Design for ecology

My final year interaction design module saw me, as part of a group, research and develop an interactive game to teach school children about the importance of bee conservation.

  • We researched conservation
  • Had various guest lecturers give advice
  • Conducted interviews and participatory research
  • Iterated and tested our design at several points during the project

The insights gleaned through our research led us to develop a prototype for a beehive management game. This will take readings through our application from a schools on-site beehive to show students how their actions have an affect on bees. Using the virtual hive environment we developed children have the chance to get 'closer' to the bees to help promote empathy.

Research trip

We took a research trip to Brandon Hill to explore potential areas and organisations to work alongside during this project. This location was also chosen due to its association, and close proximity to, the headquarters of the Avon and Somerset Wildlife Trust.

Guest lectures

We had a guest lecturer, Antonio Gould, who is a product design manager that has worked on several interesting projects. He gave us some insights into developing educational games for children as he previously worked on 'Teach your Monster to Read’. We learned how to engage children and were given advice on interesting points to focus on next.

Dr. Robert Phillips came to speak to us and mentioned that he had worked on a project called Bee Lab. He told us that we need to be more specific in our focus to help the project have a better impact. 

He gave us a good idea of some research areas to consider next:

  • What do people already know? Do they care? 
  • Is there anything related to what we’re doing in the current curriculum?
  • Do schools have beehives?
  • What Key Stage would we target?


Jemma Kamara is a UWE Business Studies graduate and came to talk to us about her career in Digital Media. Jemma focuses on accessibility, creating games and products for children. We were given some invaluable insights into how to engage children and promote empathy.

Project advice

  1. Checking the Keystage 2/3/4 requirements for school children aged around 10
  2. Creating a game could be a good way to engage children
  3. Use animations to show night/day cycles
  4. Try to make bees friendly for children
  5. Look into TyrAnt by Preloaded – a game aimed at teaching children about ant colonies
  6. Let children be in charge of ‘taking care’ of the hive – to help improve empathy and caring


We were inspired by Jemma’s previous work, and advice, and so started to list our game ideas:

  • Adopt a bee in a community hive – what you do in real life (plant flowers etc) can help your bee
  • Bee hotels – create spaces for insects and wildlife to flourish and have positive impact measured in game

Group meeting

We met as a group and decided to focus on bee conservation and create three mission statements to help us be more specific.

  1. Educate schools on how they can adapt their spaces to accommodate bees
  2. Provide an interactive way to engage students on the topic
  3. Create a set of digital resources for teachers to use to achieve point 2

Having a sharper focus I contacted Dr. Jeff Davey, who is a research technician at the university who takes care of several on-site beehives, and set up a meeting with him.


To gather first hand information on bee conservation we met with Dr Jeff Davey who is a research technician from UWE. He takes care of honey bee hives that are located on campus grounds as well as hives on his allotment.

Jeff also works with school children to teach them about bees using various methods that range from live demos to having children play act being bees. He creates videos for them and told us that he usually keeps them short as children sometimes have a shorter attention span.

Another method he uses is having the children make models of a hives contents to get hands on experience with the hive, which is usually an intangible experience for them. The information that he gave us was helpful in understanding not only bee conservation but how to make learning fun for children in primary schools.

Virtual hive

One of the great ideas Jeff had was to regularly take photos of the hive and have them turned into a ‘virtual hive’. Children could then explore the inside of the hive using a tablet or smartphone. He said that this would be a great way of educating children as well as being useful for tracking how many bees are in the hive, or if there have been any changes between visits.

We discussed creating a virtual hive and what that would look like and Jeff drew a rough design for us.

Putting a camera or sensor inside of the hive would not be a possibility as bees cover anything inside the hive (from dead rodents to computer gear) with tree sap. This was vital information on how bees deal with foreign objects placed inside the hive, and something that we would have otherwise missed.


City hive

Following on from the virtual hive we came up with the idea of creating a City Hive that collates data from various bee hives in Bristol and creates a virtual ‘city hive’. This would be a way of representing bee populations and health as well as teaching children how they can help. We thought that if children could readily see the impact of their actions to the bee population as a whole they would be more excited about the positive changes they can make.


Our target age

Jeff suggested that children of around 10 are a great audience as they are old enough to understand more complex information and young enough to still be engaged with the subject matter. He also said that if children of that age (or younger) do not connect with nature then they are less likely to care about envionmental issues as adults.

They are also a great age group to use technology to engage, as although they have short attention spans, they love using technology.

Thematic analysis

Having interviewed Dr Jeff Davey we were left with a lot of notes and ideas. In order to try to focus on what was important we conducted a thematic analysis exercise together.

We came up with these codes to help us focus our research:

  • Habitat
    • We will look into the human impact on bee habitats, and how to create bee friendly spaces
  • Problems
    • What different areas there are problems that need solving such as: Pesticides, loss of bee populations, lack of knowledge, children unable to approach hive, bees cover objects inside of the hive
  • Teaching
    • Target audience (primary school children), promote solitary bee knowledge, different bee species, life cycles, attention span of children
  • Photographic/mapping
    • Hive video recording, photos of the hive, 3D imaging of hive
  • Data collection
    • Collection of hive information, app for recording hive data

We decided to create a game to show children how their actions impact on the environment and bee populations. Using a phone app schools can record the health of their onsite, or local, hives and use this information to set up the game environment. This is a great way to give the game some real grounding.

Initial prototype

Using craft supplies we put together a lo-fi prototype of the hive and made some bees to add the ‘personality’ element for children.

We will use this prototype to run through testing the system when we have the other lo-fi elements created.

Interface design

We designed the UI for the beekeepers app to check for honey yield, hive health and potentially CO2 levels, and the game interface. We want to represent features such as hive health in the form of love hearts to help children can easily identify with it. For this we had an in-depth discussion with our tutor Keir about what sort of information would be suitable to display which resulted in the creation of these initial sketches. These sketches outline all the aspects we intend to include in both our live data representation and 3D simulation.

Design interaction

A simplified app prototype was put together using wireframes and mock-ups of how the game might look. These initial deigns were put together by members of my team.

Research trip

We met with Dr. Jeff Davey to conduct first hand research on how to take readings from a hive. This was the perfect opportunity to get hands on with bee keeping to get a better idea of what the process actually involves.

One of the key insights was confirming the different aspects of information Jeff records about his hives. Until this point we had developed our app based off of an online beekeepers record chart which included a lot of unnecessary information that we did not need.

We decided that we needed to strip back the data and make a more simplified interface for our final prototype design.

Final app prototype

For our final app design we decided to create something that would be visually appealing and easy for children to use. We want school children to have a interactive and hands on approach to entering the data so that they will be able to connect with the bees.

In order to prototype the app I created a series of screens in Photoshop and uploaded them to Invision to create a user journey and test the flow and ease of use of the application.

Below are some screenshots that I created to test our final prototype.