How do you design an immersive experience that teaches kids how to treat and understand dogs?
Collaboration effort to develop a proof of concept design for a virtual reality game that teaches kids to recognize a dog's body language with the goal of establishing a healthier interactive relationship between them.
role: interaction design and research
duration: 4 weeks
team: Annika Bastacky
We began our project by researching into the relationship between dogs and dog owners and diving deep into current trends in the industry. Our research led us to investigate issues of education, dog training, pet care and treatment, technological innovations, and human/dog relationships.
What are the most common needs for these animals and their owners?
What are some of the underlying issues facing the dog and owner relationship?
What is the daily life of a dog owner and how do they take care of their pets?
How can we improve the relationship between dogs and dog owners through interaction design?
Industry and Human/Dog Research
After performing preliminary research we proceeded to peform some contextual and field research at several San Francisco dog parks.
This was a great opportunity to do some need finding interviews and investigate potential issues between dog owners and their pets that we could design for. We had the opportunity to talk to 8 dog owners and document their experiences.
We visited Mission Creek Park and Duboce Park to engage dog owners and perform need finding interviews. We created an interview script to guide us during our conversations that allowed us to get an insight into the user's and their pet's daily lives.
Field Research Findings and Interview Script
Interviewee Quotes and Findings
Using the findings from the interviews we created three personas the encompass the main paint points we came across. We made a persona for the owner with a pet with behavioral issues, an older user with an older dog, and the owner with an emotional support dog.
Using the insight we gained from interviewing dog owners we started cataloguing our discoveries and generating ideas. We decided to focus on Eleanor and Chester's persona and began brainstorming ideas for problems based on their needs.
After writing all of the ideas, we posted and sorted them into related groups and narrowed them to three possible concepts for three distinct scenarios and created a storyboard for each one.
Downloading, problem finding, and ideating
We began the ideation process by distilling the findings from the interviews focusing on Eleanor's and Chester's needs and pain points.
Afterwards, we categorized their main needs into and developed a problem statement to guide our process.
Finally, we began sketching ideas that led us to three scenarios: training kids to engage fearful dogs, identifying dog moods at the park, and a community platform that acts a support group for dog owners with pets that have behavioral problems.
Choosing an Idea
After receiving feedback from our brainstorming exercise, we decided to tackle the educational experience as it presented a field with untapped potential. How do we educate kids on the body language of dogs? This problem required casting a new persona, a kid that would interact with the dog, Chester. In our storyboard we had the kid interacting directly with Chester, however, some problems came up with that approach:
It is not a good idea to have a kid practice with a fearful dog, could put him in harm's way
Since Chester is scared of kids, he probably will not be willing to participate
How can we create an immersive experience that mimics that real life scenario without harming anyone?
An Educational VR Game
After carefully analyzing our results from the brainstorming, we concluded that a virtual reality game experience would be the best approach to creating a safe immersive experience that mimics the real world.
This interactive experience would encourage kids to be observant and attentive when approaching dogs. Through play, kids learn appropriate behavior and can practice modifying their speed, movement and body language.
The VR environment allows kids to experience real time feedback from physical proximity and body position, without putting kids in danger. The framework of the game would be goal-oriented, helping them assess the physical signs of fear in dogs, determining appropriate behavior, and providing positive reinforcement.
Scenario / Design Context
This VR game is meant to be experienced in the comfort of the user’s own home, in anticipation of interacting with a shy or fearful dog.
This game is intended for kids 8-12 years old, who are able to read and have an appropriate level of self-control and observational capacity.
User Flow 1.0
This was our first attempt at creating an user flow for the VR game experience. We derived this flow from the touch points we wanted to tackle throughout the game.
The touch points of interaction were created from our research on dog body language, dog training, and and dog/kid behavioral psychology. We proceeded to create mock up screens of the VR experience that followed our user flow.
Initial Prototype Screens
We used the screens to start familiarizing ourselves with the VR game experience and lay out the interactions. These screens served as a good stepping point to understanding the user flow and the framework for the body storming exercise.
Research Validation: SPCA Experts Meeting
While we reached out to dog owners to gather their feedback on our VR game, we wanted to also talk with experts, preferably in the dog training/education field.
Luckily, we were able to met with Kat and Maggie who we generous enough to listen to our presentation and walk us through their training and education knowledge. Some of the feedback we received was:
consider the alienation of certain breeds, especially misconceptions about their behavior. make sure to not proliferate these stereotypes through your game.
use language that is value neutral and helps kids empathize with the dog. Build a game around empathy so that kids understand why it is important to learn how to understand their pets.
incorporate a sense of unpredictability so that kids understand that even if they follow all the correct steps, dogs may still not want to play with them.
Incorporate a training level so that kids are incentivized to continue playing. Perhaps this training level could incorporate a small pitbull puppy to break breed stereotypes.
After our meeting with the SPCA we refined our user flow to include their feedback and updated the VR screens. The screens are annotated to show the player's location in real space along with an image of what they are seeing. The final game contains observation rounds, mini game education challenges, and dog training rounds using treats the player collects throughout the game. The dog has an emotion meter that lets the player know his mood so he can react accordingly.
LEARNINGS & ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Creating New Interactions: design for VR required me to reimagine the plausible interactions beyond the physical world. When working with emerging technologies, you may need to invent new interaction architectures to fit within the world of the game.
Low Fidelity Prototypes are Your Friend! designing for innovative projects requires you to think outside of the box and get creative with your prototypes. There may be times when you won’t have all the equipment at hand so low-fidelity prototyping like body-storming and Wizard of Oz can prove invaluable.
Microinteractions and Gestures! This project served as a great insight into the world of interaction design beyond the phone screens. Working with a virtual world requires you to hone in the microinteractions and even gestural approaches to engaging with the game.