Hacking pictures, the joy of trial and error

When we build something new at Kano we always spend as much time as possible with the experts: kids. They are the ultimate beginners... and if we can build something they will fall in love with there is a good chance it will work with just about anybody!

That's why from the early days of the camera kit we spent a lot of time sitting down with young folks to learn what they think about cameras, as part of the research for our new Camera Kit. What we found was surprising.

User research with kids

Kids these days use totally different cameras than the ones that old geezers like me grew up with. They've been using the cameras on their parents' phones before they could read. By our very scientific estimate, approximately zero percent of children had ever even laid eyes on a roll of film.

Film? What's that?

Most kids were used to cameras that took perfect pictures every time, that had a beautiful screen that gave them a live preview of what the pictures would look like. They're also used to integrated image processing software so that they could tap to try out dozens of amazing filters.

So how would these kids react to a scrappy little camera they made themselves? Before we started testing, I was super nervous. I thought that they would expect the camera to take perfect pictures every time. I thought they might be confused that the camera didn't have a screen.

I thought there are probably millions of little things they won't like about it that I wouldn't be able to predict at all! These were the thoughts racing through my mind when I first showed our early working prototypes to kids.

The prototype

The first group to try it out were two brothers. Things started out normally enough. They took pictures of me and each other and their mom. But then by accident something amazing happened. They turned the camera sideways and took a picture and when the photo showed up sideways on the screen, they both howled with laughter.

That's when it hit me: they had never used a camera that didn't automatically rotate images. Within minutes they were twisting their entire bodies around so that they could take upside down pictures. They nearly fell out of their chairs with laughter when they took this upside-down photo of a shelf.

Upside down self

The play continued when they realized (by accident) that they could make blurry pictures if they moved the camera while holding down the shutter. Instantly they started spinning around as quickly as they could to see what would happen. I was really surprised that they were having so much fun taking what at first seemed like really really really bad pictures.

Motion blur

We discovered even more unusual behavior when they started editing the photos. One of the most exciting things about the camera is that you can use code to control it. We wanted to test this out with kids and see what they would like to do to the pictures they'd taken. Most of them had filtered images before, but none had built the filters by themselves. We sat them down in front of a prototype and let them control things like the color and brightness of their photos.

When most adults edit photos, they try to do things like adjust the white balance to make the skin tones in the picture just perfect. We found that kids immediately set out to do the opposite: what they loved to do was destroy the photos and make them look as strange as possible. They'd turn up the contrast to make everything crazy black and white. They'd change the color to be bright green so that they all looked like ogres.


What we realized from this research was something really exciting: the camera kit brought out the inner hacker in kids. For all their lives they had used cameras that were sealed inside of black boxes that took perfect pictures every time. When they made a camera themselves, something changed.

They didn't just point and shoot. They used code and cleverness to push their cameras to the limits, hacking their photos into crazy works of art.

If you too want to go a bit crazy with your camera, check the new Camera Kit out on Kickstarter right now! You can read all the details about what's inside, ideas for projects and inspirations right here too.

More from Brandon Jackson