My design team and I were asked by Effective to Great Education to create a mobile application that would encourage elementary school students to develop positive coping strategies.

 

My Role

UI Design, High-Fidelity Prototyping, Illustration, User Research

The Client

Effective to Great Education is a burgeoning D.C. based startup aimed at helping educators integrate Social Emotional Learning skills into their curricula.  Incorporating Social Emotional Learning alongside academic subjects in school has been shown to positively impact student achievement.

 
 

RESEARCH

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) aims to prepare students to communicate, work together, and resolve conflicts (Edutopia, 2017).  Schools around the country have adopted SEL approaches to supplement academic curricula and manage student discipline (The Atlantic, 2017).  Studies have shown that students exposed to SEL-based education have not only demonstrated a decline in disruptive behavior, but also decreased emotional stress and increased academic performance, among other benefits (NEA, 2017).

Interviews

We interviewed several professionals who work with children — teachers, healthcare providers, specialists, & parents — to see what social-emotional challenges kids face in their every day lives.

 
The work of tracking emotions is helpful, [and] would help build a healthy habit, even as an adult. . . But I wonder how much should be available to me and how much should remain between the kid and the app, almost like a diary.
— 5th grade teacher
For this to be useful, the kid should track where they were while recording. That way I could see if there were patterns related to where they were when they felt upset.
— Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
If we can ask a kid ‘What made you want to act this way?’ - what made them think that’s an appropriate response - then we can get to the root of the problem & see how to change.
— Pediatrician
 
 

Takeaways:

We took the main points from each interview and defined overarching themes connecting them, creating an affinity map.

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  Ultimately, we decided that our product should:

  • encourage kids to track their emotions daily, recording contextual data like time & place

  • include the option to share data with a trusted adult & notify them in case of prolonged negative streak

  • be engaging yet quick - without demanding too much screen time

Sketching

Thinking about the the data that childcare professionals said would be the most helpful to them, I began sketching out a user flow that begins by simply asking the user "How are you?"

 
sketch user flow.png
 

Brainstorming ways to give the app a friendly feel,  I sketched out several different character options, trying to think of something that would charm our users and hopefully encourage them to want to log their feelings.

Some of my favorite endangered species, the giant salamander, the sloth, & the pangolin, expressing themselves

Some of my favorite endangered species, the giant salamander, the sloth, & the pangolin, expressing themselves

It was really tough to draw a sad & angry sloth :(

It was really tough to draw a sad & angry sloth :(

 

PARTICIPATORY DESIGN

Our next step was to talk to some elementary schoolers to get a sense of how they already discuss and deal with their emotions.

We met with a group of 5th grade students who helped us develop an index of words to describe our different feelings, and we had a lively debate over which emotions are "good" and which are "bad."

 

The kids illustrated each adjective and provided an example of a time when they felt that way in the past.  They had a lot of helpful insight, including:

 
Sometimes people don’t know how they feel or have a lot of mixed emotions and they need to figure it out.
Sometimes you can be angry and happy at the same time!
When I feel bad, I try to take my mind off what’s bothering me.  Or I talk to my mom, she gives the best advice.
 
 

Takeaways:

Our biggest takeaway from our elementary school design studio was a huge reminder that kids have a lot of feelings and they have them all at once.

Offering a choice of one emotion at a time with a slider would probably not be the best way to ask them to accurately describe how they are feeling.  We would need to allow the user to record multiple conflicting emotions felt at the same time.

User Flow

Each student thought through the process of recording a negative emotion out loud, talking us through a hypothetical situation in which they might be feeling bad.

As we worked through our iterations, the students showed us where we needed to fine-tune our copy & calls to action to more directly ask for data.

 

Takeaways:

As simple a change as from "What are you doing?" to "What's Happening?" got the kids to give us much more descriptive qualitative data. 

With the user flow solidified, I put together wireframes and started to build out a prototype.

PROTOTYPE

I chose to work in Axure because of the interaction flexibility it offers.  I built the prototype to accomplish the following tasks:

  1. Collect user's emotional data — when, where, and why

  2. If feeling negative, suggest possible ways to feel better

  3. Present the data in an easy-to-read format

  4. Allow students to set a password to protect their data

bud-to-blossom-flow-1.gif

2. Prompt Student to Take Action

If they select any negative emotions, the user is then given a customizable list of suggestions of ways to help themselves feel better.

The user can choose to send their password to a trusted adult, letting them know they would like to talk about something & sharing their emotions log.

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4. Privacy

The user is able to easily set their own password from the app, safeguarding their private information. 

The user can send their password to a trusted adult during the "Prompt to Take Action" stage of the user flow.

 

Gamification

It was clear that our app would need to be fun and engaging to use in order to keep up with young students' attention spans.  But we needed to keep the user flow as simple and quick as possible since the app would be deployed in a school setting.

The goal was to get kids to exit and return to the app without extending overall engagement time.

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The seeds the user earns are kept in the "Seed Basket"  and can be planted in the jungle garden, where they arrive after each user flow.

The more they engage with the app - the more frequently & regularly they track their emotions - the faster their plants will grow and the more exotic seeds they’ll receive.

1. Data Collection

Immediately after the app loads, the user is asked "How do you feel today?" and is able to choose as many words as they like from the adjectives we developed with our 5th grade test users.  

On the next screen, the user is asked to record where they are and what is happening, information that helps educators and childcare providers better understand the problems kids are facing.

 

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3. Data Visualization

The user's emotion log is accessible from the bottom navigation and it organized by calendar month.  

The calendar shows an overview of each day and the total number of times each emotion has been logged per month, with links to more detailed daily information.

If the user logs 3 or more negative emotions in a day, their trusted adult will automatically receive a notification.

bud-to-blossom-password.gif
 

Inspired by Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector's meditative simplicity, I came up with a gamification strategy.

Users receive seeds as a reward for micro-interactions within the app - tracking feelings, entering a win for the day, following up with their solutions.

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To design Bud to Blossom, my team and I prioritized building an app that would help kids but also one that they would want to use.

Turning both to professionals working with kids and to kids themselves for input, we produced a product that encourages users to learn how to recognize and name their emotions, an SEL approach that has proved effective (CASEL, 2017).  By gamifying the user flow, I hope to motivate users to develop a healthy practice and to continue considering how their their emotions impact their lives.

WHAT'S NEXT?

Effective to Great Education was thrilled with the prototype and we plan to begin more thorough usability testing in early 2018.

 

"Elise Ansher is a thoughtful, engagingly creative designer and professional.  Her level of effort to understand the research and needs behind my startup’s mobile application was exceptional.  She brings fresh ideas to the table!"

Laura, Effective to Great Education