© 2020 Abigail Sarver-Verhey


developing an experience through prototyping

I created this educator-facilitated demo cart for the Ohio State University Linguistics Department's Labs in Life at COSI. It was developed through an iterative development process that involved cycles of prototyping and revision. University student educators in the Language Lab now use the demo as part of their programming for COSI visitors.


In the demo visitors decode a Mayan word to understand how different types of writing systems build words out of different units, from the English alphabet (letter by letter) to the Mayan syllabary (syllable by syllable).


Follow the development of the demo through four iterations below.

too many glyphs! 

Visitors were given a copy of the complete Mayan syllabary and used it to decode the glyph. 


Evaluation findings: The lengthy syllabary was tedious and exhausting to navigate, particularly for younger visitors. 

cut & color

To make the syllabary easier to navigate, it was edited down to a smaller pool of glyphs to search through and color coded to provide a hint of where to look.


Evaluation findings: The syllabary was still challenging to navigate and it was difficult for visitors to remember what they had found. 


Given the navigation difficulties of the syllabary approach, a major change was needed. The glyphs were taken out of the syllabary and turned into individual flashcards that could be moved around. 


Evaluation findings: Visitors found it easier and more enjoyable to build the glyph and had an easier time pronouncing the word in Mayan as they could read it on the cards. 

spell it out

With the experience of assembling and reading the glyph streamlined, the only major issue was explaining how a syllable-based writing system worked without reviewing the complicated syllabary. A simple word exercise on a white board was developed where visitors compared the composition of a short, familiar word like "COSI" by letters and by syllables.


Evaluation findings: The white board activity was effective at illustrating the difference between the writing systems, as well as brief enough to not take away from the fun experience of building the glyph.