Playblox is a user-centered mobile application concept that gives new parents fun and educational activities they can do with their child to help develop their communication skills.
Designing Playblox was a tremendous learning experience that taught me to trust my users.
They provided me with the inspiration and direction I needed to create an functional and meaningful solution.
To see this project in full, please visit this page on a computer.
At the start of the pandemic, government funded parenting classes were cancelled and the information they previously provided was moved online. Unfortunately, it wasn’t preserved in an accessible format. There was an opportunity to redesign these resources to meet the needs of busy parents and ensure their newborns got the support they needed.
I chose to focus on the specialized topic of Infant Communication Development (ICD) because of it’s proven impact on early childhood success, established methodology, and ability to promote parent-infant bonding.
For this project I was responsible for everything from primary research to interface design, but I wasn't working alone. I interviewed users and experts who provided essential information and direction, and I received feedback from other designers and peers during multiple rounds of testing. Without them I couldn't have completed this project.
Photo by Lawrence Crayton from Pexels
The outcome of this 10 week project is a user-centered mobile app that provides new parents with audio activities to help their infants develop communication skills. The final design includes:
Easy access activities so that users can keep their hands free
A milestone tracker so parents can make sure their baby is progressing
A development database to answer parent questions
A trophy room where parents can celebrate their own efforts.
With Playblox, parents can make the most out of play time and make sure their child is getting the enrichment they need.
This project was a tremendous learning experience and my biggest takeaway was to trust in my users. They provided me with the inspiration and direction I needed to create an functional and meaningful solution.
I chose this problem space because parenting has always been hard and we have always looked for ways to improve the experience. As tech-centric millennials start building families, there is plenty of opportunity for novel digital solutions that cater to their unique needs. I also chose this topic because I knew nothing about parenting when I started and knew that it will allow me to invest in the design process more fully.
I started my research by confirming that Public Health classes on infant care had been cancelled because of the pandemic. As a result, most of them had been converted into text heavy resources that had been created to preserve information, not communicate to users.
There was a clear opportunity for a design intervention. I had identified users with clearly defined needs, access to organized data from verified sources, and a market opportunity.
Photo by sikupela from UnSplash
My topic was still very broad and I was still very ignorant, so I spoke to two Public Health experts to get direction for my research. Based on their input, I chose to focus Infant Communication Development (ICD) for three main reasons:
• It is an established theory with proven impacts on childhood success
• It has milestones that offer insight into a child’s development
• Engaging with ICD practice fosters parent-infant bonding
The most compelling reason for me to focus on ICD was the opportunity to promote parent-infant bonding. I think that the best design solutions address basic, functional needs as well as higher, emotional ones, and this topic had the potential to meet both.
To make sure my project was progressed towards that opportunity, I crafted my first (short lived) How Might We statement.
Photo by Lawrence Crayton from Pexels
I prepared a list of questions and conducted interviews that ran from 30-60 minutes to find out:
• What they had studied about infant care before their child's birth, so I could understand their priorities
• What daily life was like and where there were opportunities to introduce digital solutions into them
• What devices parents were using and which ones complimented their lifestyles so I could tailor my solution to their needs
• If they cared about ICD, because if they didn't I was in trouble!
All of the parents I interviewed were cis-gender, heterosexual couples, the majority of whom were white. When I started the project I didn’t spend enough time finding a diverse group of interviewees and the quality of my work suffered. My outcomes would have been much more valuable if I had interviewed a group of parents representing a broader range of identities and I look forward to improving my methods and outcomes.
I knew nothing about parenting so my interviews were filled with discovery, surprise, and horror. The big things I learned were:
• Parents and busy and tired
• They spent more time on prenatal learning than development
• They all wanted solutions that made learning easy and fun
• The moms bonded with their infants more easily than the dads
• All the dads tracked their child's in utero development to help them engage in the experience
• Dads looked for opportunities to define their roles as parents once their children were born
My interviews also revealed two of unchecked assumptions. I thought my primary users were moms, but realized there was greater opportunity with dads. The dads knew less about parenting than their partners, and they were less confident that they were making a real impact. They were looking for guidance, and support.
I had also assumed users were interested in learning about ICD, but interviewees explained that they didn't have the time or energy to learn theory. Parents wanted solutions that put theory into practice so that they could ensure their children were getting enrichment without having to study the science.
My goal was still the same, but my interviews findings required me to reassess the path I was on. Incorporating their feedback put me on track towards a user-centered outcome. I rewrote my HMW to reflect my findings and new project direction.
Photo by Lawrence Crayton from Pexels
I created primary and secondary personas, journey maps, and users stories from my interview findings. They helped me focus on the shared needs of my users and gave me direction for my design. My users needed:
Short task flows
Users wanted to be hands-off from their phones and hands-on with their infants, and to limit their child's peripheral screen exposure.
The hands-off requirement inspired me to build my solution around audio activities, instead of video or text.
Users wanted help tracking their child’s development, but they didn’t want large amounts of information.
Users occasionally had the time and energy to learn about infant development theory, but needed information a-la-carte.
All of the dads needed a voice to champion their efforts and encourage them to keep trying.
I started my design by creating a task flow. This helped me prioritize the user interaction over graphic elements and ensured my users would get what they needed from the solution. My goal was to keep things simple.
Building on my task flow, I sketched screen layouts to determine which components were essential for the design. I turned them into a prototype and had my peers test it to make sure the flow was intuitive.
Using the feedback I got, I translated my sketches into a low-fidelity Figma prototype and had five more people test it. This group of testers was a mix of designers and non-designers.
I wanted to test the basic function and flow of the design, and quickly realized I had a lot of work to do. Most of the feedback I received was easy to incorporate into my design, but the navigation bar I had designed confused almost every tester.
The four pathways on my navigation bar were inspired by my user needs. Unfortunately, testing revealed there was a disconnect between the icons I had created and their meanings. Creating a communicative navbar became a significant design challenge.
I researched existing icon sets and interviewed parents to figure out which cultural archetypes they associated with the pathways in my design. After several iterations, I created an icon set that users understood.
In North America there is a cultural tie between babies and light blue and pink. This archetype is effective for expressing a product’s demographic, but it's tied to outdated binary gender constructs that don’t reflect the social politics of my users.
Based on my interviews, my users are modern parents with modern perspectives. While blue and pink would probably say “baby” to them, it might not feel like their baby or the experience they’re trying to provide for their child.
To create a colour palette that reflected my user’s views and was culturally resonant, I selected a set of pastel hues with high values and low saturation. They were visually similar to the familiar baby pink and blue, but without the baggage.
To create the project’s visual identity, I took inspiration from cultural archetypes again by referencing wood building blocks and Memphis Design.
Building blocks were a natural reference for the project because they are associated with play and the term “building blocks” is often used in development theory. They are symbolic of the design’s primary function; they foster infant development through play.
I took inspiration from Memphis Design because it's playful colours and patterns capture childlike whimsy through an adult gaze. Its texture reflects the experience of my users as they re-engage with perspectives of childhood through their infants.
I created illustrations for each screen to reflect these influences.
I chose to use the typeface Poppins throughout the design for similar reasons. It is legible and playful and is appropriate for both adults and children. Its geometric forms also echo the simple shapes of building blocks, tying it to the project’s other references.
I named the concept “Playblox” because it referenced the idea of developing through play and used this specific spelling to differentiate it from other search terms.
For the project's wordmark, I used Solway, a second typeface. I explored slab serif fonts because their thick serifs reminded me of toy blocks. To give the workmark distinction I adjusted its kerning and reshaped the “o” to resemble a square block.
After defining my aesthetic I applied it to my wireframes. These screens track the design's development from the first prototype to the current iteration. The final design is welcoming, playful, and functional.
Ultimately, I am happy with the project because of what I learned through the process. On my next project, I would like to invest more time into user interviews because these had the greatest impact on my design. They provided me with the insight, direction and inspiration I needed to create a meaningful solution.
After reviewing the final prototype with the parents I interviewed, they were excited by the concept and gave me some great feedback on how to improve the design in future iterations.
One idea that I was unable to explore on this project, but think is highly relevant, is the way voice commands could be used to create an entirely hands-free experience. When I suggested this idea to new parents they loved it and encouraged me to explore it further.