Challenge: Create mobile apps for a line of fast, fun insect-inspired toy robots. The apps needed a kid-friendly visual programming interface that allowed children as young as 8 to make their own interactive games with their robots.
Role: Designer, user researcher, lead developer. I worked with an industrial designer and a couple of contract developers.
Outcome: Kamigami Robots earned a 4.5-star rating on Amazon and a spot on New York Magazine’s “Best STEM Toys” list. The product’s appeal to both home and education market led to 7-figure licensing deal with Mattel.
Thanks to research I did for the Adept project at SRI, I was familiar with the existing work on visual programming systems. For this project, I focused on educational interfaces designed for children, such as Scratch and Blockly, with an eye toward making them simpler and better optimized for a small touchscreen interface.
From my past work, I knew that the language used in our interface would be key — we needed to use words and phrases that kids would understand. I began by observing dozens of kids playing with the robots, documenting what the robots were capable of, what the kids wanted them to do, and how the kids described the robot’s moves and behavior. From this, I distilled a list of “triggers” and “actions” a child could use to build simple if-this-then-that style programs.
I sketched a half-dozen possible interfaces for review with the team. I also sketched a UI flow diagram to show how the programming interface would fit in with the existing app.
From the sketches, I built an iOS prototype app so we could test with users. This allowed users to test their programs with a robot and then make changes if needed.
Recruiting children for user testing can be a challenge, but we went to classrooms, after-school events, and robotics events until we completed a half-dozen rounds of testing. These were invaluable for improving both the UI and the language we used to describe the robot’s sensors and behaviors.
I led the team that built the final iOS and Android apps, building most of the iOS interface myself. I also created most of the final artwork, based on the branding developed by our industrial designer.