Product Design (prototype)



  • Research lead
  • Usability test facilitator
  • Project manager

STEMbuds is an app which aims to encourage the interest of middle school girls in science and maths. It is my team's capstone project for the Master of Human-Computer Interaction and Design (MHCID) program at the University of Washington. 

The MHCID program is offered by four departments: Computer Science & EngineeringHuman-Centered Design and Engineering, the Information School and Division of Design in the School of Art + Art History + Design, along with faculty from other UW departments. These four units comprise the award-winning research group known as DUB (Design: Use: Build).


It is a known fact that women are critically underrepresented in STEM fields in the US. Studies have shown that disengagement from these subjects start during their middle school years. 

  • 74% of teen girls are interested in STEM subjects, BUT...
  • 81% of STEM girls are interested in pursuing STEM career, but only 13% say it is their first choice

(*Girl Scouts Generation STEM report)

Design Question

How might we facilitate social integration for adolescent girls in STEM programs so they feel supported to pursue a STEM career?


  • Secondary research and expert interviews: 
    • In total, we interviewed nine experts, including academia, education consultants, industry practitioners (principals, teachers, facilitators), and
      design consultants working in the education space.
    • Our intention for conducting the subject matter experts was to uncover our target user’s needs, desires, challenges, as well as current and past behaviours.
    • The interview sessions helped validate a lot of the insights generated from our secondary research and shed new light on which design direction we may want to consider.
  • Primary Research:
    • Participant observation: Observation of student-mentor relationships was conducted with two classes of students with two different mentors at Summit Sierra Public. Our intention was to observe the girls with their mentors in their natural academic environment.
    • Focus group discussion: The discussion was also held with 8 school girls at Summit Sierra Public. The intention of the focus group was to gauge the importance of mentors in the girls’ lives and their attitudes towards their mentors. This was also an informal way to get to know the girls better and get them to discuss the effect of having mentors in their lives and their opinions, as an individual and as a group, about STEM subjects.
  • Synthesizing Insights:  
    • Young women don't see the practical relevance of STEM skills outside of the classroom.
    • Many young women do not understand how to set realistic and attainable career goals or develop a plan to achieve them.
    • Young women often depart from STEM pathways because educators depend upon the content alone to hold their interest.
    • Isolation from female peers in STEM environments is a significant factor causing young women to depart from STEM pathways.
    • Girls in STEM from vulnerable and marginalized populations may have little stability and support in their personal lives.
    • Female peer groups often reinforce negative attitudes and gender biases toward young women in STEM pathways through social exclusion.
  • Ideation
    • We ideated individually before conferring our concept sketches. I decided to tackle the app according to the phases the girls would go through: Before, During, After. The questions I asked were:
      • How to keep them engaged throughout? 
      • Who are the stakeholders involved inside and outside of the app use?
      • What team formation activities would work best?
      • How would girls that age track their progress?
      • How to make the app educational and supportive and fun?
  • Creating Design Principles: Based on our research findings, we came up with four design principles 
    • Design thoughtfully
    • Consider the girl's prior experience and knowledge
    • Consider the girl's goals and motivations
    • Be inclusive
  • Design Prototype and User Flow
    • We decided to create a paper prototype for the user test because the girls we did the usability test with do not have access to mobile phones or tablets. It is also more fun for the girls to explore the app on paper and be able to move the features around as needed. 
    • The user flow below is based on a previous iteration of our app, an event aggregation platform where girls can find STEM workshops and camps within their cities. 
    • By the time we got to designing the prototype, we had iterated several versions of the app: 
      • a peer-to-peer mentor platform
      • an event aggregator and search engine for STEM workshops and camps
      • an online activity sharing community
  • Usability Test:  Our participants were a class of middle school girls who are taking part in the Digital Media Academy (DMA) summer camp as part of their Made By Girls program.
  • Participatory Design: Once we conducted the user test and obtained feedback from the girls, we asked them to design their own version of the STEMbuds app. No holds barred. The objective of this activity was to gain insight about their needs and perception of a STEM app that would entice them to use it. 


STEMbuds is an online community app built for girls (ages 10 - 16). The app comes with three features:

  1. STEMbud Stories: Provides a platform for girls to share their activity posts and support each other's endeavors. They can track their progress with the STEMbud tree avatar. Completing and sharing their activities earns rewards the girls can use to grow and decorate their tree.
  2. STEMbud Activities: Easy-to-do, fun STEM activities that girls can do on their own or as a team. The objective is to inspire the girls to be creative with STEM, and helps explain the subjects in tangible ways for them.
  3. STEMbud Clubs: Girls can join groups related to their interest in a specific STEM stream and create and conduct activities within the group. The aim is to build supportive peer networks through personal and collaborative activities and knowledge sharing.

UI Illustrations @ Luis Gamboa Sierra