I was asked to create a mobile app that enables parents to help their children with social emotional development. Let’s start with a summary, and then I’ll take you through the whole process with many more details and pictures.
Paper prototype and clickable Balsamiq prototype
Alice is a mom to a 5-year old boy and an 8-year old girl. She worries that our culture focuses too much on children’s happiness and that we are afraid to let our children fail. She knows she needs to model this behavior for her children, but she can’t seem to make herself do it.
I developed an app that turns failure into a fun family game. The family completes activities together that are designed to fail, learning that (1) failure doesn’t have to be painful and (2) sometimes you actually succeed when you were sure you would fail.
Families can begin with fairly low-risk activities. As they get used to the idea of failure being okay, they can ramp up the difficulty of the challenges at their own pace in two ways:
- Increasing the difficulty level of the chosen activities.
- Selecting categories which are more challenging for family members.
Effective to Great Education is an advanced startup whose goal is to improve school outcomes by using technology to teach social emotional development to children. They are currently piloting an app for 3rd-5th graders in the DC schools which helps students label and manage their feelings. They want to add an app which brings parents into the picture to support their children’s social emotional learning and development.
I started by going out into the field to interview parents. I asked them what apps they use for their family and for well-being, what their concerns are for their children, whether they speak to their children about emotions and to tell me about a recent incident when their child had been upset and how they had handled it. I spoke to five parents and one middle-school teacher. I learned that parents:
- want their children to be happy
- want to minimize anxiety for their children
- don’t want their kids to go through hard social situations
- don’t know how to help their children with feelings of failure
- were not have trouble getting their kids to talk to them about their emotions
I was surprised by #5. When I set out, I thought I would hear that parents were having trouble getting their kids to talk to them. But — at least among the parents I talked to — that was not the case at all. (Personally, I often have trouble getting my son to give me more than one-word answers, so that’s what I thought I’d hear from other parents. Good reminder that we are NOT designing for ourselves.)
So I looked back through my notes and decided to look a little more deeply into #4 — parent’s don’t know how to help their children with feelings of failure.
Lisa, a mom I spoke to, told me that she had a recent incident with her daughter where she was feeling like a failure after an incident at school. Lisa knew enough to tell her daughter that failure means that we’re learning, and that though it feels awful, it’s part of life and it’s something we just have to get used to. She knew she should model failure for her daughter, but here’s what she told me:
“Even as an adult, I don’t know how I can do that in real life — show them that that’s okay — because I don’t really do that.”
So, even though she knew it was important to model failure, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. And not all parents even know that it’s something they should be doing… Now we were getting somewhere.
So I did some research on fear of failure and social emotional development. I found that not learning to tolerate failure leaves kids vulnerable to anxiety. And that it can make kids quit or stop trying new things. Advice to parents to help kids overcome fear of failure includes: change your attitude about failure, emphasize effort not ability, and have conversations with your children about success and failure. (See below for sources.)
Next I looked to see what apps already existed to help children and parents with this issue. I found none.
Design Iterations and User Feedback
So, I moved on to developing my app, which I titled Family Fail. I brainstormed ideas, made lists of activities, drew rough sketches, figured out user flows and drew some wireframes. Then I moved on to my first paper prototype. I drew screens for 2 user flows — when a family first came to the app and when they returned to complete an activity on a subsequent visit. In the first flow, a family is welcomed and asked to pick a family name and enter each family member’s name. Then it is suggested that they go right into a fun, easy activity, the self-portrait challenge. Each family member has one piece of paper, 3 crayons and 2 minutes to complete a self-portrait — with their non-dominant hand. After the self-portraits are drawn, the family is prompted to take photos of their drawings which will then appear in the app in subsequent visits.
Here’s the first version of the flow of a family visiting the app for the first time:
The feedback I received on my first paper prototype was overwhelmingly positive:
- “puts a positive spin on failure”
- “I love the silliness of the prompts”
- “It’s a fun way to embrace challenging yourself”
- “targets a real pain point”
I also received helpful suggestions to improve the navigation in the app, that the on-boarding process was too long and that my screens were text-heavy.
Therefore, in my second prototype, I made the following changes:
- added a global navigation bar to the bottom
- added back and close buttons to the top
- on-boarding was pushed back and integrated into the first challenge
- reduced text and added images
Here’s the same flow in the second iteration:
The feedback I received on my second paper prototype was that I needed to give parents a little more information to help them use the app successfully with their children — to explain the why, when, where and how of using the app.
So when I built out my clickable prototype in Balsamiq, I added information pages:
- at the end of the first challenge to explain the importance of overcoming fear of failure to social emotional development (the why) as well as best practices for using the app (the when, where and how),
- in the categories section to give advice on selecting categories based on a child’s specific needs, and
- discussion points to aid discussion post-activity.
Here are some sample information pages:
I also built out more pages, including pages for viewing points earned and progress, a page to view activities that have been saved for later, and a page to view activities that have already been completed.
Here is the journey the first time a family visits the app:
Here is the journey through the app to complete a new failure activity:
To see a walkthrough of the prototype, click below:
If you have a Balsamiq account, click here to view the full clickable prototype: https://balsamiq.cloud/sgeo82g/pobparp
People seem to be really excited about this app. Family Fail:
- Targets a critical pain point for parents.
- Targets a critical piece of Social Emotional Learning for children (and parents)
- Is fun to play
- Can be ramped up in difficulty according to each child’s/family’s needs
- No one else is doing anything like this
This could be a big opportunity to innovate in the field of SEL while helping both parents and children.
Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your feedback.