Takao Umehara
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Takao Umehara

Augmented Reality Learning Experience Strategy & Design

Amplify Perception Academy QUEst


Back in 2012, Amplify Education launched a brand new ELA Quest team to aim building a series of new type of learning experience with appropirate use of technology. We ask ourselves about the following question:

How might we enable students to naturally engage in difficult writing and reading activities?

My Role

I took a creative lead to help strategizing the learning experience, translating learning experience into digital user experience, art directing the augmented reality development, and designing visual interface design.

UX Challenge

As we built the learning concept, we wanted students to experience a variety of activities from reading, writing, collaborating in a drawing, experiencing AR breakfast as a neuroscience condition simulation, writing drama script, participating in a debate, we needed to come up with a way to weave all these experience. We came up with an idea of a special field trip to ‘perception academy’ where students would spend a day at this institution. UI design needed to speak a language of this institution rather than depicting scientific look and feel.

Design Process

Learning Experience Strategy

ELA learning typically happens through reading and writing, but we hardly use other media or senses. We crafted our strategy of "what if to maximize using different type of senses and media to create rich in-class project-based / inquiry based learning experience. 

Quest journey map & app architecture

I led an effort for creating experience design strategy and build journey map as well as app architecture.

3D design for augmented reality simulation

I helped building an experience strategy for how AR would play a key role in this learning experience.


This Perception Academy Quest is consist of 6 experience.

Part 1: Audio Experience

The Quest is structured like a medical thriller: On an ordinary morning, students are involved in a minor school bus fender bender on the way to school. They experience the crash via audio recording though their headphones. While “walking” the rest of the way to school, they hear narration detailing the eerie “symptom” of altered perception—something is clearly amiss, but students don’t yet understand what it is.


Part 2: Breakfast (Augmented Reality Three-dimensional Simulation)

At school, augmented reality simulation distorts students’ breakfast on their tablet, offering more evidence of the mind-bending changes going on inside them.


Part 3: English Language Arts (ELA)

In ELA, they read case studies in Sacks’s book, which detail the powerful forces that have commandeered their perception—they are suffering from neurological disorders, the result of brain trauma. 


Part 4: Recess (Debate & Discussion Game)

During Recess, they play a card game that helps them confront their new limitations. One student picks a card, and determine YES or No whether he/she can perform that task on the card with restriction he/she has as a role. Then, remaining students would determine to AGREE or DISAGREE and they go through few rounds of debate/discussion.


Part 5: Drama (Practicing Problem Solving Skills)

Next, students pair up to imagine how people with different disorders might solve problems together, and dramatize these interactions as a scene of dialogue.


Part 6: Final Assembly (Collaborate Writing Assignment)

The Quest concludes with a collaborative writing assignment in which students use their knowledge of all five disorders and create a scenario that explains the circumstances of that morning’s bus accident.



This learning experience product leveraged the power of digital technology to provide teachers with a resource that they wouldn’t have the time, specialized knowledge, or technical know-how to create on their own. This app facilitates students tackle challenging texts by creating a prepackaged, collaborative learning experience that sharpens critical English Language Arts skills for middle schoolers.

We ended up building a series of linked activities that focuses on brain disorders and how they affect what we perceive and how we respond to the world around us. Students move through the periods of a school day as though they had one of the perception disorders described in Oliver Sacks’s book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. This Quest helps them master the challenging neurological concepts in Sacks’s non-fiction text. Perception Academy makes the study of the brain so compelling and accessible that it builds students’ confidence and helps them approach difficult non-fiction texts with less anxiety.

Amplify Education

Takao Umehara, Experience Design Strategy,  Lead Visual Design, UX/UI Design Direction
Jean Pierre Dillard:  Concept Development, Art Direction
Chris Kalb: Illustration, Concept Development
Chris Leathers: 3D Modeling
Anna Ziegler, Nicco Moretti: Content Authoring, Lesson Guide, Overall Concept
Nicole Stein, Dan Russo, Te Yi Liu, Eli Burmin, Beth Goebel : Engineering
Sarah Smirnoff: Project Management


Experience Design & Strategy
for Immersive In-Class Learning


Declare Yourself Quest Main Screen


Amplify Education sought to develop a series of the new type of learning experience called ELA QUEST for middle school ELA with appropriate use of technology. Our Quest team challenge to create next product around the topic of American Independence.

Every Quest project, we ask ourselves

What do we love about this text, and how can we get students to love it, too?”

We sought to build an experience that enables students to genuinely tap into how people experience the time of independence.

My role

I was a part of the Quest team formed by front-end web developers, back-end developers, playwrights, designers/illustrators and digital prototypers. My duties were to help defining the ideation process, facilitating co-creation workshops, designing concept, building prototypes, overseeing user experience design, leading usability research, synthesising research findings, working with developers for design implementation. For this Declare Yourself Quest project, I took a role as a design lead to help defining overall product strategy, visual/ux design, art direction for 3D designer.


There were four main parts of interface that students need go back and forth. Challenge was that interface is intertwined and it was difficult to intuitively understand which part of interface screen students are at each moment.



Phase 1: Research & Ideation

Based on each assigned book(s) or text resources, playwrights would come up with few pitch ideas. Then, multi-disciplinary team members meet and participate in co-creation workshops that I lead. Through ideation workshops, we explore various ideas and define direction for research exploration.


Then, technologist team, designer team, writer team separately work on research phase to further develop concept and feasible technology to implement. It is important to note that we paid great attention to no wifi connectivity in classrooms and our solution must work within this restriction. With this restriction in mind, we conduct tech research.


phase 3: Paper Prototype

Based on in-progress learning concept, we design paper prototypes and conduct paper-based usability tests to examine effectiveness of learning contents. We then synthesize feedbacks and observation, determined further improvements.


phase 4: field research at the american independence hall

As part of the research for both learning experience, visual strategy / ux strategy, I made a trip to the American Independence Hall to get in touch with the real historical artifacts. This enabled me and our team to imagine authentic visual design direction.

phase 5: building VISUAL strategy / Product branding direction

During this phase, we developed visual language through mood board, concept sketch, then final illustration.

Phase 5: exploring user experience strategy

We explored various UX strategy about how user would navigate the digital space during the Quest.

Phase 6: Wireframe and digital prototyping

We explored various UX strategy about how user would navigate the digital space during the Quest. I decided to use drawer as main UI navigation to visit four main parts of the interface.


We conduct series of usability testing throughout the development process. After having a digital working prototype, we either visit schools or invite students to conduct test to measure their engagement, level of learning and usability of digital products.

Phase 8: Final Design & product introduction

Product Introduction:
The Declare Yourself! Quest is intended to pose the same question to students as that which confronted the Second Continental Congress: Should we sign this declaration or not? To find the answer, students have the opportunity to adopt the identities of various delegates from the Second Continental Congress. Through the course of the lesson, students assume each delegate’s position on the debate and try to win over their opponents using evidence, argument, and teamwork. In this Quest, students work independently and in small groups to create well-formulated positions from an ample selection of primary source documents. Students must defend their opinions in front of the class with opinion pieces intended to recreate the energetic debates from the time period of the American Revolution.

Walk Through of the app


This product brings students together for an immersive team experience that feels so much like a game, they won’t notice how much they’re learning. Students collaborate to solve mysteries and make sense of historical events. This week-long narrative lesson plans build on the literacy skills students have been developing in traditional lessons while shaking up classroom routines and allowing students to take the lead.

Quests are dramatic.

During the week of a Declare Yourself Quest, students take on new roles and new goals. Amplify ELA aims to create fresh motivations for students by connecting each classroom activity to an exciting situation that the class needs to solve together. Quests encourage all students to take new risks and engage more deeply with their work and with each other.

Quests create new connections.

Declare Yourself Quest is intended to serve as a jumping-off point, providing students with the opportunity and incentive to delve more deeply into in a new field of study. Quests are packed with a variety of content-rich texts and other media, allowing students the autonomy to explore texts as dictated by their curiosity both inside and out of class. The lesson plans provide students the space to create personal relationships with the texts they’ve chosen, so as to give them keys to new bodies of knowledge.

Quests are collaborative.

Declare Yourself Quest create multifaceted opportunities for students to interact in pairs, groups and together as a whole class. Discussions, both in-character and out-of-character within the contexts of the works they read, are critical to each lesson, and students are encouraged to cooperate to achieve their goals.

Lesson Learned

This project taught me a deep insight into designing an appropriate design process. The most relevant lessons as a designer were the following:

regular design thinking process didn’t work

Initially, we approached with normal design thinking process by conducting the design research to understand who and how students are. Design research on students does not mean it would provide significant insights into what product we need to build.

Instead of starting with design research, we internally develop exciting ideas and brought in front of teachers and students. What we realised is those excellent movies are not born out of design research, but rather from strong passion and energy from a movie director. Much like a movie director or scenario writer pitch ideas about overall experience, we employed the power of playwrights to come up with great storytelling.

Designers, technologists all then collaborate to refine further or change for a better course to develop exciting learning experience.

“immersive” means different from rest of digital products.

Another valuable lesson is that constraint of Wifi connectivity helped us to be creative. We naturally came up with a fusion of printed materials and digital materials that don’t require connectivity, and we decided to rely on students for most ‘interaction.’ We learned that ‘immersive’ in learning experience does not mean to immerse yourself into the digital screen, but rather, engage yourself in the learning. So by design, we intentionally design the digital product are a catalyst for human interaction.


Installation for creative thinking book “Extra Ordinary”

Based on the book "extra ordinary", the unit of Hisako Ichiki and Takao Umehara, created an installation to showcase several repurposed ideas from the book in Los Angeles.





Workspace experience design & strategy




Due to increasing number of employees at Cambridge, MA, Amplify sought to open up new office space.

My role

I solely led entire effort for design research and work space design strategy, then worked with an architect office to develop the final design direction. I focused on using service design / user experience design frameworks such as conducting interviews, space usage analysis, journey mapping, space design taxonomy, etc.

experience design CHALLENGE

With limited space constraints, work space needed to adapt a various working mode for staff members who use the space from presentation, independent focused working, working away from desk, semi-privacy working and group collaboration.



Phase 1: design Research / Learning how people use space

We interviewed more than 30 employees to learn how they use the existing work space, and also learned various usage and purpose of each space throughout the day. This research gave me

phase 2: applying branding into space design

Then, I studied the brand guideline and define space design strategy that speaks the cohesive message as a brand


We studied various space design strategy from Evan McIntosh, O+A Architect and a book “MAKE SPACE” by Stanford d-school, and build into our work space strategy.

phase 4: WORK SPACE Experience DESIGN strategy

Based on design research, space branding, space design strategy, I designed a proposal with below key features.

  • provide private / semi-private space

  • open large staircase space for multi-use/collaboration space


The final space provides 7 spaces (by Evan McIntosh)

  1. Secret Space

  2. Group Space

  3. Publishing Space:

  4. Performing Space

  5. Participation Space

  6. Data Space

  7. Watching Space


Compare to the old office, the new space enabled people to work with better comfort and enabled collaboration.

“I now look forward going to the office everyday. Thank you for designing such a great space” - a male employee

Lesson Learned

Due to budget constraint, we weren’t able to implement every single strategy I proposed, including the large stair case. However, the new space actualized significant improvement for work experience. It is also important to find a right balance between directly translate branding into the space.


experience design & strategy


Hummingbird - 2 of 7.jpg


Amplify aimed to develop a new teacher-centric, tablet-based feedback management tool that complements Amplify's English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum. The design team helped Hummingbird team as an internal client to develop strategy and design.

My role

I lead this project as a lead UX strategist and UX designer to conduct design research, facilitate workshops, define overall UX strategy, design wireframe and prototypes and conduct usability research.


During the class period, teachers must pay great attention to students, but not the app. It was crucial for teachers to spend as little time as possible using this tool while still giving appropriate information for teachers to be highly effective helping students in needs.



Phase 1: Research & Ideation

Hummingbird team conducted research on middle school teachers then, I lead a co-creation workshop for Hummingbird team in Cambridge and we spent a 2 days to synthesize our findings from research, and ideate various features for the digital product.

phase 2: SYNThESIS

After the co-creation workshop, design team further synthesized and refine ideas.

phase 3: rough wireframe

Based on in-progress learning concept, we design paper prototypes and conduct paper-based usability tests to examine effectiveness of learning contents. We then synthesize feedbacks and observation, determined further improvements.

phase 4: TESTING IDEAS and refining prototypes

We started testing the digital product ideas with teachers (who are main users), receive feedbacks and apply learning to improve our prototypes.


After we conducted rounds of usability test, and defined final UX strategy and design, a group of visual designers to design the final user interface.


The final tool allows teachers to organize and track over-the-shoulder conferences and student sharing in the classroom and it requires only few seconds for teachers to record and understand students’ status.

Lesson Learned

The most relevant lessons as a designer were the following:

different design logic needed for teachers in class: designing an app allows users to have least engagement on screens

Initially, we approached with an idea for robust application that would requires longer attention by users (teachers) and we quickly learned that it is least desirable to spend time on app while teachers want spend maximum amount of time facing students. We reduced features and focused on most essential features for teachers to record and understand students’ status.


Book for unleashing creative thinking

extra ordinary: an amusing guide for unleashing your creativity

In 2002, Takao Umehara and Ichiki Hisako (bunch design) collaborated to imagine something that would inspire our 'non-creative-type' friends. Among so many fun and weird experiments we conducted, such as living a whole day in a elevator, we realized that collection of mini exercise made our find freer to think creativity. 

We decided to capitalize on this realization and produced this book.

Buy this book at Amazon.com


Special Thanks to our publisher Rockport.