The Making of Gizmos & Gadgets Kit, 2nd Edition

October 3, 2016

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Behold! The new Gizmos & Gadgets Kit, 2nd Edition, the new tool for unleashing your inner inventor. With the all-new littleBits Bluetooth Low Energy Bits included in this Kit, you can now harness the power of a smartphone or tablet. Through the power of instant connectivity, the Bluetooth Low Energy Bit allows you to use your smart device to control your littleBits inventions, and also use your littleBits inventions to control your smart device. This type of digital integration is unprecedented at littleBits, and we are super excited to tell you all about how we got here!

 

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The Product Design Team at littleBits embarks on another wild invention expedition!

 

About this time last year, we launched one of our favorite kits ever – the Gizmos & Gadgets Kit. And it was awesome. But something was missing – in an increasingly digital world, our inventions were still living in a totally analog state. Which we love! But we also wanted to be able to supercharge them from time to time. So we’re more than thrilled to announce, today, the launch of our new and improved Gizmos & Gadgets Kit, 2nd Edition! The 2nd Edition has a few new inventions, new accessories, but most importantly, the Bluetooth Low Energy Bit. And what does that mean? You can now build inventions AND control them from a smart device.

 

But how did we come to this decision to bring Bluetooth wireless technology to the kit, allowing all-new interactions? Well, with the first edition of the Gizmos & Gadgets Kit, we introduced you to our Invention Cycle. The Invention Cycle is a framework based around engineering and design practices, and is the lifeblood of the invention experience you see in our kits today. The four stages of the Invention Cycle are: create, play, remix, and share. When designing littleBits kits, we go through this same invention process. We create ideas for kits, test them repeatedly, make changes based on feedback, and then share with the world. One thing about the Invention Cycle is that it is ongoing. So for us, when a product hits the market, that’s when the real learning and improvement begins. Based on feedback and some new in-house technology, we decided to remix the original Gizmos & Gadgets Kit to bring you a more engaging and digital experience.

 

Going Digital & Revamping Inventions

The big focus for the Gizmos & Gadgets Kit, 2nd Edition was to create compelling and seamless physical-to-digital interactions. And behold, the Bluetooth Low Energy Bit! This Bit may look unassuming, but don’t underestimate its mighty powers. This little Bit [no pun intended] is a gateway to your smart device. With the Bluetooth Low Energy Bit, you can control your Bits with your tablet and visa versa, control your tablet with your Bits. For example, you can tilt your smartphone to drive a Bitbot. You can also use a simple circuit to remotely trigger your smartphone’s camera. Adios, Selfie Stick!

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The Bluetooth Low Energy Bit!

 

When we started this process, we looked at smart devices as giant complicated Bits filled with a variety of sensors and capabilities. We made a long list of all the extra functionality we could add to the existing inventions simply by adding a Bluetooth Low Energy Bit. For example, we can now use the accelerometer in a smartphone to control a tabletop golf game. We can also keep score for DIY games with tablet’s number display. So many new ways to interact with both your Bit and your smart device. For the Gizmos & Gadgets Kit, 2nd Edition, many of the invention concepts remained the same, but received Bluetooth facelifts. There were also tons of new ideas, so we couldn’t help but add a few new ones.

 

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Some early ideas on inventions and Bluetooth Low Energy Bit controls.

 

We would be remiss not to mention the engineering ninja behind the Bluetooth Low Energy Bit, Sean. Not only did Sean Schumer create the Bit itself, but he built out an early version of the app interactions. Many of the controls and current BLE interactions are inspired from Sean’s early prototypes.

 

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This is Sean, a Lead Electrical Engineer at littleBits and the inventor of the Bluetooth Low Energy Bit.

 

Making It User Friendly

 

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Product Design Lead Emily and UX Designer Nick observing a user test an early version of the physical and digital experience for the Bluetooth Low Energy Bit.

 

Once we had the technology, it was time to create the user interface for the app and a new overall kit flow. Because the Bluetooth Low Energy Bit is involved in the majority of the inventions, it made sense to move most of the invention content to the digital world. This makes it easier to jump from instructions to controls. We also needed to make using the Bluetooth Low Energy Bit as simple and intuitive as possible.

 

We spent quite a bit of time understanding the best way to introduce people to the Bluetooth Low Energy Bit. Working closely with our UX genius, Nick Santos and iOS developer extraordinaire, Nemanja Joksovic, we focused on creating clear instructions, quick wins, magic moments, and instant feedback. We drew up many a wireframe, built a number of prototypes, and observed how kids interacted with them.

 

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Based on feedback from kids, we built the following experience around connecting to your Bluetooth Low Energy Bit for the first time: You begin by touching the corner of your smartphone to the Bluetooth Low Energy Bit. This is communicated through a simple animation on screen. This interaction will automatically pair your phone with your Bluetooth Low Energy Bit. Once connected, the LED on the Bit turns green, your smartphone’s screen fills with green, and you hear a custom congratulatory sound effect created by our very own Synth Kit [sound effects courtesy of Paul, our director of R&D]. It is all very fast!
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A Digital Journey

 

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A user’s journey, from the physical world of Bits to the digital world of a smart device, and back again.

 

The Gizmos & Gadgets Kit, 2nd Edition has been the biggest collaboration between our product and digital team to date. With a smart device being the peanut butter to the Bluetooth Low Energy Bits jelly, our app had to evolve quite a bit. There were a few things that we wanted to incorporate into the app that would enhance the experience for our users.

 

We implemented a new registration process that starts off with a small win, but  makes a huge impact on the experience. Users are now able to select what kits they have, which starts to personalize the app for them. Not only will they get more custom invention results based on the kits, but they will also be able to access and easily manage all of the content based around their kits a what they have in the “My Kits and Bits” section.

 

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Once inside the kit details page, users will experience a new invention card screen that helps gives our users easy access to the build instructions or the controls of the invention. The user can tap “Create” and they will get all the information needed to create the inventions from Bits used to additional resources to the build steps. We wanted to create a sense of accomplishment after every step, so once the user taps “Next Step” the button turns into a checkmark then a sound of success plays. If the invention uses the Bluetooth Low Energy Bit, at the end of the build users are directed to connect to the controls and right into play mode, if not they are able to share their build with friends and family.

 

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Digital Controls

 

We needed to make the digital controls for the Bluetooth Low Energy Bit as intuitive and modular as the littleBits platform. To do this, we conducted extensive user research to see what sort of digital interactions were already familiar to our users. Because so many people are already using smart devices, we had to make sure our digital controls both met and exceeded existing expectations. Through this research, we were able to boil down the Bluetooth Low Energy Bit Controls into the most essential and engaging interactions.

 

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As we built these digital controls, we knew it was important that we keep things simple and “transparent” – that our users know exactly what to do on their first interaction with the digital control. Things like buttons and sliders were straightforward, but more complex controls like the accelerometer and gyroscope required a little more explanation. To help our users understand these more complex controls, we made sure to name each of the controls with more familiar actions like SWING and DRIVE MODE. Add to that the context of an invention, and we had ourselves a winning combo of form and function.

 

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A user dances to make a Rotolamp dance with him.

 

While playing with these digital controls for the Bluetooth Low Energy Bit, we also felt that these controls needed to be modular in the same way that physical Bits were. We knew (as did our users) that it would be amazing to be able to control a single invention with any of the 8 digital controls. Knowing this, we made sure to provide our users with a digital control panel where they could connect to any control they desired. But we didn’t stop there. Taking this idea of modularity even further, we started thinking about ways in which we could arrange these digital controls in totally custom combinations, just like physical Bits. And so, CUSTOM CONTROLS was born. CUSTOM CONTROLS allows you to do exactly that – to create a custom arrangement of digital controls, and to create your very own digital dashboard for talking to and listening to your unique inventions.

 

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Learning and Co-designing With Our Users

 

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As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, we go through a whole lot of user testing before bringing a product into the world. The Gizmos and Gadgets Kit, 2nd Edition was no different. In fact, it pushed our user testing processes to whole other level. Not only were we testing physical inventions, but also testing digital interfaces, all at the same time. Darting our eyes between physical inventions, user’s actions, and whatever was happening on the screen of the smart device initially proved to be rather tricky. But, as with all skills, we eventually got the hang of it.

 

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Monty Kim, Product Designer, asks a boy and his mom about their experience with this prototype of the Gizmos & Gadgets Kit, 2nd Edition.

 

The first phase of user testing is really about gauging fun and engagement. As mentioned earlier in this post, we had no shortage of ideas for what digital controls and inventions we wanted to add to the Gizmos and Gadgets Kit, 2nd Edition. And as much as we would have loved to develop all of them, we knew that not everything we were excited about would be interesting to our users. In talking with our users, we were able to get a sense of the kinds of digital and physical product experiences they were already excited about, whether that was with littleBits or other app-enabled technologies. That would give us a place to start and build off of.

 

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Elaine Khuu, Product Designer, refs a round of Aim Game for this young prodigy.

 

Once we got a sense of what direction to go in, it was time for a deeper dive. The second phase of user testing involved making sure that the inventions and experiences we had in mind were working as expected, and that our users would be able to invent with digital controls quickly and easily, all while still having fun. By putting our Invention Cycle into use, we were able to Create multiple prototypes, have our users Play with them, Remix and edit them based on their feedback, and Share with our team and other users for validation. And then we did it again, and again, and again, until everything in the Gizmos and Gadgets Kit,0-9 2nd Edition was exactly where we (and our users) wanted it to be.

 

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David Sharp, Product Design Lead, interviews a user about his experience with the littleBits app.

 

Adding Some Flare

 

With a re-invented Kit we needed a re-invented style to go with it. By talking to users, we were able to draw inspiration from their (and our) favorite gadgets, narratives, characters, and games to stylize the inventions in this Kit. One of our most influential sources of of inspiration was our very own community, and the incredible narratives that our users were already sharing online. Like many of our users’ inventions, the inventions in the Gizmos and Gadgets Kit, 2nd Edition were designed and styled to be instantly recognizable, and easily spark our user’s imagination. To do this, we limited our styling efforts to whatever materials might readily available to the majority of our users (which meant no laser cutting, 3D printing, power tools, etc.). Rather than being a hindrance, it allowed us to empathize with our users and find unique and creative ways of building and stylizing the inventions in this kit.

 

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The Bubblebot Spaceship designed by Elaine Khuu, Product Designer at littleBits, is made out of a plastic bottle from a certain island country in the South Pacific.

 

Take It For a Spin

 

We couldn’t be more excited about the Gizmos and Gadgets Kit, 2nd Edition. With this Kit, you can now harness the incredible power of the smart devices that we use on an everyday basis to control your own unique inventions. Your smart device can now become yet another part of your ultimate invention tool box, and allow you to turn screen time into an exciting and formative way of engaging with the physical world around you. With the Bluetooth Low Energy Bit, we are putting the power of the digital interface in your hands, and we can’t wait to see what crawly creatures, dizzying vehicles, and glorious games you come up with.

 

From all of us at littleBits, happy inventing!

 

Bitstahs!

Taken with my Bluetooth Low Energy Bit

 

– Written by Emily Tuteur, Nick Santos, and Monty Kim

 

MORE ABOUT Gizmos & Gadgets Kit, 2nd Edition

To deep dive into what’s new & exciting in the  Gizmos & Gadgets Kit, 2nd Edition, check out the following resources: