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Teach UX Design to Sixth Graders and You will be Amazed at the Outcomes

They know more than you’d think.

By: Caryn Gallis , UX Designer

#futuredesigner

At Prudential Group Insurance, Take Your Child to Work Day is a big deal. It’s an all-day event for the almost 200 hundred kids who participated this year. When I arrived at work on a damp Thursday in late April, there was a buzz of excitement as employees with their children began to arrive. I had the opportunity to teach three 45-minute sessions on User Experience Design to sixth grade students.

When crafting my presentation to the students, I decided to let them dive into what design is vs. telling them about different different design principles, concepts, etc. For the next 45-minutes, they were no longer students– they were designers. They were excited to hear that they were no longer students but, what does a designer do? What is design? This sparked really interesting conversation about what that means to them. A few referenced some of the key points I wanted them to learn: Design is having empathy and understanding your users. Design is making a plan. Design is creating an experience– hopefully a good one. Design is solving real problems.

They were excited to hear that they were no longer students but, what does a designer do?

Next, I introduced the their ‘client’ and problem statement. With summer just around the corner, their client would like the guests of his amusement part to be able to find their favorite rides and also discover new rides. By leaving it open ended, I hoped to have many different types of solutions from the students (err, designers!).

We moved on to a persona exercise. As a team, they created a persona of the typical person who goes to this particular amusement park. I had picked for cartoon characters (Elementary girl, Middle school boy, Busy mom, or Geeky dad) to choose from. Two groups choose Geeky dad and one choose Busy mom. It was really remarkable how quickly a realistic persona came together and I could see they were trying to understand this type of person.

Now for the fun part. They then had twenty-minutes to draw a solution to the client’s problem statement for the persona we created.

Here is where I found some interesting observations of the kids:

◘ Almost all students started to write out their idea before drawing. I had created a legal size sheet with an area for sketch and an area for explanation.

◘ Two out of the three sessions had students complaining they “couldn’t” draw. I asked if they could draw a line, a circle, and a squiggle. Then you can draw a design that will solve this problem. That’s all you need.

◘ Some one students designed non-digital solutions! I was very happy to see that they found a solution that was not just an app. Sometimes as a designer we overlook the simple solutions and I was pleased to see that the kids still do.

◘ It was evident in almost all of the students that they were thinking of the persona in their design. To see how they can have empathy for another and create a solution was very exciting.

When the time was up, we hung the drawings on the wall and the kids were allowed to create a heat map with little blue dots, much like from GV’s Design Sprint process. The kids enjoyed voting (mostly for themselves!) and looking at the drawings. Then, our client made a guest appearance.

Love this: Perspective, user feedback, time boxed! I told this student he should continue to draw as he has clearly a talent! He said he’s never taken a drawing class before.
This student pulled many of the concerns of the persona in to her design. She even made an app icon!
Side navigation? Yep, we have a website that looks like this…
Client reviewing the students work

The diversity of the solutions really amazed me– the kids really thought about what would work for this persona and this type of user.We had brochures, apps for phones, apps for iPads, surveying kiosk, ‘find-a-ride’ wizards, and paper maps solutions. My co-worker volunteered to be the eccentric amusement park owner and dressed up with funny glasses and a fedora. (Nothing says creditable like a fedora.) He then reviewed the designs as much as time allowed and pointed outstanding concepts. The kids also had a chance to explain their design to the group.

The diversity of the solutions really amazed me– the kids really thought about what would work for this persona and this type of user.

Wrap up and future add-ins:

The last two to five minutes were spend talking about why this is important, what the next steps would be, and how we use very similar techniques in our design process. I would have liked to show where this fits in the ‘design lifecycle’ or our particular process here. I wanted the kids to see how this is real world work and they could do that too.

Why teaching kids is so important to me:

I can directly credit my father for taking me to “Take your daughter to work day” back in the ‘90’s. I thought it was going to be just a great day with my dad and to not have to be in school. But I got much more that that. My dad is an engineer and that day happened to go to a college for a survey that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. A love for architecture started that day and spread into many other areas of design, leading to today where I work in UX design. Maybe next year you’ll teach too! Learn more about the day at https://daughtersandsonstowork.org/

Shout out to my boss and co-workers who helped me flesh out the concept for the session, buying supplies, setting up the room, helping answer the kids questions, and playing the part of the client! Thank you for a supporting senior leadership at Prudential who see the value in community and Take Your Child to Work day.

Caryn Gallis is an User Experience designer at Prudential Financial and you can reach her via LinkedIn or at her site.