Mother’s Helper ママのヘルパー

Helping Japanese mothers teach their children life skills with a shared cooking app and IoT service

Mother's Helper design team members

It was a new (and fun) experience to work on an all-woman team.

In Japanese families in 2012, mothers, both stay-at-home and working, were the primary parent in charge of home management and child rearing. I joined two Japanese women engineers who hypothesized that young mothers were struggling to manage their responsibilities and hoped for more help with chores from their children. We believed that a Panasonic cloud-based service, linked to in-home hardware, could gamify the process, making it more fun for both generations. Mother’s Helper is the shared cooking app and smart appliance service that we developed and patented from this project.

R&D Challenge

  • nfc_connected_devices

    Panasonic was developing apps for NFC-enabled Android phones and adding NFC capability to home appliances

    Create a wild idea for home appliances connected to a cloud platform through a mobile app.

  • Design something patentable in under a month.

My Role

Collaborate with engineers to lead design research, including screening/recruiting, field study, analysis and synthesis, ideation, and reporting.


Starting Hypothesis

Busy mothers may want more help from children with housework and chores. Panasonic could gamify this with a cloud services app.


  • Girl playing game on smartphone

    Our mother participants let their children play with their phones, and were proud of their skills.

    At-home interviews/observations of career and at-home mothers

  • Picture sort Daily & weekly journey mapping
  • Affinity mapping
  • Karaoke room ideation!


The critical learning from our participants was they did not want help from their children (or much from their husbands) with housework. They took pride in their responsibilities.

Of the three housework categories (cooking, laundry, cleaning), participants only cared strongly that their children learn to cook, as a means of survival when they eventually lived alone. Participants differed in what they felt was important for children to learn at home: social development, creative thinking, keeping busy/active.

We also learned, to our surprise, that stay-at-home mothers seemingly never stop working—they keep going till they finish. The career mothers in the study, on the other hand, stopped on schedule.

Finally, participants were generally proud of their children’s smartphone/tablet skills, which contrasted with what I had seen in the United States, where there was much more concern about “screen time” among parents.

Allowance chore chart for three children

Stamp chart for allowance tied to chores used by one family. Other families had similar charts, though generally they were related to education. We borrowed the idea of avatars and stamps for our product idea.

Character refrigerator magnets

Refrigerator magnets participant’s children arranged. These served as inspiration for several of our concepts.

For all skills, and in particular for cooking, participants had a mental model analogous to martial arts, with mentors and skill levels to strive for. We saw an opportunity to use this analogy to gamify a shared cooking experience.



We analyzed the data to determine our target user group: mothers who wanted their children to help them cook, but were concerned about safety and appropriate skill levels.

Whiteboard user analysis

Team analysis to determine target user group.

We had pivoted from chores that mothers needed help with to social skills (cooking, specifically) that mothers wanted their children to learn but struggled to find the time to teach them.

Identified Needs for Cooking with Children

  • Safe for children
  • Efficient
  • Healthy & delicious food
  • Accommodates interrupts
  • Age-appropriate recipes
  • Sense of skill progress



The team designed a cloud services app connecting smart kitchen appliances to recipes designed for shared cooking between parents, primarily mothers, and young children.

Published patent for shared cooking experience

Published patent for shared cooking experience

The experience allows parents to train children to build mastery in cooking and enjoy shared activities while staying safe and not slowing down the cooking process. The developer on the team wrote a patent detailing the algorithm to manage the process, and it was accepted for publication one year later.

Girl stir frying


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