Kinoo is a fast-paced startup that aims to create the best possible future for children, their families, and the world through connection, play, and learning. They are doing this by building a digital/physical connected play experience that encourages active kids and allows them to play with their extended families remotely through video chat.
With Kinoo, I was the Senior UX Product Design Director. Shortly after I was hired, a significant shift in the company moved our marketing position more directly towards the parents. This put the product focus on a solo-eduction track that we were following.
I have often been tasked throughout my career with coming onto projects at difficult points or points of change; this was no different. Like the Amazon Glow, Kinoo Connect found itself in a problematic marketing situation. The defined problem to solve (PTS) was connecting remote grandchildren and grandparents through video chat and play. This tested well, but marketing it and finding a way to get consumers to purchase was difficult.
As I was onboarding, there was a shift in how we approached our product from the core. We were moving from the core positioning of grandparent and grandchild connection into a single-player learning experience marketed directly to the parents.
Kinoo invested in a Bluetooth-connected wand to help video calls with grandparents. This wand could light up, play audio, and recognize motion. There was now an interest in moving away from the 'Connect' experience into a 'Kinoo Magic Wand' experience where the primary play was with the wand and a printed book. The Bluetooth connection for the supporting app would be used to update the wand and get new content on the wand.
The proposed new product would be an excellent way for Kinoo to re-market the wand they already produced, and we had some very fun interactions built. The proposition turned into an educational movement and learning platform. At the surface, this sounded nice, but at a deeper level, I feared we were not solving a job that needed to be done by our consumers, and it may be challenging for them to hire this product. But we had to dig into it to find out.
Kinoo Connect had an initially small user base. Introducing Kinoo Magic (the app) and the Kinoo Magic Wand (rebranded wand), we added more complexity into the equation for how our consumers would understand us before purchasing. Post-purchase, we also needed clarification about which app to use and where we point the user at each journey step.
One of the things that became simpler in this take on our product is that we were trying to market more directly to parents. Kinoo Connect had to speak to grandparents, kids, and parents, which became very difficult to manage. Kinoo Magic could focus on a parent setting up the experience for their child.
We needed more time to get a reaction from parents and the markets on how the re-purposed product would be accepted. Our interested parties and investors liked the concept, and initial responses from consumers were leaning more positive than 'Connect.'
Based on our marketing team's demands, we had to move quickly to get the change in our product out in time for the holiday season. This put a lot of pressure on the team to develop prototypes for the Kinoo Magic Wand and the printed book. In the testing we could get in, we focused on getting the Magic Wand in kids' hands. This allowed us to make more considerable system changes to the screenless experience before we ran out of time.
For the Kinoo Magic App, we simultaneously developed the logic and sketches as we designed the experience. We also were working through a few launch cycles at one time because we knew that the last launch cycles would become much more complicated, needing to allow Bluetooth provisioning and wand content management. So often in the early phases of design, we would has to stub in a whole area, knowing very well that we would have to iterate on it before we could finalize.
At the same time that I was overseeing and being very hands-on in designing the Kinoo Magic App, I was also laying the foundation for the screenless UX and UI that would live on the wand. This can always be difficult when teaching kids how to interact with something new. Luckily we had lots of input from our team and testers to get the best out of what the tech in the wand was capable of. I was in charge of the 'main UX' in the wand. This acted as a container for all the activities designed by our content team.
Here you can see the final UI screen for Kinoo Magic. I created the UI components in Adobe XD because that is what the team was using when I came on. I built out the component system early in the prototyping phase, which became fruitful for testing and iterating. Below you can see a near-final prototype and a link to the app store.
Sometimes projects can ride on an individual's vision and sometimes the strength of a group, and sometimes the power and process create the best outcomes. With my experience on the Kinoo Magic Wand, we needed a little more of the latter. From the top, we were guided in constantly changing directions. We delivered on those directions, but the process was never in place, against our better judgment, to validate how the end user would genuinely take to everything in front of them. And ultimately, that is the worst decision you can make when designing a new experience. I think we made some significant decisions along the way. Still, I fundamentally don't believe that we as designers were ever genuinely able to question if the product was delivered on a job to be done for the consumer, and therefore the sales did not come through as we would have hoped.