After settling on the concept I begin to sketch. Initial sketching is one of the most important steps in my app design process. I always sketch on paper that is roughly the same size as the target device for the application. Lately this has been the iPad. Touch interfaces require a clear understanding of physical spacing - components should feel in balance and the eye should be drawn to the right areas of the screen. Further, younger children have smaller fingers but don't have the same level of control and this must be accounted for in all touch input spaces and/or buttons.
The initial sketch points the design and layout in a clear direction. The primary interaction models should be articulated as well outside of the screen. This helps to assess the early design in the context of functional interaction - put another way, how will the app function?
There are always too many details to include on the initial sketch including:
- will navigation be 'single touch' or 'touch and release'
- will answers need to be submitted by a secondary button
- how will correct and incorrect answers be displayed
- how much scaffolding will be included on the primary screen
Below is an initial sketch. Notice the interaction models which are called out - "draw anywhere", "tap", "answer".
My goal when prototyping is to always get a basic version of the app functioning and settle on the primary interaction models and structures. How will feedback be given? How will scaffolding be included and to what extent? What are the consequences of a wrong answer? All of these questions are raised and must be answered in the prototype. At this stage it's important to test the prototype with educators and students and solicit feedback. What doesn't work? What needs to change? What needs to be refined?
Below is a snapshot from an early functional prototype for a Math Word Problems app.
When designing educational apps for children additional considerations come into play. How will multi-touch be handled? Kids lean on devices and touch everywhere and this must be anticipated! How will support be given when kids are stuck (ie. when an action hasn't been taken for an extended period of time). If kids have the wrong answer, will they be able to move forward? How many answers do they need to get correct to pass a level?
The screenshot below shows the final product. This product bears some resemblance to the early prototype but in some ways it is totally different. Perhaps most significantly we decided to add audio support and shifted the style of answer input for the written equation and answer box.
My design process is constantly evolving. How do you think about educational design? How could I improve my process? I'd love to hear your thoughts.