Designing with Kids: Prototyping

slides in keynote presentation

This year’s career day at my children’s school marked the 3rd time I spoke in their classrooms about User Experience Design. Children love devices, games and apps, so getting them engaged is as easy as asking them about their favorite apps and websites, what they like about them and what they dislike or find frustrating. From there, making a connection to the field of UX Design – designing experiences that people find easy to use and love coming back to – is an easy transition. Since my husband and I both work in UX, we decided to co-present this time around.

When I first presented in 2015 and the children were in 1st and 2nd grades, I focused on the basics of interface design by discussing color, typography, icons and form elements. I also had the children draw “wireframes” (quick sketches) to illustrate a sequence of 3-4 mobile app screens. At the end, I chose one child’s drawings, took photos of each screen and showed how to make a clickable prototype using an app called Pop.

This year, however, the children are in 3rd and 4th grade. They’re using Chromebooks in the classroom, many have their own mobile phones and all are are pretty tech savvy. As such, I decided to skip the discussion of interface elements and, instead, talk more about user experience, explain the purpose of prototyping, and walk them through an exercise to create a basic prototype using a more robust prototyping application.

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Asking the question “Have you ever downloaded an app that you later deleted? Why?” yielded an earful about buttons not working, apps being slow and features shown in the app store that either aren’t in the app or require advancing to some unattainable level. Yes, these kids get the value of UX for sure. Once they understood the importance of making sure people like their product before putting it out into the world, we talked about prototyping as a means by which they could take their own ideas, create a model or ‘prototype’ and test it with users to identify potential problems or ways to make it better.

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There are quite a few prototyping applications used by designers, so I briefly mentioned three: (Sketch, InVision and Marvel) and the focused on Marvel since it is the easiest to get up and running quickly. I started the prototyping demonstration by showing them an app I had made in Marvel the night before. Of course, it featured pictures of kittens:

sample app on Marvel app website

Many of the children in the classroom have either attended a basic coding class or camp, used apps such as Hopscotch or Scratch or attended the school’s annual Hour of Code event, so they have a sense of the amount of time it takes to program simple motions and logic sequences. Seeing how quickly they could drag-and-drop elements in Marvel to create screens featuring photos, text, buttons and other controls definitely captured their attention. Once they had a sense of the possibilities, their minds were racing with ideas of what they wanted to build. In one class, we chose an idea for a vacation app that would let kids chat and share photos with their friends while on vacation; in another class, we landed on a concept of tracking books read over the summer. They had some great ideas for gamifying book reading, btw.

Once we had a basic idea nailed down, my husband and I walked them through creating the first two screens in Marvel.

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Next, we showed them how they could create hotspots (clickable regions), connect screens, and add transition effects.

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Our demo ended with a simple two-page app, and we showed how they could access it on a phone and share it with others to get feedback. Seeing their app immediately available on phone was especially impressive, and in each class we had questions about whether it “would be available in the app store.” Yes, we definitely had these kids eager for a career in UX. In fact, my son’s teacher told me the next week that the kids seemed so interested in designing apps that she gave them classroom time to work in Marvel on their Chromebooks.

A Unicorn and Rainbow Birthday

Jenna on a unicorn

Last weekend we celebrated Jenna’s 9th birthday with a unicorn and rainbow party in our backyard. It’s not everyday you get to meet a unicorn, so this was a pretty fun theme to plan a party around, and Jenna loved spending time with Zip, our pony/unicorn for the afternoon.

Unicorn pony

When the girls arrived, they were each given their own unicorn horn to wear and they determined their unicorn name using a code that Jenna and I created. Jenna’s name was Golden Rainbow Sea. Mine was Golden Pink Star. (You can download and print our poster here).

unicorn name poster

During the party, we also played at the ‘rainbow lab’ where the girls could mix their own rainbow slime. We pre-made the slime to keep things less messy and then let the girls mix colors and/or create a rainbow effect by combining different colors. We had small containers available for the girls to place the samples into, and they took these – along with the unicorn horns – home as the party favors.

Our recipe for slime: 1 cup Elmers Glue, 1/3 cup liquid starch and one drop of food coloring.

rainbow slime

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My favorite last-minute addition to the party was this bubble machine, which will be a source of backyard fun all summer. This bubble machine generates a ton of bubbles. Here’s a still from a video I took of Jason and Jenna testing it out a few days before the party:

bubble machine blowing bubbles

I think the party-goers favorite was the Instax camera. Some of the girls had never seen a camera that printed pictures before! Instax recently released the Mini 9, and the Mini 8s can now be purchased for nearly half the usual price. It was definitely a hit!

Instax camera and photos

And no rainbow unicorn party would be complete without a rainbow cake. Ours was a light pastel, in keeping with the color palette of the party.

Rainbow birthday cake

And, finally, for anyone hosting a Rainbow Unicorn party, here is an invitation template in Photoshop (PSD) format. You will need Photoshop and Ostrich Sans font to edit the template file.

free unicorn birthday party template

Largest Nerf Battle. Ever.

Jason at the Nerf Battle

Last night we attended Jared’s Epic Nerf Battle 2 at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium. The previous year’s event set the world record for the largest Nerf battle ever, and this year saw an even larger attendance, with approximately 3000 warriors battling on the field. Jason learned about the event via one of his current youtube heroes (Coop772), and since the stadium is in Arlington, just south of our hometown, we immediately decided to go. Coop was there, as were several other “famous nerf youtubers.” (more…)

Merry Christmas 2016

Christmas Outtake - Jenna Jumping

Happy April Fool’s Day! What better day to begin posting to a blog that hasn’t seen an entry since May of last year. And what prompted me to come out of a nearly 11-month hiatus? Christmas.

I was recently going through my camera storage card to delete old photos, and I came across the outtakes from our 2016 Christmas cards. Christmas outtakes are a bit of a thing around here (2013 and 2012), and last year’s was extra full of personality. So in the spirit of Christmas (with a little spirit of April Fools baked in), I’m sharing a few of my favorites. Maybe they’ll inspire a theme for your next holiday cards.  (more…)

Building a Treehouse

Treehouse In-Progress with custom build plans

The treehouse in our backyard is almost complete. The only remaining step is to paint the house to match our house and backyard shed. We started the treehouse as a gift for Jenna’s birthday, but over the past few weeks, I think we’ve all grown equally excited about the little hideaway we’ve created. (more…)

Fabric Heart Pocket Valentines

Fabric Heart Pocket Valentine's

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The above sew adorable valentine’s are Jenna’s classroom Valentine’s this year. Her love of sewing is still going strong, as is her love of little pockets. They are making appearances on everything she makes, from pencil bags to pillows to little stuffed animals. So much awesome.

Hope you’re having a great day!

KidTech: Think Exhibit at the Fort Worth Museum

Think exhibit at the Fort Worth Museum.This week we visited Think, an exhibit originally appearing in the Innoventions exhibit hall at Disneyworld’s Epcot and currently on display at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. The exhibit highlights the top 100 icons of progress over the past century – the science, technology and inventions that have resulted in advancements in our world. Organized around themes such as Seeing, Mapping and Understanding, the exhibit features a giant gesture wall (shown above), an immersive film and a series of touchscreen displays. (more…)

Sewing With Children: Getting Started

Sewing with kids: Getting Started. Great post for anyone considering a sewing machine as a gift for a child.Jenna received a sewing machine for Christmas this year, and she’s been stitching and stitching ever since. I had no idea how well this gift would be received. She’s already made a pillow, a coin purse and a small pouch for taking her Shopkins on the go. For anyone else considering a similar gift, here are some recommendations for a child’s starter sewing kit that is likely to inspire confidence and creativity. (more…)

DIY Holiday Teacher Gift

Easy diy for kids: personalized mugs as gifts for teachers during the holidays

We aren’t the most original when it comes to gift-giving to teachers during the holidays. I think I’ve given a coffee mug and Starbucks gift card to my children’s teachers for both Christmas and Valentine’s day every year since they started school. This year isn’t entirely different; however, I did deviate from my night-before-the-classroom-party run to Starbucks by planning a week in advance AND organizing a mug decorating craft so that my children could create a personalized cup for each of their teachers. (more…)

Gingerbread Houses: Shopkins Edition

This year's gingerbread house decorating took on a Shopkins theme.

This weekend marked our annual gingerbread decorating day. It’s become a Christmas tradition, and I’m surprised by how much J + J continue to love this activity, even as they get older and the latest wave of popular obsessions (Star Wars, Minecraft, etc.) seem to dominate their time. This year’s gingerbread decorating, however, didn’t exactly escape the hold of popular culture. In fact, Jenna’s Shopkins toys were the focus of her gingerbread endeavor this year. (more…)

Five Favorite Holiday Finds at Magnolia Market

Five favorite holiday finds from Magnolia Farms, the home decor shop of HGTV's Fixer Upper stars.

This weekend we visited Magnolia Market, the home decor shop owned by the stars of the HGTV series, Fixer Upper. We’ve been fans of the show for nearly a year now, and with Waco less than 2 hours away, we decided to take a road trip. I had visited their smaller shop over the summer, but was blown away by the significantly larger new location. With two giant silos, a garden, large lawn for children to play and two warehouse-sized showrooms, it was definitely worth the drive. In addition to the gorgeous holiday scenery, the market featured tons of products and ideas for decorating during the Christmas season. (more…)

Living Room Art

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Our formal living room has remained void of any art on the walls since we moved in over two years ago. Something about the super high ceilings needing a certain scale of art left me feeling too intimidated to even begin. It was over a year ago that I started thinking about adding one or two large photos above our couch, and I even explored a few options in this post but never had the photographs printed. After returning from our northern California trip this summer, however, I finally decided to take the leap. (more…)

Summer Vacation

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We just returned from a trip to South Padre Island, a beach along the southern-most tip of Texas. Having visited Texas beaches along the gulf before, my expectations were fairly low and I left home with a ‘just happy to get away’ mindset. But once we arrived, I found that the South Padre beaches were not only nice, they were also relatively uncrowded for this time of year. J and J had a blast fighting the waves, boogie boarding and swimming in the hotel pool. We also visited Schlitterbahn Water Park, which I think the kids would list as their favorite part of the trip. My favorite was the Birding and Nature Center (where we fed birds right out of our hands) and, of course, the views of the ocean which provided quite a few opportunities to snap some gorgeous vacation photos. (more…)