UX Design Summer Camp

In July 2020, I designed and evaluated a curriculum for a summer camp to teach kids how to do "Paw-ticipatory Design," i.e. user experience design projects that enrich some aspect of their pets' lives. I also facilitated the camp. The Paw-ticipatory Design camp covered the process of kids better understanding their pets' senses and experiences, and for them to use this information in their design projects. Encouraging empathy was a major aspect of the camp, teaching kids how to use research methods that give their pets more agency throughout the design process--enabling participants to create a project that is truly designed with their pet, for ‚Äčtheir pet.


Many STEM education initiatives fail to include topics of accessibility, empathy, and empowering design in their curricula.


Design a "User Experience Design for pets" summer camp for teens that teaches them design and research methodologies that support inclusivity and stakeholder agency.

Engaging and Understanding

The first part of the Paw-ticipatory Design process involved students conducting investigations to better understand the senses and behaviors of their pets, as well as building on prior knowledge they have of their pets.

To get kids to collect data about their pets' senses and behaviors they did a series of activities. Kids used two apps I designed, DoggyVision and KittyVision, to take photographs and videos of their pets' environments with filters that show users the visual color perception of their pets. I also taught kids how to perform fieldwork and naturalistic observation to log their pets behaviors and actions throughout different times of the day and responding to different environmental stimuli. At the end of the first week, kids chose a project idea they wanted to explore that was informed by what they had learned about their pet. I led the kids through the process of creating design personas, or rather "pet-sonas," to represent their pets as stakeholders.

Two of the "pet-sonas" participants made during the camp.
Cycle of Designing, Evaluating, and Refining

The next phase of Paw-ticipatory Design involved brainstorming to come up with a design project that enriches some aspect of their pet's life and uses the prior knowledge and knowledge gained in the Engaging and Understanding portion to inform the design.

The process of the Paw-ticipatory Design project involved prototyping, testing and evaluating designs, revising designs based on identified strengths and weaknesses, and then refining the project.

Example student projects

Overall nine students completed the summer camp and made a variety of projects that included toys, TV shows, and comfortable napping spaces for their pets.

Two participants' final projects.
Evaluation & Conclusion

At the end of camp I conducted exit interviews with the participants (yes, I did User Experience design research on my User Experience design camp!) to gather insight about their experiences, things they feel could be improved, and assessed their learning outcomes. I also performed an analysis using thematic and qualitative coding on the teens' interactions during camp, as well as the artifacts they created throughout their design projects.

Overall, I found that designing a curriculum where teens designed for their pets encouraged them to integrate empathy into their design practices. The camp participants developed more rigirous scientific research and evaluation practices in order to effectively design something to enrich their pets' life. On average, the teens went through three major cycles of design, evaluation, and revisions over the course of their projects. In addition, all nine projects included aspects to improve the accessibility of the design for their pets such as including colors that their pets could see, and sounds that their pets enjoy.

I currently have several publications about the implications this research has for the HCI and Learning Sciences communities in review.