History is interesting. It really is! For kids, however, it’s hard to see how this can be. I was challenged by a potential employer to develop an app concept to help kids see the benefit of learning history. I ended up cramming most of my UX process into three days.
I was tasked to design an app to facilitate hands-on learning for children aged 10-12 by allowing them to travel through time and space. A business has recently taken a charitable initiative to help more children learn history. They have donated a smartphone to every child within a given school and equipped the smartphone with a time traveling app.
Travel Through Time is a fun way to keep the children engaged while they teach each other and are incentivized to participate by collecting digital cards of historical figures.
As soon as I received this challenge I set up a short interview with the only 12-year-old I knew; my nephew Jonas. We discussed which subjects he likes and dislikes and ended up on History. He has never really cared about learning the dates of events. Through some more prodding, Jonas said that he doesn’t see why it was important to learn. He related it to Math and just didn’t see the point. This was interesting to me, so I went to the internet to do some research.
With some searching, I came across a couple great articles the explained exactly how to overcome my nephew’s concerns.
The author of the first article quoted Ken Burns, who said: “the key to making history interesting is to engage the emotions. If we can find some personal, moving connection with history, we will want to learn more.” The author gave a few points that would help as well:
Don't depend on textbooks.
Learn the stories
Make a connection with your interests
Take field trips.
The second article discussed the importance of connecting history to present day. When you draw direct connections, history begins to feel more real.
The best way to learn something is to teach it. I used this as the main concept of the app. The kids would take turns reading about a historical figure while that figure’s image would pop up on the other kids’ screens. Since this was taking place in school, a wi-fi connection could not be guaranteed, so a simple Bluetooth connection would work just fine. When the student hit “TEACH” it would broadcast that image on the other screens in the group.
After everyone took a turn reading about their person, each child would take a short quiz about what they just learned to try to earn digital collectible cards. This would help incentivize the kids to listen both while they were teaching and listening. Throughout the year, they could try to collect all of the cards. At any point they could go back and see their collection which would have more information about that historical figure.
One main goal was to stress the fact that these kids are making history right now. I also wanted to help make the connection between the past and the present. To do this, historical figures would be used that had direct relationships with the kid’s interests today (i.e. Philo T. Farnsworth inventing the TV). And to help the kids see that they are making history now, they could make a digital card of themselves and quiz each other about classmates.
I created a minimal user persona to help me understand the general user.
To make sure everything flowed well, I created a site map. This did help me see a couple of holes in the interface.
Once I got this idea in my head, I went right to sketching. This helped me weed out some bad ideas and focus on the good.
I wanted to make sure this app was easy to use. The focus needed to be on learning the history, not the interface. I removed a lot of usual app norms. There was no need for an account, settings, or options screen. A lot of those, in theory, could be kept on the teacher’s phone which would have admin access to everything. While wireframing, I tried to keep emphasize the simplicity as much as possible.
A note on branding
When I started this project, I immediately went to the default old-timey-journal aesthetic. But, It just seemed so bland. Thinking about the target user, I changed it all up. I kept the idea of ink on paper, but abstracted it into bright colors on textured paper. This helps bring an energy to the historical figures that could easily get lost with drab, earthy tones.
What a great challenge this was. It was really easy to get lost in alternate solutions, but when it came down to it, I had to pick one and roll with it.
I understand that this is a really bold change of what people are used to when learning history. BUT, if you want a shift in interest in history, you need to make bold changes. Since this is basically an MVP, there are some things I would love to do with it with more time.
Since there was so little time to do this project, there are definitely things that can be improved on. I would like to spend more time on branding and actually testing this idea through prototyping.