The Making of the Rule Your Room Kit

August 2, 2016

A peek behind the scenes at how littleBits product designers create kits kids love

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We’ve been designing products to inspire the next generation of inventors for almost 5 years. From remote controlled cars, to internet-connected pet feeders, you can invent anything with littleBits. With our latest kit, we wanted to inspire kids to invent in their everyday lives. And through this, empower them to see the world around them and realize anything can become an invention or be improved – with or without Bits. 

To do this, we needed to understand what kids actually want to invent, and what their interests are. The best place to find answers? The people who will be using the kit! So we rolled up our sleeves, found lots of kids and parents who wanted to help out, and started discovering what people want, first-hand. The Rule Your Room Kit is the result of many conversations with kids and their parents, hundreds of hours of user testing, and some deliciously wacky experiments along the way [see pics below].

At littleBits we strongly value our customers’ opinions and a big insight for us this year was our price point. You spoke & we listened. We realized that our existing kits were not living up to our mission. With the Rule Your Room Kit we were committed to delivering a new kit experience at a lower price point that will take users on a journey and empower them to be inventors.

Coming up with a theme

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Monty [Product Designer] talking to kids at the littleBits popup store

All our kits are centered around a theme. Sometimes it’s music. Sometimes it’s creating your own games and toys. This one had to be unique and fun. So for four months, we worked very closely with our users. We tested with over 50 kids, visited numerous classrooms, and even got bedroom tours from from some of our most enthusiastic littleBits community members. Themes that came up when talking to kids and their parents were around ownership, privacy, personal space, siblings, pranks, and customizing their space. The theme was clear: The Rule Your Room Kit would be all about giving kids agency, empowering them to take control of their space, and to have fun while doing it. We even had a type of kid in mind, and from there, our kit’s manifesto was born, and would be our inspiration throughout the making of the Rule Your Room Kit:

“My room, my rules. You’re in MY world now. Where I control the computer by playing with my food, and my secrets are safely stashed (where you’ll never find them!). I will defend my domain against the bringers of boring. The stealers of stuff. And the grownups who say no. I’ve got what it takes to bring walls to life, make games from scratch, rig the drawer to fire paper wads on command, and keep my stinky brothers and sisters OUT.  All I need is the power of littleBits, my brains, and my stuff. I’m the world’s scrappiest kid. I can make or do anything. With the Rule My Room Kit, everything I touch turns to awesome.”

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We gave kids a series of invention images and had them rank them in order from favorite to least favorite

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Initial explorations around a room related theme

Mapping the journey from zero to inventor

We knew the path to creating inventions isn’t always automatic. It’s really a process that we’ve named the littleBits Invention Cycle. So we mapped out the journey from someone’s very first littleBits experience [which we fondly call “the first snap”] to the creation of their own inventions. We use these journey maps to drive how we deliver an experience that both supports and inspires people along the way. We took learnings from the Gizmos and Gadgets Kit and STEAM Student Set to inform the experience for the Rule Your Room Kit. We elevated the littleBits Invention Cycle [the process of create, play, remix, share, that helps us create new inventions] and added more prompts and inspiration to further emphasize the remix phase. We’ve learned that quick wins (like making your first circuit or small invention) are important for building confidence at the beginning, but the real growth and pride comes from customizing, remixing, or building something from your own brain. This is what the littleBits Invention Cycle is meant to help foster.

 

The great kit brainstorm

From there, the product design team began brainstorming. Lots of brainstorming. Giant brain hurricanes. It’s crazy how many Post-It Notes a small group of people can generate. (Don’t worry – no paper cuts. No product designers were harmed in the brainstorming of this kit.) We came up with ideas for experiments, inventions, challenges, user flows, collections of Bits, and more.

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From there we whittled down the ideas to a handful (ok, a few handfuls) that we thought would most resonate with kids and their parents and empower kids to become the masters of their own domain. Then we started prototyping. Generally, our first prototypes are often messy and don’t quite work how we think they will. This initial act of making is extremely important though. Prototypes not only help you demonstrate ideas, they spur conversation, allowing for new possibilities and ideas for improvement. Early on, we prototyped a number of inventions and tried out all sorts of Bits and materials in order to best understand how to support the experience we wanted the drive.

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One Bit to rule them all

Our next step was deciding on a few Bits we wanted in the kit. When selecting Bits for the Rule Your Room Kit, we knew we needed a Bit that could truly integrate into a physical space and allow you to easily hack objects and surfaces. This is how we landed on the Makey Makey Bit. It’s pretty magical. The Makey Makey Bit allows you to use everyday objects to trigger your Bits and even control your computer. This means you can use a carrot to turn on a light, or pat your dog to set off a buzzer. It’s basically a magic wand, but the trick behind the magic is that the objects have to be conductive. This makes for plenty of experimentation, and provides a key learning moment in regards to closing a circuit.

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Experimenting with the Makey Makey Bit

Our favorite part: playing, failing, and remixing

With our hero Bit in mind, it was time to create more inventions and test them out. Throughout development, the team generated many prototypes of inventions, challenges, instructions, and various onboarding experiences. Each time a prototype was ready, we would have kids test it out. We out found that some of the simplest Makey Makey Bit interactions were clear winners, like high-fiving a friend to create a buzzing sound. We learned that creating a character that interacts with the computer makes for hours of fun –  from a pop-up meowing cat to a wand-waving Harry Potter. Not all tests went so smoothly however. There were a number of inventions that went through countless iterations to get right, and some we poured our hearts into that didn’t even make the cut. This is all part of the design process – we make things, test them out, and if they don’t work they way we hope, we remix them and try again.

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Elaine [Product Designer] supervising a play testing session

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Dave [Product Designer] prototyping a catapult mechanism

 

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Krystal [Director of Product] keeping it fun during a user testing session

Passing the invention torch to you

After months of work, we are incredibly happy to share this invention-packed, endlessly remixable, kid-inspired kit with you. We hope the Rule Your Room Kit gives every kid the agency and the tools to be creative with technology. By rooting invention in their personal space, kids can create things that are relevant to their daily lives and feel empowered to invent the world they want to live in – with littleBits and in the future, with whatever tools they have at their disposal. We look forward to many wacky experiments, sibling pranks, and Home Alone-style shenanigans.

 

We can’t wait to see what you invent!

 

Emily Tuteur

Product Design Lead

 

MORE ABOUT RULE YOUR ROOM

To deep dive into what’s new & exciting in the Rule Your Room Kit, check out the following resources: