The School of Life Project

Blink UXUS


Production / Professional


Kelly Franznick, Jennifer McLean Oliver, Paul Ingram, Richard Stevenson, Ned Hosford, Maximilian Losee, Greg Wright


This project grew out of the work of Rick Stevenson, a filmmaker who spent the last 13 years interviewing children around the world, capturing a view of themselves and their world, once a year from ages 5 to 17. Rick creates video time capsules of children growing up and in the process he discovered that not only was this priceless footage for the child to have and reflect upon as adults, but that the interview process itself was valuable to the children. The interviewing process seem to help the children become more self-reflective and self-aware, helping them to process their experiences and make better choices. This video journal application and kiosk grew out of a desire to provide this same opportunity to more children than could be reached through one-on-one interviews. This system had to be designed to be intuitive to children and just as engaging as sitting across from the filmmaker himself. Like a good interviewer, the system must be smart enough to know who is being interviewed and present the appropriate questions for each participant. The system also had to require low technical infrastructure on the part of the schools and libraries around the world that host it.


The project team understood the intended audience in several ways. First, we had a subject matter expert – the filmmaker himself who had firsthand experience conducting hundreds of interviews with the target audience. To capture this knowledge we used role-play and participatory design techniques to develop an initial prototype. The design team also included a user researcher with relevant domain expertise: Jennifer McClean Oliver, co-author of Amazing Minds: The Science of Nurturing Your Child’s Developing Mind with Games, Activities and More. Finally, the team employed primary research in the form of prototype testing sessions with children at the completion of each round of prototyping.

The project also had to respond to the realities of the contexts it would be used in. One example of designing for this audience is the innovative method the system of paper QR codes the project uses for user authentication. In addition, our audience, unlike a typical user base, does not all have email or social network ID to use in a traditional credential systems. Visits to the locations where the system would be used revealed the need for the system itself to provide its own integrated LED lighting for the video recording.


This project expands the reach of the School of Life Project from 250 children a year to 15,000 children by September of 2014. The project reaches 25 schools in six continents. Future plans are underway to bring the project to three Cambodian orphanages (where there are no social services) and several girls’ schools in Africa. Imagine the stories captured.


The project was developed through a user-centered design process. A rapid wireframe prototype was workshoped with the client based upon the current one-on-one interviewing process and what was known about the kids and their context-of-use. The next prototype moved to an iPad so that the camera could be demonstrated to users. This prototype was tested in usability sessions with eight target users: Kids ages 5 -17. Insights from those sessions included: 1) children were more comfortable expressing deep and thoughtful answers to an automated system that used video to ask questions rather than text or audio 2) placement of the video preview was critical in getting children to look toward the camera on the tablet 3) the term “diary” was seen as feminine and the term “journal” was gender neutral 4) On-screen text to reiterate the question helped keep kids on-task. Next, the visual design built on the video functionality and themes of security and journaling. Two working prototypes were built with unique look and feel and were again tested with children. The final design, delivered in a kiosk powered by a retina iPad, feels exciting and mysterious to children and leaves no doubt that the answers are secure.


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