Project Anyon:
Engaging Teenagers in Quantum Computing Online


Client: IBM Research

This 6-week "incubator" project was part of IBM design bootcamp, a program meant to train new hires within IBM Design. Incubator projects give new hires a platform to use IBM Design Thinking to solve a real problem within the company, and provide conceptual "blue sky" design work for a specific business unit. Our team was put together to create an introduction to the work IBM Research is doing with quantum computing for teeenagers (and the general public) to inspire the next generation of computer scientists and researchers to explore more.

Compiled research on target audience, "Quantum Computing 101" video script and storyboards, concept prototype for a responsive web app

My Role: 
User research, writing, concept storyboarding, UX design

Polly Adams
Laura Walks
Zack Causey
Dima Hoffman
Amanda Cavanaugh

Lessons Learned:
Unfamiliar territory is frustrating and rewarding, we are definitely not our users, quantum mechanics is absolutely bananas.

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IBM Q is an industry-first initiative to build commercially available universal quantum computing systems for business and science. Today, IBM has a sophisticated prototype commercial quantum processor that will form the core of the first IBM Q early-access commercial systems for clients. In collaboration with key industry partners, IBM intends to significantly increase the computational capability of future quantum systems. The IBM Research team was still forming how they wanted to get their message across, and figure out who they were reaching and how they might best do it.

Most of the resources available were catered to those who are already working in the feild, researchers and computer scientists craving access to this new technology. For example, Quantum Experience is an online platform that allows the general public to run algorithms and experiments on IBM's quantum processor via the IBM Cloud. While many professionals in the feild celebrated the success, IBM was starting to wonder about the general population - how might we engage people in something that many regard as compeltely over their head? This is where our bootcamp team came in.

Young people will shape the future of quantum computing, so it's important that they begin to gain some general knowledge on the subject. Teenagers in high school now are going to be working in this space in 5-15 years time, and ultimarely drive how the new technology enters soceity. So it's imperative that IBM helps young people get an introduction into the field now. Our task: Design an immersive experience that will excite and inform high school students about the future of quantum computing and demonstrate IBM’s commitment to educating & inspiring the public in the field. 

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Our solution became a responsive web experience designed to reach a younger audience. The goal became providing resources to gain a basic understanding of quantum computing as well as a path for interested students to keep learning more. Using existing Q style guide as inspiration, we built our own brand to align itself with the tone of IBM Research in a new, mysterious way to engage the general population. (Scroll down to see more mock ups and flows we delivered to the Research team).



Our team was given resources to acquire some sponsor users, so we scheduled some pizza parties and jam sessions with teenagers. We found most of our teenage participants through other IBMers with high school aged children, as well as through a connection with a local high school teacher that leads a game design club for students interested in computer science and art. We were able to schedule several sessions with teens in the studio as well as in their natural habitat, a public high school in Austin, Texas. Getting a lot of one-on-one time was crucial to forming our personas, informing our design work, and defining opportunities for our users. While we did do our own research on quantum computing as well, majority of our focus was on how to engage our audiencee in a topic that, to many, feels inaccessible.

We ultimately created 3 different student personas that represented the core user groups we were interacting with: the undecided, well-rounded, and actively engaged students. We knew our proposed interactive experience would need to reach all of them in some way, and that it would probably look and feel different for each of them depending on their interest level. 


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After creating our personas, we dove into creating a solution for them. Segmenting three different usere groups gave us the opportunity to reach each group in a different way. With students on opposite ends of the engagement spectrum, we determined several value statements ("Hills" in IBM Design Speak)

  1. Undecided students like Rebecca can get excited about quantum computing by building curiosity that motivates her to learn more.

  2. Well rounded students like Kyle can see an introduction to quantum computing that answers all his initial questions on what it is and how it connects to his current interests that doesn’t require further research to understand.

  3. Students interested in quantum computing, like Alice, can learn key concepts about how it works in a way that caters to her different learning style needs.
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Our later sessions with students lead to some cocreation and wireframing, where we were able to gain deeper insight into what their expecations are for a mobile educational experience that doesn't feel cheesey or like it's "trying too hard".

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Final Concepts and Prototypes

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Our final deliverables to IBM research included a prototype of each step in the experience our users might take. We created an example "teaser" as a short ad that might play before a Youtube video playing on the mystery of our branding to hook viewers, a script for an introductory "Quantum 101" video, and several example flows of a user interacting with a webspace environment.

My part in this included concept sketching, storyboarding, and writing and editing the intro video script as well as wireframing and designing final screens. Big props go to Dima Hoffman for animating our content and helping us prototype designs with students in the studio. Most of our final deliverables are confidential, but can be shared on an in-person basis if you're interested to learn more about this project. To the right is a screencap of the IBM Q site shortly after our project, taking inspiration from our branding guidelines and proposed experience to reach a more general audience. Visit IBMQ to learn more and see updates!

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