Passion Project

PICTO e-Learning for children on the spectrum

Picto is a learning application where it uses pictography to teach children basic lifestyle skills. It aims to improve the communication skills of children with Autism through picture tasks.


UX Research, Product Design


January 2017 - March 2017


Sketch, Marvelapp,


The Problem 🔍

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) describes a range of developmental differences that are marked by impaired (in comparison to neurotypical people) social interaction and social communication. Autism is less so of a disease and more so a category of unique individuals. We wanted to focus and help rethink the way caretakers taught and communicated with children with autism. We strongly believed that children with autism are essentially still individuals who need a way to communicate their needs. 

The Solution ✍🏽

Our solution was a mobile app that gamified communication and learning that can be personalized to the student’s and caretaker’s needs. Caretakers are able to personalize communication and learning by creating pictograph cards for their students, while the student learns through a meaningful gamified experience.

Research Process

User Interviews

Participants: 14 participants ranging from behavior therapists, caretakers, professors, parents, to high functioning students within the spectrum

Key Findings: Autistic children have special learning needs. Repetition is necessary for lasting skill-building and images are processed more effectively than verbal or textual information. Facial expressions and body language are harder to interpret therefore patience and support from friends and family is crucial. Students with autism have sensory learning styles.

Competitive Analysis

Key Findings: 

Learning development apps for children with autism exist primarily for specific children within the spectrum especially towards children who have social developmental delays. There are none that are necessarily caters to all students within the spectrum yet. 

Contextual Field Observations 

Goal: To immerse and engage ourselves within the dynamic between a caretaker and a student with autism. We wanted to know their thoughts, interactions with each other, and patterns that we saw among different students with autism and the caretaker. 

Outcome: From our field observations, we dawned onto new understanding that children with autism are within a spectrum. There are students from high to low for mid functioning individuals, therefore, there is no one child with autism that have exactly the same communication styles. 

Target Users

Pain Points

01 - Spectrum of communication needs:

Children on the spectrum are on the spectrum for good reason. There are behavioral, developmental, cognitive, and psychological symptoms. Students’ symptoms can range from mild to severe in each type. Therefore, there can be a variety of ways individuals with autism could communicate.

02 - Lack of Motivation:

In teaching children, educators teach them through preferred and non-preferred tasks. Preferred tasks include activities that students enjoy such as watching tv, or spending time outside. Non Preferred activities are activities that students have a hard time finding the motivation to do such as school work or chores. Educators find difficulty helping kids through these non-preferred tasks because of the lack of motivation and high resistance.

03 - Spectrum of Caretaker Needs: 

Since there is a range of children with varying symptoms, each caretaker would have different needs according to their student.

Design Decisions & Flow


We ideated solutions through creating storyboards and made assumptions on what type of solutions caretakers primarily have used in the past.

A caretaker or parent attempts to educate themselves through online courses on how to better communicate and speak to other parents with similar experiences.
Someone within the spectrum finds it difficult to speak to strangers, and then utilizes his phone to speak his thoughts.
A mother wants to teach her child how to do the laundry. She does this by using a pictograph app to showcase the steps it takes to do laundry.

Wireframing and Prototyping 

Through rounds of brainstorming, we began with abstract physical concepts such as creating a physical communication system using paper clips, post its, and cardboard.

Further iterations of ideas, we wanted to create an app that would ease caretakers’ jobs of teaching children. To also ease the pain point that all children are different from one another, we created a design that would be configurable to each caretaker and child. 

Picto is a learning application where it uses pictography to teach children basic lifestyle skills. Using a friendly garden metaphor to incentivize learning, Picto aims to improve the communication skills of children with Autism through picture tasks. 

Because our users felt often unmotivated to learn, we gamified our tasks with an immersive and interactive garden theme, encouraging active participation to maintain the garden’s beauty.

User Flow




After receiving feedback from users and mentors, this is the final prototype based on the research and testing. Though we would have rather tested this prototype more to improve visual design and intuitiveness among caretakers, our prototype was judged among professors and innovators ranging from UC San Diego to France. And it was able to win a few prizes!


Culminating the design project, there is much to be done with the design as it has much potential to develop and iterate if time and more resources permitted so. 

One of the most important things I have learned from this is the value of truly empathizing with my users and truly understanding the struggles they experience if products like this did not exist, also the importance of storytelling their experience to others who may not understand what our users go through. 

It was humbling to research an interesting problem space, and a space I would happily love to return to!