Superhero Huzzah

PD | Wellbeing

Childhood obesity has tripled in the last 30 years. Most therapists and parents I spoke to agreed that this was "not great."


So I worked with my colleagues, Ali Andrews, Sukhita Karthi, and Thomas Wucherpfennig, to create a new way for kids to be active and create games for themselves. Many attempts at "gamification" end up as glorified score keeping, or don't enable new behavior.

For us it was important to come up with something that gives kids agency to play together more. Enough ambiguity to encourage creativity and discovery, yet enough structure that enables play and cooperation.


It wasn't enough to create a light bulb for kids to hold while playing tag. The storyboard above is about an experience that unlocks a kid's superpower: movement and action. When a kid runs or jumps, their super hero symbol begins to glow. The faster they move the faster the colors change.


The prototype became an Ironman style wearable medallion. A simple shape, clear affordances, and easy magnetic attachment lets kids define how they want to play. We know this because that's what happened when we tested it. We hid all the LEDs and PCBs behind the 3D printed housing that also doubles as a button. The housing was also post processed so that the LED light would diffuse through the plastic in a way that is pleasing and vibrant.


When completed we added in some extra functionality to really make it come alive. Devices can recognize when they are together and what state each one is. Sounds simple at first but it unlocks totally new games to play. Additionally we built a web portal for parents to log-in and monitor their child's activity.


We finally tested with some real life kids who quickly created some new variations on relay racing and tag and decided that the only thing missing is the ability for the Superhero Huzzah to fly.


The big underlying design principles for this project were that we specifically designed the product to never create competition or score keeping. Additionally, everything about the Superhero Huzzah should be about discovery, and the method people use to discover is to move. This would affect how the gyroscopes took in data and converted that to the signals for the LED light-show that would appear under different circumstances. You move, exciting things happen. You move faster and they get even better.


In testing, these slight changes resulted in the kids creating games together that were fundamentally cooperative like relay racing. This was important for us because we wanted the Superhero Huzzah to be draw kids in to play together.


This project was a great way to combine classic product design with Serious Game principles. In my work from then on, these ideas became pivotal  in making fully fledged experiences. Classic product design provides the techniques to make something usable, useful, and pleasing. Serious Games are good at channeling the objects and actions you can expect to create emergent discovery. It becomes possible to create experiences where a person is fully engaged, physically and mentally.