumvent some thorns associated with digital interfaces like charging and temperamentality.

Ideation

Our group came together with to discuss our ideas for our toy based on the synthesized research insights that came out of our bulls-eye diagram. Our four ideas were:

  • Twister Board: an obstacle course on a mat with interactive lights and sounds
  • Digital Obstacle course: inspired by Temple Run and Mario Party, the children would use a yoga mat with markers for them to jump, sprawl, run etc. while looking at a screen.
  • Relay Race: Kids run to a corner, do an activity chosen by the task randomizer on the screen, hit a button to lock their time and tag the next person on their team

Ball Game: Inspired by the Magic 8 ball, a screen in a ball would be the facilitator for various actions chosen by a library of games.

The biggest challenge was making sure that our toy ideas lined up with the insights from our user research. For that reason, we eliminated the twister board because a matt would take up too much room in a small classroom. We also researched and found that kids would exploit anything with too much ambiguity and for that reason, we didn’t move forward with the relay race idea.

Our MVP

Our minimum viable product is a reaction injection molded foam soccer ball with a smartphone installed to play a video. I and Colin decided on the ball and modified it so that it would safely house the phone. After some testing, it was determined that the ball would need a counterweight to make the screen face up during play. To this end, another cavity was carved out of the ball and filled with a steel mass to move the mockups center of weight.

Kuboomi Ball Concept

The MVP helped us to test it among the user and validate our research and helped us to understand the features that need to be included in the final product from an integrated approach of user testing and prototyping. Some main features in our final product would be a wider screen, colorful and soft texture on the ball, haptic feedback and switch embedded in the ball.

The prototype is an animated digital interface based on a few simple components which include, a countdown timer, and a call to action, or dance video. All of these visual components were paired with an audio indicator. The length of the countdown was set to 20 seconds. While the actual CTA/dance video was somewhere between the range of 45–60 seconds.

User Testing & Validation

After getting consent from the program director, four of the members visited two after-school programs to test and validate the “Kuboomi Ball.” When testing the prototype for the first time, children ages 4–9 engaged with the product in groups of 2–8 individuals.

Observations from the first encounter included enthusiasm and excitement about recognizing the dances, comfort with throwing and catching the ball, difficulty transitioning back to the circle formation once the dance was finished and crowding the prototype to watch the screen. Users stated that they felt safe interacting with the ball, felt a sense of “teamwork,” would play with the item in different settings (home, playground, classroom) and would pay about $40 for the game.

Feedback from a small focus group of the users included changing the color of the ball, adding more dances, changing the shape of the ball, being able to kick the ball, changing the music of the ball, and putting in a larger screen.

Based on feedback from user testing, the team made some changes to the prototype including adding rainbow colors to the ball, creating more recognizable dances and adding auditory components to the ball such as a “cheer” sound when the dance was finished to signal a transition to the user. The positive reinforcement or “cheer clip” was in the range of 8–13 seconds.

After implementing these changes, the team validated the prototype at a different after-school program with 4–8-year-olds. Observations from the validation testing included comfort with throwing and catching the ball, crowding and grabbiness over the prototype, enthusiasm over the dances and recognition of dances and videos from “Fortnite”.

Future Recommendations

We feel this product has the ability to support multiple functions and setting in the future. The original concept was built around a modular system, giving us the ability to swap out or upgrade content easily. Some of the functions and settings for this modular learning system include

  • Support for in the classroom learning activities
  • A quiz game option
  • I.e. Math problems flashcards
  • Upload your own dances

We also have a number of user experience and industrial design upgrades we would make before we hit full production, such as

  • A Larger screen that is easier to see when the ball is on the ground
  • Variety of colors
  • Haptic feedback as an indicator to complement visual and audio
  • Different shape (Football, basketball)

Thank you

John Rodrigues

Portfolio: http://designwithjohn.com/