Emily Phan

Blox Talk


How can we bring more playtime into child patient rooms?


The Story

Every spring quarter, seniors from the design program work on a 2 month capstone project for the design show. I collaborated with two industrial design students, Robin Cullen and Kailin Yang to create a solution for hospitalized children to interact with their community.

My role as the interaction designer was to design the interface and game, and film the video. Robin Cullen designed the physical device and Kailin Yang designed the physical game elements. 


Blox Talk


Blox talk is a game device that uses physical modular blocks that digitalizes on a screen; hospitalized children can play and communicate with their friends, family, and other patients online. It allows children to connect and play with each other without being in the same physical space. The game bends the relationship between physical and digital worlds. Children can play various games such as cooperatively working together to build a world or completing puzzle games.


Building A Theme World

There are a variety of worlds that children can choose to create their creations. More world themes are unlocked when children earn points by sending a picture of their creation to their family or friends, playing for a certain amount of time, or defeating a level.   

Translating Physical Objects To Digital Objects

Physical creations created on the board are digitalized on the screen. Then the visual look of the digital blocks are changed according to the theme worlds. Placement of the blocks are shown on the screen accordingly. The relationship between the physical blocks and digital blocks must be visible for children. 

Interactive Creations Through Animations

Creations live not only in the physical world, but also the digital world. Cute characters, such as penguins play in the environment created by the child. Animations and sounds are shown when children are building with the blocks. 

Geometric Visual Language

Shapes of the physical blocks were used to create the icons and logo for a cohesive geometric look. The background of the environments are a different geometric style to distinguish between the background and creations. 


The Beginning

The idea of the project started when I was a Seattle Children's Hospital volunteer. Weekly, I would play with patients for three hours and I saw that the amount of time I spent with each child was insufficient. When the opportunity came I decided that I wanted to design in this space.  


We wanted to learn how isolated patients interact with other patients and non-patients, and what does playtime look like. 



We conducted interviews with current volunteers to learn more about their experience, and get a better understanding how patients interact with others.


What We Learned

After conducting interviews and research we discovered that it is difficult to maintain and have relationships in hospitals, patients lack social interactions because of the hospital’s restrictions, and electronic devices provide an outlet to play games when alone. We wanted to create a solution that would help children interact with their community. 



From our initial concepts we learned that we needed to decide what type of game we wanted to design for example an open-ended or structured game.

Kailin drew the first image and Robin drew the second image. 


Design Goals



Create and incorporate collaborative games to promote conversations and build relationships.



Provide an outlet for creative expression and exploration.



Devise a modular system that supports different games. 



Use hands on pieces to promote kinesthetics learning.



Develop a sense of value as a player. 




Initially, our idea was a block game where children's creations would transform into digital objects according to the theme. For example, a child would place a block on the board which would transform into a seaweed or place blocks together to create a shark. Children could explore what kind of objects that they could create through experimentation.


We wanted to create a game that would stimulate imagination not constrain it.


Prototype Failure

We discovered a guided experience that predetermined the digital representation of a block really limited a child's imagination. A single block could be anything to a child. We wanted to create a game that would stimulate imagination not constrain it. Also, we saw that children build in two dimensional not three dimensional; therefore we decided to focus on building structures.


Design Challenges

We faced three major design challenges which are defining the relationship between the blocks and the screen, defining the relationship between the blocks and other players, and designing from 3D to 2D view.


Defining The Relationship Between The Blocks And The Screen

—   What is the optimal representation of the physical blocks to the digital blocks?

We explored different visual design elements such as color, shape, and texture. We saw detailed shapes detracted the relationship between the physical and digital blocks. We decided to use a minimal amount of textures. By outlining the digital blocks of the shape it increased the visual relationship. We decided that detailed patterns were for a different game experience like Minecraft. 

Defining The Relationship Between The Blocks And Other Players 

—   How can a child interact with others?

Children are able to communicate with others through a camera or audio. During play mode, they have the decision to represent themselves through an avatar or themselves. We wanted to create a way for children to see other children's creations. In the upper right hand corner of the screen, children can see the outline of what others are building and enter their building modes. 

Designing From 3D to 2D View

—   How are the physical blocks placed in the digital world?

The physical board has a grid that matches with the digital grid. We decided to create a grid because we wanted to minimize the process of building between physical and digital world. Instead of having steps to digitalize a physical creation we wanted the digital board to mimic the action of the physical board. 

Kailin drew the controller images. 



Identity Exploration

We wanted to incorporate the modular blocks into our brand. We began to experiment different ways we could spell our brand with the blocks. From there we continued to follow the geometric visual language.


Physical Form Study 

We began to explore different combinations of modular blocks. We wanted to know if we could potentially build letters from the shape of the modular blocks.

Exploring form with 3D printed modular blocks.


Determining the legibility of each letter and as a whole. 

Digital Form Study

After exploring different forms with the physical modular blocks, we created more combinations on Illustrator. We analyzed the letters to determine the legibility and to create a unified set of letters. We thought the smooth curves were more inviting and kid friendly compared to the harsh edges. 


Color Study

We wanted to create a gender neutral color palette that was fun and bright for children. We had chosen a color palette, but we had to change it according to the spray paint colors that would be used for the model. 

Logo with original colors.


Spray Paint Color Combinations

We decided to use a combination of bright and dark colors to have a variety of gray to help with color blindness and to create a fun palette for children. 

Exploring color combinations according to the spray paint colors. 


Final Brand Identity 

We incorporated the modular blocks into our logo and with the buttons in the game to create a cohesive look. Even though, the spray paint colors do not match 100% digitally, however the colors are as similar as they can be. 


Final Thoughts

I learned so much from this project from research to working with industrial designers for the first time. With different constraints and constant changes I felt challenged as a visual and interaction designer. But we made in time for the design show!