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Play for People Skills

Empowering students to succeed via the power of play to teach interpersonal skills using a web application of design heuristics and a fun, engaging educational card game.

Notable Achievement

Nominated as a finalist in the International Educational Games Competition 2024


Archana Ramakrishnan, Lawrence Zheng, Simran Chawla, Manvi Gupta, Jenny Liu

My Role

Helped Students Grow Holistically

I collaboratively built a end-solution that reached a high school of 1000+ students

Led Design Direction

Collaborated and engaged in discussion with the Director of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships

Built Research and Design Assets

I built out co-design activity and visualized design concepts to user test.

Communicated Effectively

Helped the team develop valuable relationships with key  stakeholders

The Problem Space


Growing Beyond a Grade-Focussed Mindset

The South Fayette School District was known to be a high-achieving, goal oriented school.

To grow beyond grade-focussed achievements, the school aimed to introduce a way to foster essential skills such as leadership, communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and community building among its students.

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An approach they took was to introduce a poster of their mascot embodying these skills. The project's goal was to create an actionable program behind this visualization. However, there were some obstacles to this approach that the team started with analyzing:

  • Prescriptive Nature: A focus on telling people what to do and conform to certain standards, instead of embracing their unique identities

  • Limited Definition of Success: A narrow view of what success could look like inhibits students from realizing their strengths

  • No Actionable Steps: A lack of practical steps to move towards this goal left students apathetic, because a vague mission statement was not something they felt motivated to work towards


Growing Beyond a Grade-Focussed Mindset

In today's ever-changing innovation-driven economy, adapting to change is a key metric to success. Fostering holistic student development in all aspects of life became an important mission.

The way our team sought to do this was to uncover the why behind students' outcome-based idea of success, and how we could shift this pattern to one that was more open to experiment, think, fail and learn through self-exploration.

Building on his national bestseller The

User Research


Understanding the School System

​Through 7 months of rigorous research in collaboration with domain experts, teachers, and students, we wanted to understand why students were fixated always fixated on the end goal.


Our research activities were wide and varied to quickly understand the ecosystem of the school district :

  • literature reviews of competitors, analogous domains, existing solutions, blockers to student motivation

  • subject matter experts consultation with 12 experts in education, transformational design, learning design etc.

  • observations in 15 different difficulty and grades of classrooms

  • interviews with 15 teachers, parents, administrative staff, career counsellors, mental health professionals​

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Understanding the School System

​It was difficult to incentivize high school students to sign up for user research interviews. Even if they did, we could only talk to high achieving students, which prevented us from getting a full picture of the student body.


Asking Students to Self-Reflect in Fun Ways

To creatively address this research recruitment challenge, I suggested we leverage participatory design activities​. This was a low commitment effort from users and helped understand the honest sentiments students felt at school. This helped us co-design with our most important stakeholder, the students!

Key Research Insights


Discovering the Need for a Low-Stakes Environment


There is an emphasis on product over process at South Fayette, with a heavy emphasis on grades


Motivation is linked primarily to the influence from peers, showing the power of community


Students are penalized for failure in some classes, while encouraged to learn by trial and error in others


Students seek external validation from teachers that they’re doing things “right” 


Students ask questions but seldom challenge teachers, showing a lack of critical thinking


Students naturally fall into different social bubbles depending on learning ability and class levels

How might we increase student motivation to practice people skills?

​Rather than enforcing a static list of requirements, the goal was reframed to build a solution that focused on:

  • A learning journey rather than an end goal

  • Low pressure environment with no keeping scores

  • An opportunity for exploration and critical thinking

  • Social interactions and community with peers

  • Fun and excitement :)


A Fun & Engaging Game for Students, "Terrible Workers"

A card game that fosters social connection and lots of laughter. Players pitch to be hired for diverse kinds of jobs (vice president or even a pirate!). This fictional scenario ensures enough psychological distance from daily life to create a low-stakes and fun environment to engage in active thinking and self-reflection. This game demonstrates our design heuristics and serves as a case study for other games to be designed.
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A Educator's Guide, "Play for People Skills"

A guide for parents, teachers and administrators to create engaging learning experiences that effectively teach students people skills. This fosters holistic student development in the people skills aspects of life and preparing them for the ever-changing innovation-driven economy. Through user research, we have identified 10 design heuristics to enhance students' people skills for success.A game to help students build people skills and a web application with 10 design heuristics to empower educators to design effective learning experiences, that foster holistic student development

Impact of the Game and Guide

One of the key metrics of success was how the game sparked lots of laughter :) this effectively made a vague and tedious subject of people skills fun, engaging and memorable!


High impact value for both stake-holders! Fun for students and actionable steps for educators


"Learning about Play for People Skills was better than any professional development I have been through"


"This game was incredibly funny and easy to play! It was fun to be creative with our responses."


The game was a subtle and effective way to shift motivation without coming off as preachy.

Student Goals Before

Before playing, over 50% students solely focused on academic milestones, like college admissions and perfect GPAs.

Get into a college
Have a 4.5 GPA

Student Goals After

After playing, they recognized the critical role of people skills in attaining success and shifted their goals towards getting better at working with people and building confidence while self-advocating.

Get better at working with people!
Be a confident speaker with less stutters


Players learned a lot more than the target learning outcome, all of which lead to the same core goal

Expected outcomes

Realizing the importance of
people skills and knowing how to practice them




  • Leadership
  • Confidence
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Decision Making
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