The app works by presenting a parent with a number of real-life (i.e. not app based) games that they can play with their children, and an overview of the developmental benefits that the game is teaching (e.g. patience, creative thinking, organisation).
I worked with the team to map out all our ideas on a giant whiteboard. This then led to an initial (fake) prototype which we tested internally.
Prototyping and testing
The app went through extensive prototyping and testing before being built for real.
After ironing out what we thought were the biggest wrinkles with our internal testing, we had a day with one of the first real groups that would be using the app. We watched the parents use the app and asked them to carry out various tasks. The prototype was a simple set of HTML pages that roughly simulated the experience of a real app.
The findings from these tests resulted in significant changes to the final app and vastly reduced the complexity and length of the development time required. This was extra important as the project had limited funding.
Approach to login and users
One of the things that came out of testing is that no-one wanted to sign up for anything, let alone remember a username or password. This would severly limit the length that the parents would use the app, and if they would use it at all.
At the same time, parents needed to be identifiable, as they would be part of a ‘pod’ with other parents from their play group, and needed to be able to comment on the games to talk about their experiences.
To deal with this, we devised a login system that worked entirely via SMS.
The organiser of your play group would add you to the ‘pod’ by entering your name and phone number in an admin portal.
This would send the parent a welcome SMS with a special link which would automatically log you in as that user without requiring a password.
Later, parents could open the app from the SMS again, or bookmark the link, or would get a new SMS each week when a new game was added to their pod.
This SMS + webapp infrastructure meant that the app would be accessible on most smartphones, allowing us to reach the widest range of parents possible. I built the app on the Ember.js framework which has broad browser support.
The app itself is a simple list of games.
Selecting a game gives you the video showing how to play, as well as a written description.
The project went on to receive a large award from the parental engagement fund from the Sutton Trust and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation (press release) to continue development.