Let's face it!

A platform designed to help children on the autism spectrum learn faces and recognize emotions

The challenge

Neurotypical individuals are experts at recognizing faces, and understanding and responding to facial cues. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), however, struggle to learn faces and recognize emotions, and consequently face problems during social interactions.

ASD therapies usually end as soon as the therapist leaves. Moreover, ASD-focused apps used by parents without the mediation of a therapist can be expensive. Developing a way to help kids learn on their own at any time at no cost was the challenge faced by a small group of psychologists, computer scientists and students at the University of Victoria Centre for Autism Research, Technology and Education (CARTE).

A solution

Let's face it! is an app that allows children on the autism spectrum to learn faces and recognize emotions of the important people in their lives. Children employ the iPad's built-in camera to take pictures and make videos of family, friends and classmates, and label the media. Later, they organize pictures and videos into albums that provide content for four games (Splash, NameGame, Memory, Fuse).

Let's face it! interface
Let's face it! allows users to use the iPad to take pictures and make videos, and organize media into albums that can be employed in four games: Splash, NameGame, Memory and Fuse.

Dr. James Tanaka, a cognitive neuroscientist and researcher at the University of Victoria and CARTE's director, led the project.

App development and UX research

A small team was responsible for designing and developing Let's face it!. Consequently, team members performed tasks in different domains.

As a developer, my main contributions were:

  • the text-to-speech module, which allows labels assigned to pictures and videos to be pronounced during game play
  • the review mode, which allows children to browse pictures and videos before playing games
  • a module to measure and visualize children's engagement, response time and accuracy during user studies

I also collaborated on user studies. In controlled observations that took place in a laboratory, the focus was on the interactions between children and games. These observations were used to validate design choices, and detect and fix usability issues. Field observations were employed to learn how games were used in real-world scenarios.

Both controlled and field observations were conducted numerous times during the development of Let's face it. This user-centred approach revealed the most valuable features, detected usability issues and avoided rework later in the project.