Reflecting on my grad school capstone project

After nine months, I have finally wrapped up my capstone project. Since my first semester in the Human-Computer Interaction master’s program, I knew I wanted storytelling to be part of my capstone project. I also wanted to work with kids if possible because I’m interested in edtech.

My capstone evolved from emphasizing nonfiction stories to focusing on fiction stories, but the goal remained the same: I wanted to know what motivated young readers and how we could better design digital stories to encourage more kids to read. Looking back on the last few months, I feel as though I’ve grown a lot as a UX designer and researcher.

What I learned about UCD

In one of my graduate courses, I learned a specific flow for designing: discover > define > plan > launch. The discovery phase includes doing user research and analyzing existing data. Then, you define you user goals and business goals. Next, you plan content and information architecture, maybe conduct some usability tests after creating wireframes or prototypes. Once you’re set, you launch and set up user acceptance testing.

That process is a terrific starting point for a UX designer, but it’s not quite one-size-fits-all. For my capstone, I did wrote a literature review and researched existing story apps and digital book websites, but I found my sessions with Kidsteam to be the most valuable. I let them drive the design from the beginning. I essentially handed them large sheets of paper and markers and asked them imagine the ultimate reading app. From there, I took their ideas and created an initial concept for the Storytime app. I took the wireframes back to them, got feedback and iterated on my design. This capstone project made me realize the value of iterative design and testing early and often — something that wasn’t emphasized in my previous design course.

What I learned about myself as a professional

I had been feeling some serious imposter syndrome over the last two years. What helped me get over this feeling was finding a project I truly cared about. I wanted to design an app that kids would actually use for reading because I recognize the value in reading for fun. I put all my energy into illustrating and animating; I learned new software, and I tried out a few new research methods. My capstone project made me realize I could find success as a UX designer and a researcher.

Did I achieve what I initially planned? If not, what changed?

I knew I wanted to research digital reading or storytelling. Originally, I discussed an idea with a NASA team that involved designing an app to teach kids about climate change. Early on in the fall, though, the team’s priorities shifted and they no longer had the time to work with me. I realized my goal of finding a way to make reading more engaging was just as applicable to fiction stories, so I set off to find a good fiction story that I could use as a testbed for my story design recommendations. I then connected with Kidsteam and ended up working with an awesome group of highly intelligent students who offered fabulous insight for digital story designs.

How has my identity as an HCI professional evolved?

As I prepare for graduation, I feel more confident in my skills as a researcher and as a designer. I’m more comfortable with discussing UCD, setting up usability tests and interviewing people, defending my design decisions and presenting my work to various audiences.