Process / June 2016

What Working For CHOP Taught Us About Designing For Specialized Audiences

A primary rule of developing any tool, digital or otherwise, is to start by thinking about who is using it and under what circumstances. Recently, we had a chance to design some games for children with physical and mental disabilities. In partnership with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), we developed a series of hands-free interactive games for the waiting areas in CHOP’s new Buerger Center for Advanced Pediatric Care.

You can read more about the project here. We learned a lot about accessible design on this project, and as it turns out, many of these lessons align with good User Experience strategies in general. Here are some of the best practices that we shared recently at Philly Tech Week’s Accessible World Conference.

Verify Your Assumptions With User Experts

When you’re making apps for a specific demographic, you can’t always rely on assumptions that work for the general public. In our original designs for the Wait Play Learn pods, we envisioned pulsing lights and complex animations, common features in children’s games. We reviewed these designs with CHOP’s Family Advisors, a committee of patient family members who bring a family perspective to all CHOP projects. They flagged these flashy elements as potential problems for children sensitive to light and sound, like those with autism and epilepsy, so we developed a new visual style that better fit their needs.

Make Them Want to Use It

This seems like very basic advice, especially if you’re designing games. But there may be factors affecting your user demographic that you’re not aware of. In most Kinect-based games, users are represented onscreen by a generic set of hands or the player’s silhouette, and we initially presented both as options. During playtesting with kids, we noticed that they gravitated more towards using the abstracted hands than their silhouettes. This preference was supported in conversations with CHOP’s Family Advisors. They noted the sensitive nature of body image and the importance of escaping reality during play—the idea that some children may see their silhouette as a reminder of their potential limitations. By implementing alternative imagery, we made the apps more appealing to the kids, and less of a reflection of their perceived abilities.

Make Sure They Can Use It

User testing is a crucial part of any digital project. The games we developed needed to be fun and kid-friendly, of course, but they also needed to be accessible to the range of children that come to CHOP every day. Both the games and our user testing had to account for factors such as range of motion, mobility, and learnability, so we customized our testing protocols to the needs of CHOP’s specific users. The Dermatology Department sees burn patients who have difficulty opening and closing their hands, so we worked closely with the department and patients to test the viability of games controlled with hand motions.

Think carefully about all the potential factors which could affect the way your audience interacts with your game, exhibit, or website. If the environment will be noisy, test the volume or readability of your captions. If there are goals that need to be completed quickly, test ways to streamline the process. Whatever the case, make sure you account for the distinct situations of your particular audience.