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Sprout consists of a pair of communicating electronic bars that mimic how families measure their children’s heights by capturing both the physical and sentimental aspects of their growth through measurements and sound.


  • Co-design

  • Physical fabrication

  • WoZ prototype 

  • User testing

  • Video prototype

  • Project management


  • Figma 

  • Premiere 

  • Miro 


  • Mike Dong

  • Juan Carlos Santos

  • Fontayne Wong


  • 10 weeks

  • Jan - Mar 2021

The goal of this project was to explore new channels of communication, connections, and intimacy between humans especially in a pandemic-imposed isolation reality. My team and I were inspired by our childhoods of when our parents measured our heights as we grew by marking a line on a door frame or wall. We all shared the same experience despite coming from different countries including China, Canada, Panama, and the United States. We wanted to transfer the intimacy of this seemingly universal act into an interactive experience beyond a single household.

Project Overview

Design an interactive technology to mediate intimate connections remotely. 

Families are increasingly geographically separated from one another due to economic opportunities and changes in family structures. Families with members living in different cities, states, and countries that have different restrictions experience intensified feelings of loneliness and separation for adults and children alike.

But this has now affected families beyond geographical differences. The history-making COVID-19 pandemic has isolated parents with young children from their extended families, making it difficult for families to stay connected. Yet, the main preventative measures for containing the spread of the coronavirus include social distancing, quarantining, and isolation.

Whether disconnected by pandemic-imposed isolation or distance, many separated family members are missing out on key growth milestones of watching their young loved ones grow up. They can no longer visit when they want without risking the health of their family, especially where vulnerable older adults are concerned.

Problem Space

Modern families are separated by distance and imposed isolation. 

How might we create a tangible representation of the growth of a child that is meaningful and intimate for distant family members?


Sprout is an interactive IoT device accompanied by a mobile application that allows distant families to record and share a child's growth through heights and sounds. 

Design Response

We read over 20 different literature papers to get a sense of the different ways technology could mediate social connectedness and communication at a distance. 

Background Research

Specifically, we wanted to explore the different ways the digital and physical worlds could be combined to enhance and support intimate social connections. 


This process helped us identify main themes in the different types of interactions found in the literature, which formed the conceptual backbone for our ideation process. View the literature report here.

We used dot-voting method to down-select to our top 10 ideas. We assessed all of the ideas based on their novelty, our team's interest level, how well it addressed the design challenge, and feasibility to build with our skillset. Afterwards, we used the reoccurring themes as a decision framework and emerged with two main concepts. 


We sketched 40 ideas and downselected to two concepts: Sprout and Imprint. 

To make it realistic, we needed a way to portray children in our prototypes. But we could not film in person nor did we have access to young children, so we filmed both videos using Snapchat filters to increase the believability. 


During this stage, I was responsible for creating the concept video for Imprint where I acted and edited the storyline.

Video Prototype 

We wanted to develop both of the ideas further by creating video prototypes that illustrate how children and their families might interact with Sprout and Imprint in realistic scenarios. 

Pivoting Our Focus

How do we create sentimental meaning beyond simply measuring height data?

Both the children and the adults made suggestions to add other common growth markers such as weight and BMI to be tracked over time. However, our focus on height measurement caused both my team and our participants to focus on the physical definition of growth, which made the experience seem more clinical rather than building connection and intimacy.

After deciding to implement the recording feature on Sprout, we went back to the KidsTeam to design the interaction together. This was because children were the primary user for this feature. We wanted their unique perspective to co-create an interaction that made sense to them.

During this stage, I was responsible for designing and facilitating the workshop with my teammate.


Children helped us design the entire message recording experience. 

If I re-visted this project, I would test the mobile interaction flow, test the entire system in a real household, and potentially explore other mediums to capture growth.  

Next Steps 

01. Test the mobile flow

The children were recording the same generic messages  (e.g., "Hi grandma! I hope you're doing well! Bye!), we added message prompts to encourage specific and varied recordings. However, we weren't able to test the effectiveness of this feature due to time constraints. A user test would help us identify issues with flows between the digital application and the physical device. 

02. Observe use in-situ

I think it would be interesting to observe how families would use this in their house over a long period of time. For example, how often would they use it, especially since growth happens at a relatively slow pace? Would this replace the ruler marks on the wall or would it just be in the way?

Additionally, how often would the distant family member interact with their bar and the application on their end?

03. Explore growth alternatives

I would also brainstorm alternative methods that we could capture growth.


For example, can we capture clothing items, facial appearance, toys, accomplishments, and other memorable items that adults find meaningful and significant in their child's growth?

Perhaps, growth means varied things for different families. 

With these concerns in mind, we created Sprout by physically fabricating the bars, coding the interactions in MakeCode, and prototyping the digital experience in Figma. 

Product Walkthrough

We distinguished our interactions from two perspectives:

  1. At a child's home (guardian and child interaction)

  2. At a distant family member's home (relative interaction)

This is because we wanted to address the experience of both households. This project was about creating and maintaining connection, so we needed to show how interaction in one household was communicated to the other. 

Reoccurring Themes 

Passive vs Active Interaction

We wanted to create an interaction that required people to actively engage and invest in the interaction rather than passive interaction that did not involve any direct physical manipulation (e.g., telepresence).

Synchronous vs Asynchronous

We recognized that synchronous interactions that allow people to engage at the same time can promote feelings of connection, but asynchronous interactions that allow people to interact at different points in time, may be more practical.

Bidirectional vs Unidirectional

Since meaningful communications are often bidirectional, we wanted to create interactions that required both parties to provide input and/or feedback instead of having one person interact with the artifact and the other passively receive an input.

Preservation vs Transmutation

We wanted to consider whether we should emulate the interactions that exist in the real world or reimagine and transform the data input into a different output or sensory medium received by the other person.

01. Sprout Prototype 

02. Imprint Prototype



Height measuring was a familiar activity 

Every child could relate to their own experience of getting their heights measured by their parents. This sense of familiarity and universality propelled us to move forward and develop this concept further.  

A way to compare their growth with their peers 

The children thought this could help them compare their heights visually with their peers, animals, and objects. In response, we added a mobile feature that allowed them to compare heights with other people and objects.

Concerns with integration and form in a home

The children were cautious about how Sprout would integrate into a typical household without being obtrusive and how the actual act of the measuring interaction would work, which led us to consider the different ways of measuring heights.

01. Did adults prefer a touch or slider interaction for height measuring?

Adults preferred the touch interaction over the slider interaction, rating it to be more enjoyable, simpler to use, and slim enough to keep in their homes, which led us to move forward with the touch interaction.

02. Did adults would want to compare the heights with other people?

Adults found little meaning in comparing their children’s heights to those of other people and objects, so we removed the comparison functionality from the mobile application.

03. How did adults want to visualize the growth of their child over time?

We explored different ways of viewing growth including a metaphorical garden, a digital version of the bar, and a graph view. Adult wanted to view the growth of their child over time through graphs to visually see the changes, so we refined the graph displays on the mobile application.

Questions & Findings

Our main goal was to determine preferred interactions of height measuring and to test out features suggested by children from our design workshop.

Even though the children's heights are being measured and play an important role in this interaction, they are not our primary stakeholders.


After interacting with both children and adults, we realized that adults would receive a greater sense of connection and meaning from this concept rather than children. Adults we are focusing on include distant family members and guardians in the child's life.


Sprout may be fun for children, but the act of tracking and recording growth overtime is sentimental to family members who are not physically there to watch them grow up. 

Stakeholder Mapping

Choosing distant family members as our key stakeholders.

Before fully implementing some of the functionalities and considerations posed by the children, we rapidly prototyped and tested some of these ideas using the WoZ prototype. Since the act of measuring heights is guided by children’s parents, we focused our testing on adults with children to get their perspective.

To do this, I facilitated these user testings with three adults who had children and/or grandchildren at a local park in Seattle. For each interaction I asked them to rate their perceived enjoyment and ease of use on a Likert scale. I then followed up with qualitative questions regarding their preferred interactions, frequency of use, home placement, and additional features they want. 

WoZ Prototyping

We fabricated a physical prototype of Sprout and tested the features out in the wild. 

Key Takeaways 

The following are key findings we heard from the children and how we addressed each concern. 

Children wanted to manually control when to start and end a recording rather than having Sprout automatically start on its own or through voice commands.

In response, we added a physical button that allowed them to manually start and end a recording and reserved the voice input to be used only during the recording of a message.

01. A preference for manual control 

Children wanted signifiers that indicated when Sprout was recording and when their messages had been sent.


In response, we made the recording button light up red when it’s pressed to be on and the bar to light up in an animation when a message is sent.

02. Lack of physical signifiers

Children wanted the ability to hear their recordings at a later time, so we allowed all stakeholders to view the recording on the mobile application or by tapping on a growth mark on the physical bar.

03. A way to preserve message recordings

Children mostly recorded short and general greetings when asked to demonstrate what they would record, so we added pre-made prompts on the mobile application so that meaningful and varied responses would more likely be recorded.

04. Recordings were too general and not specific 

We wanted to gauge children’s interest levels in our two concepts because we did not want to design something that the children did not want to use. Additionally, we wanted to evaluate existing features of each concept and explore possible alternative features that the children might come up with that we did not consider.


To do this, we collaborated with KidsTeam UW, which is a program at the University of Washington that partners adults with children to create technologies for children. We showed the video prototypes to a group of three children between ages of 7 and 11. We asked them to participate in voting and discussion activities during a design workshop. 

All the children preferred Sprout over Imprint due to its familiar activity and potential to share growth with their peers. The only concern they had was its integration in a home. 


We tested both concepts with real children before finally choosing Sprout based on their feedback and interest.

This project was unlike other projects because it made me focus beyond digital screens and I learned some valuable lessons in designing for meaning for different stakeholders.


01. Prioritize feedback from different stakeholders

I learned that user feedback can sometimes conflict with one another depending on the user. For example, the children wanted to compare their heights with peers and objects, but adults found little meaning in the comparison because they only cared about the child in their life.


As a team, we had to think about who would benefit most from a concept like Sprout, which is why we focused on the distant family member.  

02. Identify specific goals for different platforms 

Sprout included both a physical device and a digital mobile application. Initially, we wanted to design the application with similar features as the physical bar. However, I quickly learned that this would muddle the metaphor and meaning behind a physical growth bar because of their overlap in functionality.


As a result, we designed Sprout to focus on the physical interactions with a minimal mobile experience.​

03. Explore alternative sources and meanings 

We were so stuck on the idea that measuring height automatically signified growth. While it captured physical growth, we neglected an entire sentimental side of growth. We needed to think beyond heights and weights and explore what growth and intimacy meant to people.

My biggest lesson was recognizing my own bias in thinking about "growth," and to be aware that one concept can mean something totally different for someone else. 

Measuring Height

The experience starts with the guardian measuring their children’s heights using the touch interaction, since we found from our WoZ that this was preferred.


In addition, the touch feature mimicked the traditional practice of drawing height marks on a wall or by a door.

01. At a Child's Home

Recording Messages

The guardian and the child can choose a prompt from their mobile app to record a message (e.g., what are you proud of this week?).

Once they select a prompt, they can press a button to start recording.

Sending Messages

The button is pressed again to stop the recording. Then, a height mark will appear and both the mark and the message is sent to be shared with the distant family member. 

02. At a Distant Family Member's Home

A new height mark will automatically appear with its corresponding bar in the distant family member's home.

We added a glowing animation and a notification sound as signifiers when a message has been sent, as suggested by the children.

Receiving Height Mark

The distant family member can touch the mark directly on the bar to play the voice message through an internal speaker. 

These messages can also be accessed through the mobile app.

Listening to Messages

Over  time, the distant family member can visually see the growth of their loved young ones indicated by the height marks. Additionally, they can listen and reminisce back in time by listening to older voice recordings and reflect on all the changes and growth the child has experienced.

Observing Growth

A pair of electronic bars that allow adults to mark the heights of children as they grow within one household, which is then digitally communicated to its corresponding bar in a different household.


The bars are accompanied by a mobile application that allows distant family members to visualize children’s growth overtime.

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A set of corresponding photo frames with temperature and pressure sensors. When one member touches the frame, their imprint is displayed on the corresponding frame by reproducing the recorded warmth and pressure. The imprint fades away throughout the day, encouraging members to interact with it to acknowledge the other’s presence. 

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