Duolingo games

Hey, I’m Eric Smith - Finnish American product and brand designer. As part of an independent design exercise; I researched, tested, defined, created, and prototyped a new mobile gaming feature for the e-learning language app Duolingo.

The research

I started out my research process by uncovering an area of improvement, and landing on a new feature to create for Duolingo with a few hours of personal research. I did both market research to understand the online education industry better, and Duolingo specific research. I searched for and found useful data in a variety of places:
Articles throughout the internet from established sources:

Online user testing results:

Common feature requests on the Duolingo online forum: forum.duolingo.com/comment/5840199

Common support tickets on the Duolingo online forum: forum.duolingo.com/topic/647

Articles on digital learning:

Part two of my research process was gathering this data, looking for common themes / results, and starting to formulate some possible ideas for a positive new feature. One of the ideas I came up with was adding some type of fun, game activity to the app. This could solve the common themes I uncovered during my research of lack of engagement - in addition - adding a game
style method of learning which I discovered is proven successful in digital media learning environments.

Gaming and language learning

I then dug in a little deeper
to my concept of digital gaming to make sure it connected with language learning. There we’re a handful of findings that I uncovered that led me to connect gaming and language learning:

• Freedom to fail and try without negative repercussions.

• Inspiring people to discover intrinsic motivators for learning.

• Motivating folks with dyslexia, learning disorders, or lower levels of motivation.

• Gives ownership of your learning.

This article via Wikipedia illustrates many more benefits of gamification and learning.

Personal user testing

Part three of my research process involved spending a good amount of time using the current Duolingo mobile app.

During this time I wanted to confirm the research findings I uncovered, as well as start to envision if / how I could integrate a game feature and
new section.

Next, I started sketching out
the steps, flow, UX, and possible brand elements. I also talked through my feature idea with a few friends in 1-on-1 sessions with sketches to flesh out the concepts and gather trusted opinions + feedback.

Process outline

Defining the solution

With the research findings, gathering + formulating, data to support my feature idea, and personal users testing, I landed on the idea of adding 3 arcade style games to Duolingo. The games introduce a new type of fun learning activity while utilizing the same successful method of picture matching and arithmetic Duolingo’s educational success is supported by.

The visual design of the games are a nod to classic arcade style games; Frogger, Pacman, and Super Mario Bros.

The game play is very simple, to advance users answer language related questions to gain jumps, defeat enemies, and earn lingltos.

I chose to utilize the Duolingo ios app compared to the desktop software due to the fact that the learning environment and factors are much more flexible.

Also with som research, Duolingo has a higher percentage of app users - which would result in a higher success rate for this new feature.

Practice = Success
The games are designed to entice users to want to practice more and add an additional level of engagement and fun. The more a user practices, the more likely they are to succeed in learning.

Games typically attract a younger
demographic than most Duolingo users.
Playing video games is a normal child activity, therefore, adding these games could broaden and
attract a younger user demographic.

This growth is an important secondary success metric as well.
Measuring Success
I would measure the success of Duolingo games by watching and comparing data between users who play the games frequently - and
users who don’t. Those would be my two test groups.

I would be looking at how fast and efficient users from each of these groups were learning their desired language. I would suspect / hope that the folks who
we’re playing the games more often -  we’re practicing more and therefore learning their selected language faster and more efficiently. I would also watch the data between the different games, seeing if one was more successful then another and plan to add new games occasionally based off the data of which games we’re performing best.


Growing up as a child I filled countless sketchbooks with drawings of He-man characters, skateboard parks I designed, and Bart Simpson. This skill and love followed me to my career and I always start project ideas with paper and pencil. It’s the quickest way for me to get an idea out of my head visually and iterate instantly.
Depending on the complexity and timeline of the project, I typically will then move on to minimal wireframes, transferring my sketches quickly to a digital medium.

Here’s a collection of sketches I used to start my creative process for Duolingo games.


The design is where the ideas meet the beautiful digital world. Following are the screen designs, gameplay visuals, iconography, illustrations, UX, question / arithmetic interface, success and incorrect screens, and more.

Description: Arcade illustration from the games home screen.

Ducker game




I created a really simple, click through prototype with Figma. The prototype is pretty basic, but gives you a general in-situ feeling / experience.

I’m currently working on a more in depth prototype 2.0 with more details, interactions, etc. 
Description: To explore the prototype visit this link: https://bit.ly/2ROtgwG

Follow up

Duolingo is considered a very successful app, with 300 million users and a 90-95% success rate with 35 hours spent in-app. Due to that finding, I came to the conclusion that the current arithmetic and picture matching methods of language learning would make sense to use for Duolingo games.

In flushing this feature out further / deeper I would imagine connecting the game questions to the actual game play (I.E. Which of these is the direction “Left”?) making it a more fluid process, using relevant gameplay questions, and tapping into the drive in users to win their respective game.

I also imagined some other alternative types of language learning methods in the games

adding another level of connection / variety and fun. (One idea was adding numerical counting in the Crabman game to advance the crab and learn counting) Adding these new styles of questions would help connect the games with language learning further as well.

Thank you

Appreciate you taking the time to check out this project of mine. To explore my other work / learn more about me visit my website at www.ericsmith.ws, or send over an email and let’s be friends.☮

*Note: to align with the current Duolingo brand, and for case study purposes, some of the illustrations, and design elements used here are courtesy of Duolingo or re-created by myself.