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Cultivating Curiosity for Curiosity Machine, redesigning an online design challenge platform that teaches kids about tech and artificial intelligence


How might we better engage students to stop skipping steps in the online design challenge?

Curiosity Machine is a platform of Iridescent Learning which is an educational non-profit whose mission is to help underprivileged students move towards a brighter future by teaching them skills in technology early on. 

Curiosity Machine's mission is to have students learn about Artificial Intelligence(AI) online with design challenges.

Students were previously skipping steps in the design challenges which was hindering learning

My role on the project was to ideate and design a new learning flow, wireframe, prototype, and test the new design challenge experience.




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Improve online learning by engaging student and parents with the goal of increasing participation.

UX Designer responsible for ideation, wireframing, prototyping, and iteration

1 Dedicated Researcher

3 UX Designers


We improved engagement by involving kids more in the planning stage and the discoverability of the design challenge.

Success was measured by the completion rate of the design challenges.

With a compressed time-frame, we began by heuristically evaluating the current user flow.

We were working on a short time frame. So we implemented Lean UX methodology, including research methods, and proto personas that could be later validated.



We identified problems quickly with a heuristic evaluation and built empathy through user interviews.

We began with a heuristic evaluation because it was time-efficient way to quickly suss out usability issues we could address in the time frame we were working with.

Furthermore, we conducted interviews to build empathy with students, proto-personas to represent the users we talked to, journey mapped to represent the user's feelings, and a task analysis to dig into the experience and emotions people had when starting their first design challenge.


Our largest obstacle was that we could not talk to our ideal users, elementary and middle school students.

Because of the time constraints, and paperwork, and supervision involved. We were unable to directly engage with students.


We instead talked with teachers and parents to get insights thoughts and perspectives on what on student learning and challenges.

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Drew (The Elementary School Student)

About Drew

Drew is a 6th grader who enjoys sports and science.

However, Drew's neighborhood does not host many extracurricular activities for students



  • Compete with Other Students

  • To Have Fun

  • Making Something Cool

Pain Points

  • Short Attention-Span

  • Frustration when part of the challenge fails

  • Thinking outside the box

After interviewing teachers about their experience conducting design challenges with students, we created a proto-persona based off of their observations.

While not ideal, we went lean and constructed a persona based off of secondary research from the teachers and parents so we had a user to design around.

This persona would need to be further validated farther down the line to see if what we learned from teachers and parents aligned with actual students.


Key Takeaways from Research

From the research, we conducted interviews, a heuristic evaluation, and a task analysis.


We identified these problems to solve:

  1. Students had a short attention span so we needed to better engage them for better research

  2. Improving the first time user experience of users was important so that students were attempting challenges with an appropriate difficulty.

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Now that the problems were identified, I worked closely with another designer sketching out various different solutions.

As a team we had to delegate and split up the work to make it to our deadline.


One team worked on engaging users outside of the design challenge while another designer and I worked closely together ideate on the redesign by sketching multiple different approaches for a page and converging to talk about what worked and didn’t work.

Quick Sketches where we diverged and converged

We individually sketched our own designs so we could have more diversity in our ideas.

At first, we had some trouble diverging from the previous design, but as we put in more hours, eventually we slowly diverged by picking out small parts out of each person’s design.



Engaging Students To Plan

The planning page was the most impactful part in the design challenge so we had to engage students and parents to encourage them to plan.
These challenges aren’t completed without a little failure, but a key to success was having users think about how they might solve it instead of just flying by the seat of their pants.


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1. The list of materials did not encourage users to think about how they were going to use them

2. The directions emphasizing planning were easily missed at the bottom of the page by users skimming.

A common theme was that the pages were largely centered on white spaces where participants could type.

However, these white spaces didn't do much to engage students and can be as intimidating as a blank Word Doc so I added specific questions to elicit thoughts from the user.


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1. Directions were moved to the top

2. Students could now drag and drop materials into sections

3. Users could add any materials not listed

4. Questions now were written to encourage planning

Users were encouraged to really think about what they were going to use instead of jumping in without a plan by making the planning section more interactive and accessible with a simple drag and drop feature when choosing materials.

This act of choosing materials would lead users to implicitly think about which materials to use and how they would use each material


Setting Users Up For Success


In interviews, teachers mentioned that one of the most important factors was to get students started to show them that they can solve these problems.
So it was key to help students and parents be able to select an appropriate challenge for their first-timers for an online design challenge so that it would be relatively simple to start.

There are 15 different categories to sort the design challenge by

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There are 9 challenges on each page, how does a new user know which one is easy to start with?



Created a filters section which allowed users to close the subjects filter

Difficulty and Age filters were added so users could find challenges appropriate for the student easily.

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Added "recommended" flags to challenges so that new students had a clear starting point

During in-person design challenges that Curiosity Machine hosted, they had mentors be there to guide students along in design challenges from choosing the challenges to offering hints.
However, for an online design challenge that wasn't the case so I improved the first time experience by making it clear which challenge was easy for beginners to start at so that students and parents could have the most chance at success.

Rapidly Iterating

Other designers on the team emulated a design challenge in usability tests.


We learned the most from a subject with English as a second language who struggled to complete the challenge.

To meet the time constraints we conducted usability tests with the        R I T E Method (Rapidly Iterative Testing Evaluation) where I iterated on the design after each usability test with another designer based off of results our other team conducting the usability tests brought.

We conducted usability testing to measure how easily users could go through an online design challenge. 

The person with English as a second language made me realize that students too had varying reading levels as well.  This may seem obvious but was important to me because it emphasized the importance of speaking with images and not just words which we brought to the design through our iterations.

Results & Lessons Learned

85% of users completed the design challenge easily!

During the usability tests, what the team was watching for was to see if participants skipped through the challenge or slowed down a bit to plan.

The results showed that the new design promoted user engagement and completion.

Working in this four person team that we split into two smaller groups showed me how much could get done in a bit of time with a bit of delegation.​

If I had more time on this project, I would have ideally directly observed one of Curiosity Machine's events where they host design challenges so I could design after seeing the whole context of how students handled design challenges.

Try The Prototype!

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What Iridescent Learning had to say

"Alex's UX work was greatly appreciated by my team at Iridescent. Not only was he hard working and professional, but his team presented an excellent project, including a holistic overview of our website and providing fruitful recommendations."

Laura Preston, Program Coordinator of Iridescent Learning (Parent Company of Curiosity Machine)

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