During the Click-East project we have engaged in a lot of participatory design and other piloting processes. Participatory design means having the expected end users of a product (in this case an iPad app) contribute to the design process. Obviously, when you’re working with young children severely affected by autism, you have to find some novel ways of doing this. The children we’ve created the game for mostly don’t speak and it can be hard to get them to focus on an activity for any length of time.
One of the games we set up as a participatory design activity was a ‘build a picture’ session in two school classrooms. Children with autism and other developmental disabilities were asked to create pictures. We talked about how we were designing a computer game, but mostly I think the children approached it like any other art class. Our assumption was that they would create images that they liked, and we could use their pictures to inform the style and content of the game. Not everyone we worked with was great at holding a pen, so the children has a choice of either drawing a picture or making one from a series of backgrounds and cut-out stick-on props, including people, animals and objects. It was a bit like Fuzzy Felt.
We were particularly interested to discover whether the content created was of familiar, realistic scenes, or featured more fantastical stuff. So the backgrounds we provided were things like playgrounds and parks, but also tropical beaches, deserts and jungles. Characters were boys and girls but there were also cowboys, astronauts and knights. What we found was that the children produced content that was both familiar and fantastical, but on the whole without mixing the two up. So someone would put a few people, a dog and a ball in a picture of a playground. And someone else put a cowboy and an alien in the jungle! As a result our game features both familiar and exotic settings with familiar and exotic props.
This month we’re putting the finishing touches to the game, which includes tweaking the colours to make the game user-friendly and engaging. The three images at the bottom of this page show one of the scenes from Part 2 of the game – here the character indicates an object and the player has to use the cue (pointing or looking) to work out which object to touch. I think that the full-brightness image is a bit hard to look at, while the black and white one makes the scene look boring. So I’m inclined to go with the paler scene on the right. But my opinion isn’t really the point – we’ve also circulated these images to some parents of young children with autism so we can benefit from their expert insight into what would work best. If you have a strong opinion about these images, use the email address on the right of this page to let me know!