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KST Kids

The Kelly Strayhorn Theater
User Research, Service Design
2 mo

The challenge

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the live entertainment industry very hard. Our client, the Kelly Strayhorn Theater (KST), was no exception. They worked with us as a part of a project for the class 'User-Centered Research and Evaluation' at Carnegie Mellon University. Our challenge was to design a flexible solution that would increase participation and donations to the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, encourage people to engage with others unlike themselves and create shared understanding, and transform the physical theater experience into a shared online experience.

The goal

The Solution

We identified peer bonding, emotional support, and mentorship as the main pillars for promoting young people's initial and continued interest in performing arts.

Our proposed design solution is a summer program with an emphasis on mentorship and peer bonding that will empower KST to reach new audiences, connect families from diverse backgrounds, and positively impact the lives of younger community members.

View the interactive prototype

the process

Early conversations, considerations, and initial background research led us to our decision to focus our project on a younger demographic, specifically those between the ages of 6 and 17. After all, the youth is the future!

Our research question then became:

How might we introduce students to performing arts and foster their continued interest in it?

We wanted to learn more about how young people got involved in theater and developed their passions so we recruited participants between the ages of 12-17 who were involved in the performing arts as our participants. We used various user research methods to learn about their experiences and evaluate potential solutions in order to best leverage their interests with KST’s needs.

The research methods and tools we used include:

Think-Aloud for Generative Research

We conducted a usability think-aloud study on Wingspace Theatrical Design's website because the idea of mentorship had already become prevalent during our early research so we looked to their professional mentorship program's website to shed light on our problem statement. We then performed qualitative analysis of the generated think-aloud data using by using a Usability Findings Template - see example below.

Contextual Inquiry

We then chose to use artifact analysis as our primary contextual method and asked participants to prepare three artifacts that represented:

Something that sparked their initial interest in theater/dance (Movie, play, heirloom, etc.)

Their first performance (photos/videos, costumes, awards, playbills, etc.)

Their theater community (photos/videos with community leaders, event mementos, etc.)

From these user interviews, we generated five key insights:

  • Family can significantly influence kids’ initial and continued involvement in performing arts.

  • Early involvement in the performing arts increases likelihood of deeper engagement in later years.

  • Older members of the theater community act as role models to younger members, which inspire motivation and interest in theater involvement.

  • Involvement with performing arts helped with establishing and building support systems with other community members.

  • Involvement in the performing arts has a deep impact on students’ sense of self-identity.

Then, we conducted an interpretation session to organize our key findings and used an affinity diagram to synthesize the data and form logical groupings that would inform our next steps towards generating insights.

Speed Dating

At this point, we displayed all of our research and findings thus far on one collaborate (Figma) board and Walked the Wall by taking 10 minutes to look around the board with fresh eyes and add sticky notes with any new thoughts or ideas that came to mind. After we had all placed sticky notes all over the board, we discussed some of the ones that seemed most important and relevant to our research question. From there, we played Crazy 8's by setting a timer for eight minutes and sketches eight potential design solutions in storyboard format.

We then analyzed the user breakdowns/needs, approaches, ideas and unanswered questions that were raised in the Crazy 8's activity in order to identify the greatest areas of uncertainty and risk. As a team, we generated a list of user needs from this analysis.

After voting on the top four needs and concepts to pursue, each team member sketched three distinct scenario storyboard based on one user need - for a team total of 12 storyboards.

We determined the top user needs to be:

  • Parental Investment
  • Recognition From External Community
  • Internal Supportive Culture
  • Addressing Mental Health / Self-Confidence

Finally, we used the Speed Dating method to test all 12 storyboards with participants. Our findings and insights from this process include:

  • Support networks are crucial for an individuals’ motivation and development in performing arts. The support of their parents and peers is most clearly represented by their presence in the audience. Participants felt most motivated when they were performing for their friends and family.

  • Participants emphasized the role of older peers in motivating and inspiring them but some were unsure if mentorship programs were necessary.

  • Performing arts provides individuals with a variety of skills that expand far beyond performing arts. It also had a positive impact on the participants’ wellbeing and ability to deal with stress and negative emotions.

Experience Prototyping

We then created low-fidelity prototypes of our proposed design solution and conducted Experience Prototyping interviews with participants in order to evaluate its effectiveness. We then used the research gathered from this method to iterate on our solution, create our final prototype, and prepare our presentation to the client.

Understanding Our Users (Interview Quotes)

  • "I looked up to older dancers that danced on pointe and thought what they were doing was really impressive. I could imagine myself doing it in the future and was driven to keep going."
  • "I first got involved largely because my parents pushed me to but I stayed involved because I got super excited about performing. My friends were also involved and there were older performers that I looked up to and wanted to be like."
  • "I got enjoyment out of proving that I could do it [pointe], and I also wanted to do it to inspire others. I wanted to see how people could look up to me."
  • "My family had a lot of dancers and they were a big influence. I remember seeing my aunt’s show when I was little and wanting to be like her."
  • "The strong bond I had with my performing arts friends helped convince me to stay in invovled in it. Many other people dropped out because other things became priorities."

Final Insights

  • Young people’s involvement in the performing arts exposes their family and friends to it, thereby extending participation to a larger circle of people and increasing participation overall.
  • To develop a passion for the arts, young people need a scaffolding of support that starts with their family and extends to their peers and older mentors.
  • Strong relationships with older mentors can lead to a ‘virtuous cycle.’ The mentees are motivated and inspired to continue by the mentors. And as the mentees gain experience, they ‘pay it forward’ by mentoring younger kids.
View the full process book


Throughout the course of this project, my teammates and I collaborated on almost every aspect and milestone. We scheduled work sessions via Zoom and had discussions about our research and findings, made group decisions, and worked simultaneously on collaborative platforms like Figma, Miro, and Google Docs/Slides. We were able to present our research and design solution to our client and they were very pleased with our deliverables. They told us that they had considered something similar in the past, but hadn't yet been able to determine if it would be valuable to their community or the logistic involved. Our presentation allowed them to gain a new perspective backed with research and details on how to make the solution work for the benefit of their youth community.

Read the full case study
View the live site



Gabriela Suazo


Connor Shannon


Mira Mookerjee


Phoebe Soong