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Tangible creative coding for children

Codeinskij is the result of my thesis project at the Umeå Institute of Design.


During this process, I have investigated the connection between art and programming and how this relationship could become a way for children to approach basic concepts of programming and learn coding through a creative, visual, and stimulating experience.

How might we foster children’s interests in art and programming by giving them the possibility to create their own digital art experience?

What is Codeinskij?


Codeinskij is a toy, it is a system, and more importantly, a toolbox for learning.  It helps children explore art and basic concepts of programming through digital media and physical interactions. 


It gives children the possibility to explore art and programming by physically building a computer program and immediately outputs visual and interactive content. 

About the project

January-May 2021

Learning outcomes:
  • User-Centred and Children-Centred Design

  • Remote interactive user testing

  • Project management


About this project

Codeinskij is a project that uses experience prototyping and testing as a main research tool. Throughout the iterative process, (which happened, mostly through remote sessions, because of the COVID pandemic) I had to react creatively to the constraints that we as students faced. 

This is by far what I consider to be the interesting part of this project. It allowed me to see the research, ideation, prototype, and testing cycle in a completely different way. It helped me explore new tools and engage with children of all ages in ways that I had never imagined before. 

The outcome is not only a concept for an educational toy built around the concept of art and programming. Condinskij is also a tribute to those that have brought me to approach creative coding and an inspiration for those that haven't heard of it yet, especially the youngest. 

My contribution

Interaction and sound design

Sound was the the topic of this course, but ended up not being the main focus of the project. However sound played a big and important role when it comes to interaction. Every time the user act on the device an audio feedback is generated.

Moreover, we had to consider that the device is meant to be used before going to sleep, and these aspect brought us to specifically design sounds that are suitable for each different situation.

The energy movement

More in detail, the sounds that are played in relation to the phone placed on the "charging-bed" express a shift of energy from the phone to the device (also expressed by the lights turning on).

The same happen when in the morning the phone, fully charged, is removed and an energetic sound is emitted, sign that the energy is "transferred" back to the phone. 

Sleeping time

The core of the system was an Arduino Uno, connected to a sound board from Adafruit. These made possible to read external input from sensors and buttons and trigger the reproduction of sounds that were sent from the soundboard to an internal speaker. All this was programmed in the Arduino environment, therefore all the interactions in the final model were real and not simulated.

Sound design
Final Design

Final Design

For the final design we decided to communicate a cozy and friendly feeling covering the main body with a fabric. In these way we also covered and hide the light. 

In this way the effect when the light shine through the fabric creates a better atmosphere, that invites the user to relax and prepare to sleep. 



We started off interviewing people, mainly students, about their sleeping habits. About how they perceive the usage of their devices during the day and especially before going to sleep.

What came out from the interviews is that people are aware of their extensive usage of mobile devices and the negatives effect that this brings to their sleep.

Therefore they would like to be helped improving themselves without feeling patronized by something or someone. 

" I would not want to have something telling me to put away my phone "
" I'd really like to do something else instead of staring at my phone when I'm in my bed "

The number of people we managed to interview was not enough to have a solid base of data to start ideating.

So we decided to release an online survey that resulted an incredibly useful resource for our project.

265 people replied and the results really helped us to structure the next phases of our work.

Out of the 265 people that replied to our survey...

Uses a screen before sleeping

Check their mobile phones

Store phone close t

o bed

Would like to read a book instead of staying on their phone

Concept development

Good habits defeat bad ones


People are aware of their negative habits but they would like a help, they would like to be able to improve their self control and self motivation in doing better. Helping them introducing new and healthier habits, reading for example, would help them remove those that are badly influencing their lives.

Put the phone to sleep


Having an open and visible space to keep the phone during the night. A bed for the phone.

Hiding the phone or forcing somehow people to give it up is not an efficient solution to the self motivation and self control issues. At the opposite, leaving the choice of whether or not using their phone up to them is necessary. 

Transfer and exchange energy


Using visual and sound feedbacks when the phone is placed on the "bed" could be used to engage people to exchange their phone. 

This exchange would give them something they would like to do, like a book for reading or a guitar pick to learn how to play.

A supportive friend


The idea of a supporting friend took more and more space in the discussion. Create something, a presence, that would be always there for you, available to help but not distractive or patronizing.

Concept development
Second question

Can we use the importance of the phone to promote reading and foster self motivation?

Mockup and testing

Mock up

and testing

The exchange shelf
The exchange shelf

This is the concept that was incorporating most of the ideas that came out from the concept development phase. Here the person using the device places something that will help him or her to stay away from the phone, in this case a book. In this way, we can use the "shelf" as a reminder and  the book as an incentive to leave the phone for something better.

The reverse alarm
The reverse alarm


This mockup was not directly derived by the concept development ideas, but we wanted to test what people think about setting a timer before going to sleep, to give themself the freedom of choosing what to do instead of using their phone. The device would turn on only if the phone is placed on the circular platform.

Wizard of Oz

During the first stage of the ideation phase we quickly tried materialise different ideas to help us develop the concept more in detail.

When the fist mockup were ready we held different "Wizard of Oz" sessions to get feedback from potential users. Seeing their reaction and getting their feedback was extremely useful to start the second phase of the ideation, where we started to explore the shape of the device and how lights and interactions would work. 

Form exploration

Form exploration

After the testing session that helped us to take a final direction for our project, we dived deep in the form exploration phase.

The idea of having both a place for the phone, where it can recharge and "rest" for the night, and at the same time a space for something that would encourage the user to leave the phone, resulted the more convincing. 

Therefore we immediately started to develop the final shape.