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A transformational game to educate and empower high school students on the significance of soft skills.

Client: South Fayette School District


Research: semi-structured interviews, guerilla research, experiential research, surveys, focus groups, stakeholder analysis, analogous domain analysis, usability testing

Design: concept maps, storyboards, participatory design, game design,  prototypes, play-test


8 Months
Jan 2023 - August 2023





4 Master's HCI Students


What is the project goal?

What is the solution?

Empower high school students to recognize and prioritize interpersonal skills for success after graduation.

Currently, they tend to focus solely on grades and college applications and have a checklist mindset.

A comprehensive design guide for South Fayette teachers and administrators to design engaging gameplay experiences (both in and out of the classroom) that enhance students' people skills.

Create distance from daily life

Play first, explain later

Make it fun and silly

Keep stakes low

Stimulate social connection

Promote active thinking during gameplay

Figure: Some of the heuristics suggested as part of the design guide

Moreover, we delivered a fully designed in-person multiplayer transformational game, following the heuristics, to showcase the importance of interpersonal skills across various professions.

The game also assists students in - 

  • Reframing negatives

  • Developing self-pitching abilities

  • Fostering creative thinking 

What is the result?

2/19 students

12/19 students

After gameplay

Before gameplay

Total number of students who set grade-oriented goals

Potential Long-Term Impact

Shift from academic goals to prioritizing essential people skills and fostering a holistic growth

I loved being creative with our responses.

I loved how everyone laughed and it was so fun

It encouraged us to collaborate as a team

Student Reactions


Understanding the domain and the users


Classroom Observation Sessions (Diverse classes - AP, Regular, different standards, etc.)


1hr Interviews with South Fayette High School Teachers 


1hr Interviews with Domain Level Experts (Education and Pyschology)


45 minutes Parent Interviews

Figure: Learning about the system through different lenses

Rearranging the Magnets Activity to understand teacher's and admin's perspectives on the education system and government policies

Figure: Rearranging the Magnets Activity to understand teacher's and admin's perspectives on the education system and government policies

To prioritize student input, we began by conducting interviews but faced low participation. We primarily received responses from high-achieving students.

To address this, I proposed using guerrilla research technique during lunch time. We also utilized a metaphor-based poster and visited multiple classrooms to gather diverse student responses relating the metaphors to their school life.

With minimal firsthand knowledge of Pittsburgh schools and the need to understand student lifestyles, we extensively researched secondary sources, collaborated with our client, observed diverse classes, and interviewed teachers.

Rose Bud Thorn Activity with clients to understand the system

Figure: Rose Bud Thorn Activity with clients to understand the system

85% of job success comes from having well‐developed soft and people skills, and only 15% of job success comes from technical skills and knowledge.

-- Research conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Center

Figure: Statistics on the importance of soft skills


1hr Student Interviews


15-minute Activities


Co-Design Activity Responses

Figure: Understanding student perspectives through various school visits 

Metaphor Based Poster and some student responses to the poster

Figure: Metaphor Based Poster and some student responses to the poster


New learnings about the domain

Using Affinity Diagramming, we synthesized data and identified key takeaways:

  • Students prioritize the end goal of achieving good grades and getting into good colleges.

  • Students have limited opportunities to explore their personal values.

  • Teachers care about student success but need safe spaces to try new techniques

As we aimed to promote more holistic student development and shift away from a grade-focused mindset, we formulated the following main questions:

  • How might we encourage meaningful self-reflection?

  • How might we provide actionable steps to students

  • How might we leverage social connections for growth? 

"I look at YouTube videos of people who got into prestigious colleges and try to take those clubs.”

- Student Interview

“It is hard to fit in soft skills class in South Fayette’s ecosystem.”

- Teacher Interview

"I follow teachers’ instructions and constantly mold to the people around me"

- Student response to the Metaphor Activity

Figure: Some evidence for the key takeaways on the left


Rapid Idea Generation

During this phase of the project, we primarily adopted the research-through-design process. Weekly, we employed various ideation techniques, including "crazy-8," "reverse assumptions," "forced relationships," etc.

I took the lead in this phase and introduced my variation of "20 answers". We also used a modified Six Thinking Hats Method to critique concepts and conducted dot-voting on ideas.

Six Thinking Hats technique to look at each idea from different perspective
Dot-voting to narrow down the ideas

Figure: Dot-voting to narrow down on ideas

An application that generates mini games

AI chat bot that helps in mentorship and goal setting

Meeting new people to broaden perspective

Visioning their future and creating a timeline

Figure: Some prototypes ideas we tested

Before creating prototypes, we conducted internal testing with archetypes to validate our ideas.

I developed a concept map with mini-games and students approaching someone new. I wanted to observe gamification's impact on "boring" activities. I also wanted to learn the frequency of engagement and factors that sustain students' interest.

End-to-end concept map for small activities

Figure: End-to-end concept map for small activities

Prototype for mini-games tested with students

Figure: Prototype for mini-games tested with students

Some of the things we learned:

  • Using a game format encourages people to be more open to new experiences and learnings.

  • Teachers are overwhelmed and lack sufficient time to facilitate activities.

  • Students are hesitant about activities that seem boring or too "educational."

Based on these insights, we opted for a game-based solution. Utilizing the Embedded Design Model and the Transformational Games Framework, we focused on enhancing awareness of personal/interpersonal skills as our central player transformation.

Ideating using different aspects of the Transformational Games Framework

Figure: Ideating using different aspects of the Transformational Games Framework

Next, we developed various game concepts and produced promotional videos for each. These videos were sent out as a survey to gauge high school students' preferences nationwide - for the most appealing play style, theme, etc.

Exploring different game styles and genres

Figure: Exploring different game styles and genres

Different game concepts tested using a survey

Figure: Different game concepts tested using a survey

Figure: Game Concept "Principal's Dilemma"

We received 72 responses to our survey, with students favoring 3 out of the 6 game concepts. We learned -

  • They enjoy activities with friends.

  • Excessive goofiness can be seen as childish; respecting their maturity is essential.

  • Students love elements of surprise and a bit of competition.

Survey result on students' preferences for various game concepts 

Figure: Survey result on students' preferences for various game concepts 

Based on our research data, student survey responses, and understanding the main driving factor for each game and its potential long-term impact on students, we made the decision to proceed with the "Terrible Workers" idea.


Iterating on the "Terrible Workers" game concept

After play-testing "Terrible Worker" with 5 college students, we gathered feedback and brainstormed various game directions. We also took inspiration from existing games (especially card/board games).

Figure: Inspirations from different existing games

Play-testing with SF High Students

Figure: Play-testing with SF High Students

Game Mechanics involving forming teams

Figure: Game Mechanics involving forming teams

​I proposed the below game mechanics:

  • Incorporate pitching yourself for the job.

  • Introduce role-playing as an element.

  • Include various types of job cards instead of a single role.

  • Add job descriptions to enhance gameplay.

We also explored other game mechanics like keeping scores or incorporating teams. To assess these various mechanics thoroughly, we conducted internal play-testing sessions, allowing us to identify their respective strengths and weaknesses.

After consulting with 3 game design experts, we finalized two mechanics for testing with high school students. We maintained high content fidelity but opted for low visual fidelity in the design, allowing students to focus on the game mechanics.

Game Mechanics involving independent jobs
Game Mechanics involving independent jobs

Figure: Game Mechanics involving independent jobs

Students strongly preferred the individual jobs version during testing. We observed their gameplay without interference and iterated on the instructions manual based on their feedback.

After additional gameplay sessions with two different groups of college students, we fine-tuned the rules. Once satisfied, we progressed to higher visual fidelity for the cards, designed the card box, and produced five sets of the game for manufacturing.

Figure: Final Game Rules

A guide for the teachers

Acknowledging that this game is just one component of the broader picture and given students' tendency to get bored easily, I proposed creating a design guide for teachers and admins.

This guide with 10 design heuristics (with actionable steps) will assist them in developing similar experiences that help students grasp the significance of soft skills while learning them in the process.

Frame 89.png

Figure: One page from the design guide


Qualitative Data

The game led to a remarkable change in students' perspective on people skills in the short term.

The client was excited by the student's enthusiasm and simultaneous reflection on essential personality traits vital for success. They even suggested involving teachers to advocate for the game.

Subject matter experts recognized the game's potential to impact student interactions positively, even with just one playthrough.

Thanks for stopping by!

Feel free to reach out and stay connected with me. I'm always down for a coffee and a chat!

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