Tuesday, January 19, 2010

UI Design: Selecting a Halloween Costume

I love to think about everyday problems and then design user interfaces to address them.

Many parents have had this conversation, usually while driving or doing something not even remotely related:
"Mom, know what I want to be for Halloween?"
"Honey, Halloween was last week."
"I know. For NEXT Halloween."
"That's a while from now."
"I wanna be a space robot. Or a Transformer. Or a rock star."
"Okay, we'll see when it gets closer, okay?"
"Actually, I wanna be Hannah Montana..."

I would love to have a little widget that can generate tons of great costume ideas, based on what my kid likes. They could play with it all year, changing their minds hundreds of times, and have fun pretending to be different creatures and characters (since that's what this process is all about, after all). Then, as Halloween becomes more relevant (i.e. it's actually, say, September) we could figure out how to either or make or buy a costume.

The first thing I did while thinking about this was to sketch a little mind map of the various issues that come up when considering a Halloween costume:



I began to notice the types of things kids would want to control, such as overall scariness or cuteness. Then, there are things like the actual age and size of the kid. And, there's the great decision of whether to Make or to Buy a costume.... and a few other things that seemed most relevant.

Then, I set about sketching some actual interface ideas, so as to get an idea of real estate. I feel that if an interface is going in the right direction, there are really not that many things needed in front of the user at once. So I sketched around a bit and did a fair amount of erasing and re-drawing:


What I got to right away was the notion of a simple set of controls at the top, that would generate a really nice, visual list of ideas at the bottom. Rather like a parent saying, "How about a mummy? Or an astronaut? Or the Tooth Fairy? Or..."

In addition to that suggestion-generator, which I think would be what kids would use a whole lot throughout the year without really needing to get any details, I felt that the next level would be to try and settle on a real costume by understanding what it would take to either make or buy it. So the details on a costume might look like this:

Here, I noticed that this would present a great opportunity for sponsored links, either to shopping sites or to sites that have how-to's on making costumes. Again, the listings would need to have lots of pictures so users could quickly sift through tons of options and go, "Nah, nah, nah.... yeah! Yeah! Nah..."

Finally, I added some other notes about things I think this Costume o Matic would need to do:


So, the entire sketch ended up looking like this:



At this point in the process, I like to put the thing down for a while and let it sit. Sometimes a big new issue will present itself, like the idea of kids wanting to dress up with their friends, which would mean either group or collaborative costumes.

Now, I just wish someone would go out and build something like this for me - and all those other parents out there having the aforementioned conversation. Maybe that way, once we'd kicked around some ideas, the kids could generate and print a list of costumes, keep it awhile, make another, and pretend all year until it was time to get the actual job done. And then on November first, we could start it all over again.

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