Physical + digital · Prototyping

How might we create a tangible representation of the growth of a child that is meaningful and intimate for distant family members?



Family members who live geographically apart are missing out on the experience of watching loved ones grow up, especially in the world of pandemic-imposed isolation.

In 10 weeks, our team prototyped a physical height-marking bar, through which families can capture both the height and voice of growing children and share them with distant family members.



Our team worked together on ideation, making prototypes, and user testing. Individually, I was responsible for digital fabrication, electrical engineering, Arduino coding, and video editing.

Maisie Howard, Juan C. Santos, Fontayne Wong

Design Overview

Sprout is an interactive height-marking bar that connects children and their distant family members.

With families increasingly living further apart and isolated with the current pandemic, many are missing out on the experience of watching loved ones grow up.

Using Sprout, families are able to measure children's heights and record stories about their growth.

Distant family members are able to see these height marks and listen to their stories. A connection between the separated two is thus made.

Concept Video

This concept video illustrates how Sprout connects families through the story of Pierre and his granddaughter Becca. You can also skip to the next section to see key interactions.

Key Interactions

At child's home

Measuring height

Child's height is measured by touching height marks on the Sprout bar.

This interaction is the most intuitive through research, mimicking how people normally mark heights.

Recording story

Using one of the prompts on the mobile interface, the child can press a button on the Sprout bar to start recording a story.

We believe mobile would be the most accessible channel to deliver the prompts. They inspire families to reflect on key milestones of children's growth.

Sharing with distant family members

Pressing the button again after recording, the height mark and story will be shared with distant family members.

At distant relative's home

Seeing height

New height marks will appear on distant family member's Sprout bar, with a blinking animation.

We believe having the height mark on a tangible medium in front of relatives is more intimate than the height being in the form of just numbers.

Listening to stories

Relatives can touch the height marks on the Sprout bar to listen to linked stories.

Through research we found how growth of a child has many dimensions. The stories children record allow relatives to experience changes in children's voice as well as the changes in personality and cognition through the content of stories.

Observing growth over time

Through the height marks and the stories, the distant family member will be able to see the child's physical growth and psychological development over time.


In the following sections, I will share how our team got to our final design through building iterations of prototypes and testing them with people.


Divergent ideation and down-selecting

With the design prompt, our group conducted background research on existing products that connect people who are physically apart.

Using them as inspirations, we sketched 39 ideas that involve kids as stakeholders and down-selected to two after two rounds of dot voting and team discussions. The criteria we used include novelty, interest level, presumed effectiveness, and feasibility to build.

Part of the board we used for dot voting, with the emojis representing our votes


Prototype 01 - low fidelity


We wanted to test with kids to learn about their preferences between the two down-selected ideas, and evaluate existing features.


We made video prototypes of the two down-selected ideas: the height-marking bar, Sprout, and the picture frame that shares tactile senses, Imprint.

Snippet from the video prototype of Sprout

Test findings

Kids liked the height-marking bar idea better, and would like to interact with other kids through it.

Design actions

We selected Sprout as our final direction, and started thinking about interactions between multiple users instead of just 1-on-1 ones.

Snippet from the video prototype of Imprint


Prototype 02 - mid fidelity


For the second round of prototyping and testing, we want to see:

  • What is the preferred way of height measuring?
  • What other data do families want to measure aside from heights?
  • How would the digital interface look like?

One of the bars, with LEDs and microcontrollers attached


To answer these questions, we made two wooden bars that had electronic components with different height-measuring interactions (touch vs. slider), and three versions of phone wireframes.

The other bar, mimicking the height measuring interactions in medical settings using a slider

Explorations of the digital interface visuals

Testing findings

Users preferred the touch interaction, and the graph visualization of growth over time on digital interfaces. Interestingly, users perceived the bar as a medical device, wanting accuracy and medical data such as BMI.

Participant trying the touch interaction

Participant trying the slider interaction

Design actions

Because we don't want the users to think of the bars as medical devices, we want to explore how to capture other growth that are emotionally significant aside from height.


Additional research

To get inspiration on what other growth we can capture that are emotionally significant, we asked parents what they see as the manifestation of their kids' growth.

We found that parents keep physical artifacts that signify psychological and personality growth, such as drawings and poetry. Additionally, most parents only have pictures of children, and wish there were videos.

Inspired by these findings, we decided to allow users to record stories, which will capture both children's voice changes and personality growth through the stories they tell.

Kids' drawings & writings that parents keep


Prototype 03 - high fidelity

Ultimately, we were able to make design decisions based on prototype testing findings, and created the final hi-fi. working prototypes.

Laser cutting the acrylic boards to create height marks

Coding to make the bars sync


I'm proud that I was able to learn digital fabrication, coding in Arduino, and basic electrical engineering in just 10 weeks.

My biggest takeaway from this project is the importance of iterations and testing. They sometimes would yield surprising findings that can effectively benefit the design. For example, although our initial goal for one of the testing was to determine the preferred way of measuring height, we were able to find how users perceived the bars as medical devices, and started to think about other emotionally significant growth representations.

The height marks of our team

  • Design Overview
  • Concept Video
  • Key Interactions
  • Ideation
  • Prototype 01
  • Prototype 02
  • More research
  • Prototype 03
  • Reflection




© 2021 Mike Dong