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Cultivating Curiosity for Curiosity Machine, redesigning an online design challenge platform that teaches kids AI

"How would you light up an LED with these everyday objects?"

When the team and I first walked into the room we were asked to complete this design challenge by Iridescent’s Learning’s representative.


To be honest, we struggled at first. We tried different things like seeing how well a coin conducted the electrical current and folding cardboard and wrapping it in aluminum foil but we were met with failure exploring those avenues.


But after iterating and failing through the design process, we eventually tried wrapping pipe cleaners in foil and connecting positive and negative charges from the battery to the LED!

The challenge afterwards was taking this experience and redesigning Curiosity Machine so that kids and parents could have the same feeling online.



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.


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


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


1 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.

Our Approach To Research

We were working on a short time frame so went lean with the research with proto-personas that could later be validated and we projected the journey

We began by evaluating the current platform with a heuristic evaluation with 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.

However, our biggest constraint was that we could not talk to our ideal users, elementary and middle school students.

The reason why was that we couldn’t exactly walk up to kids and ask them for an interview in exchange for ice cream.

Due to the short time-frame we had on this project we instead had to improvise.

So instead we talked to teachers and parents since they could provide us inside from their perspectives on what problems kids had when learning.


After the interviews and reviewing Iridescent Learning's extensive surveys, we realized that Parents were a major users for Online Design Challenges as well

We came to this conclusion after talking to parents who enrolled their kids in a number of extracurriculars that parents would decide if their kids would participate in Curiosity Machine’s design challenges.


While this seems obvious, it was important for us to understand this because it allowed us to gear our design and copy towards showing the value of Curiosity Machine and Iridescent Learning to parents.

Key Takeaways from Research

From the research we conducted interviews, heuristic evaluation, a task analysis: we identified these problems to solve:

  1. Engaging kids to plan would be crucial to success

  2. We needed to illustrate the value of Curiosity Machine to Parents early on.

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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.


Before Plan.png

A common theme throughout the pages 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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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 think to implicitly thinking 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 kids 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 Iridescent Learning hosted, they had mentors be there to guide kids 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, but we learned the most from a non-native speaker who struggled a bit completing the challenge.

To meet the time constraints we conducted usability tests with the RITE(Rapidly Iterative Testing Evaluation) Method 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 non-native speaker 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 iteratons.

Results & Lessons Learned

As a result, 85% of participants were able to easily complete a design challenge!

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 above show that the planning page engage participants during the planning phase.

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, it would have been ideal to observe one of Iridescent Learning's events where they host design challenges so I could design after seeing the whole context of how kids 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 that we have incorporated into our work."

Laura Preston, Program Coordinator of Iridescent Learning

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