Rocket Reader is a tablet app that hosts a self-contained library of books for young children learning to read and their parents. Conceived and designed within a modified design sprint process (working solo for roughly 25 hours over a week's time), I "partnered" with the fictional startup TinyTales to address the stubborn issue of age-appropriate, genre-focused content selection.

Parents who read stories from TinyTales app to their children have described difficulties in discovering the best stories for their particular needs—finding appropriate age levels, finding a broad age appeal, and finding specific topics that might be at the heart of an otherwise fictional story. TinyTales would like to develop a solution to this problem via a tablet app (since these are the medium typically used for reading and in schools). Stories are read within the app, avoiding the need for hard copies.
Design Brief: Research and Personas

TinyTales design brief included a breadth of research into users' needs and pain points derived from the overarching question:
"Tell us about how you choose a book or story to read to your children."
Some of the most compelling takeaways from user experiences included concerns of book length, quality, and age appropriate content and reading comprehension:
"I usually let my kids pick a topic that they like (dinosaurs are big right now). Then I try to scan through the book to see how long it is. Sometimes we just want a quick book before bed...if it's long, I usually have to stop reading before it's over." —Dan, children ages 6 and 4
"I buy lots of books to read to my kids—I'm always scanning online reviews to see what other parents have to say. I read most of the reviews to see if their children are the same age as mine, and if they enjoyed the topic." —Silvia, child age 6
"My kids are only a few years apart, but it makes a big difference when finding something they'll both like. It takes a long time to find a book they agree on, let alone one that is a happy medium for them in terms of comprehension level." —Margaret, children ages 7 and 4
Day 1 began with mapping a user's potential end-to-end experience with the design brief in mind. The hurdles of genre, age appropriateness, length, and overall quality of writing and illustrations.
Crazy 8s

I approached the Crazy 8s exercise from the angle of the “Filter” function, using physical or quasi-physical mechanisms found in other unrelated industries—eg.,
travel websites, audio mixing boards, and spaceship controls. The competition examples I studied (Netflix, BookTrust, and Skybrary) lacked the fidelity that a reader might want when dialing in what movie or book selections they would like to browse. For instance, a reader—i.e., the parent—often must select a book that appeals to a broad age range. A 3-year-old might also enjoy 8-year-old level reading, but also 2-year-old levels, and perhaps even earlier. Similarly, a 6-year-old might enjoy 3-year-old level books but also might reach up into pre-teen-level fiction in certain cases.
I applied a similar logic to genres, since clear lines dividing different realms often don’t exist. A sci-fi title might stretch simultaneously into fantasy and education. My sketches pose the question:
Could an effective content filtering system take on a near-analogue fidelity, giving the user (typically the parent–reader) hi-fi control over how they select their children’s books?
Solution Sketch

Working quickly, I pulled my preferred sketches from the Crazy 8s exercise and attempted to refine the ideas of a high fidelity book selection calibration tool, forming a new draft of solution sketches:
Refining these draft ideas further, I landed on three solution screens that would help push the concept and eventual prototype forward:
On Day 3, I re-envisioned the map from Day 1 as a sequence of app screens to act as a framework for a storyboard, and I reworked its sequence. Using the solution sketches as the centerpiece, I plotted out the steps necessary for users to:
  1. Open app.
  2. View dashboard.
  3. Search or calibrate search based on needs.
  4. View resulting titles.
  5. Read selected book.
  6. View hidden tab navigation.
  7. Finish book.
  8. Review book or return to dashboard.
  9. Review book using star rating system, publish custom review.
  10. Return to dashboard, reread book, add to collection, or view reader profile.
On Day 4, I built high-fidelity mockup screens that would allow an engagement with the TinyTales product—which I dubbed the Rocket Reader—with the filtering calibration tool as the centerpiece experience of the user’s book search. I treated the mockup process like an accelerated wireframing and interaction design process, initially framing up the concepts roughly as a set of wireframes and increasing fidelity globally as time allowed.
The start of the interview process was inevitably delayed, which I took advantage of as an opportunity to build a web-based prototype and increase its fidelity further, and to add animated features.
On Day 5, I conducted five remote interviews using the prototype. Users uncovered a number of potential critical improvements to the app’s experience including, among others:
  • Hierarchical font color changes.
  • Function labels' repositioning for added clarity.
  • Changes to function labeling language.
  • Additions/subtractions/combinations of genre types.
  • Additional wayfinding icons.
Overall, users were delighted by the book filtering concept, and with some additional fine tuning they believed they would quickly grasp its purpose and how to leverage it to find the books they and their children truly want to read.

Due to schedule constraints, interview subjects were recruited and processed quickly, and only in the midst of them did I realize that I had a librarian in the mix. During my next sprint, I would pay extra attention to those types of nuanced details and attempt to draw out any specialized knowledge that might be hidden away in the folds of the interviewees' lives.

The design sprint process moves fast—this modified version, in particular. This initial exposure to its rhythms alone will increase my productivity many times over in my next sprint experience. I look forward to the challenge.