Zookeeper is a co-journaling app for kids and parents. It aims to help kids learn about animals, and make zoo-going an even more fun and educational family experience.

↑ Animal Journal Home

↑ Lion's Journals

↑ Adding a journal and unlocking new sticker

Understanding the Stakeholders

I started my research to find out the answer to the following question-

What do families need to make their experience better at the zoo?

After the fist field trip, I made the following journey map to show what parents and kids want and do respectively at different stages of the experience.

↑ User Journey Map

1. It's all about family: Parents focus on enjoying the time with family and are content with the minimal technologies they are using to plan and capture their experience. Almost all families are frequent visitors: they are familiar with the exhibits and don't need to plan out the details of their trip ahead of time.

"Honestly I don't care about (taking pictures of) the animals; I care about people."

2,3&4. Zoo trips are educational : Most parents expect 50% educational element in the trip to the zoo. Parents use the opportunity to teach their kids about animals at the zoo, starting from a very early age. At zoo they don't use any material or technology they use besides the information boards.

"I give them books and search on Google at home, but (I use) nothing when I am at the zoo."

5&6. Kids want to be close to the animals: They like acting like animals, taking close-up pictures of the animals, or playing with the statues. Animal posters at the zoo make a very popular photo-taking spot.

7. Kids learn through finding answers: But when they are young, kids don't know how to search for an answer without parent's help.

"My kids always want to answer the questions written on those wooden boards."

Design Process

Through my research, I found that parents have less need to plan their trips or capturing their fun time at the zoo. However, despite a strong need, parents don't currently have an effective way to assist their kids to learn about animals and make the best out of the trip to the zoo.

Based on this finding and other research insights, I decided to design an educational journaling app for kids: an app that let parents and their kids catalog their experience with animals at the zoo, and help the kids learn more about animals along the way.

I started by sketching out some low-fidelity screens of the key user flow as shown below.

↑ Low-fidelity Design

I took the prototype to the zoo and did a quick-n-dirty user testing. Below is some key feedback:

3 out of 5 pairs of parents expressed huge interest in the app, and said they could imagine themselves using this app with their kids. The other two pairs of parents could understand the value but were not sure if it would interest their kids.

Some parents were worried that a device might distract their kids from immersing in the zoo, and would like to take some simple notes and then complete it back home.

Parents think that general information about the animal is missing on the current design-they would want to have an overview of some animal facts quickly.

Up to this point I was able to refine the information architecture as shown below.

↑ Information Architecture of the Zookeeper App

Visual Style

For the visual system, I tried to make the app look and feel like a tangible journal, while complying with iOS 11 Design Guidelines. I also tried to make the elements more child-friendly by using vibrant colors, lots of pictures and graphics, and straightforward interaction signifiers.

User story

It's a nice Sunday morning. Grace and her husband Dave decide to take their kids, Lucy and Sam to the zoo.

When they reached the Lion's Yards, Lucy asked to take pictures of the lion with Grace's phone.

Grace took out her phone, and saw an notification. It's from Zookeeper, the journaling app that she has started to use with Lucy. "Look, Lucy, here is today's task for you as a little zookeeper!" "What does it say?" With her parent's help, Lucy completed the observation task, and took some good pictures of the cubs.

"Let's keep moving and finish this journal tonight." Said Grace, as she put her phone back to her purse.

After dinner, the family had fun going over the pictures they took at the zoo today. Grace said to Lucy: "Let's sort out the best pictures and put them in your journal!" They went to the Zookeeper app again, added pictures, notes and answered the quiz question.

"Done!" Lucy was excited to see that she has got a new sticker, with which she herself can turn into a Lion King. "It's a great photo! Let me send this to grandma."

Lucy went over some previous journals she and her mom completed together. She found out that she now knows a lot about lions. She also felt proud that she has been a good zookeeper, especially a brilliant lion-keeper.

Interaction Flowchart

Due to the limited time frame, I only focused on the key user flow of the Zookeeper app which is shown as below.


My design exercise has wrapped up here, but the Zookeeper app still has a lot to improve. The next step would be to test the interactive prototype with parents as well as kids to see how well the design is accepted and to identify usability issues. In the long run, retention rate should be measured as it is the key indicator of the product's success.

Designing for two user groups-parents as well as small kids turned out to be an interesting challenge. I tried to balance the design style to make the app feel lively but not childish, simple but not boring. I adopted trophies and stickers to gamify the journal-taking process, and to motivate continuous journal-keeping. AR-sticker could be a more exciting reward as it can bring the wild animals out of the cage (see below). However, it is worth exploring how kids of different age react to the gamification elements, as well as how the design could be adapted to serve a broader age group.

↑ Before: Waiting in line to take a picture with a sculpture

↑ After AR camera: Taking a picture with a life-like wild animal at anytime and anywhere

The evaluation research will take form of a cognitive walkthrough. Below is a rough outline of the research plan.


Understand how target users interact with the prototype, how they perceive the value of the product.


For adult participants

• On the key screens (home screen and journal screen), observe and probe into participant's reaction and next-step plan

• Present participants with representative tasks (for example, "add a new journal to the lion's collection"), record participant's reactions and difficulties throughout the task.

• Collect participant's subjective ratings of usability metrics

For child participants of different age groups (3~5, 5~7, 7~9, 9~11)

• Understand how different types of gamification elements work with them through an interview

• Observe participant's reactions to the gamification elements in the app, and probe into how they compare them with the other gamification elements they like

• Observe participant walking through a journal-taking task with their parents, and probe into how they compare it with the other ways of journaling and learning about animals


Pictures in the research section were taken by the author. Animal pictures are from Google Search. Graphics and icons credit to Nikita Kozin, AlfredoCreates, and Freepik

Thank you for reading :)