青蛙舞者(Froggie Dances) for iPad

Research has shown that reading books, the real heavy made from paper that you hold in your hand kind, still offer greater benefits with regards to retention and learning than reading via iPad or a device like an Amazon Kindle. I believe apps have a place in a child’s life, they can be fun, engaging, and provide another means in which to spark a child’s imagination through stories. They don’t replace the paper book but are a fun addition.

A couple years ago I started a self-funded project to correct some deficiencies I found in the Taiwan App store and to teach myself programming for iOS. A year later while the project stalled due to my lack of programming proweness, and ultimately failed to launch any apps in the store. In the end I adjusted the scope, decided to focus on my strengths, product management and design, and find some partners to help with the other parts. The result is a product far less ambitious but what I hope will be a platform for a whole series of storybooks. Overtime I plan to launch more software geared specifically for children under my company Super Lucky Elephant.

This project aimed to create a series of Chinese language interactive storybooks for the iPad that feature content with Canadian themes. Presented with attractive illustrations, an engaging story, and great narration, it is hoped that these storybooks will delight young children time and time again.

Froggie Story

The first story “Froggie’s Dance” is a story about a young Frog who loves to express herself in unique ways. She, over the course of the short story faces opposition to her unique interests and abilities, and comes to understand that she is an individual and doesn’t need to be like everyone else. I hope the story will help young girls understand that they can follow their dreams and that they don’t have to fit into a mould that others have created for them.

Audience
1. Children aged 5–9
2. Taiwanese/Chinese parents with young children aged 5–9.
3. Overseas Chinese parents who have an interest in western story themes.
4. Chinese parents and there children who have an interest in western story themes.

The main character is a young frog, a girl, who is extremely creative and wishes to express her individuality. Her family are frogs too but they may live inside a house that looks very much like a humans. Frogs in this story may also like to wear clothes, and Froggie certainly does when she is dancing. When not indoors the characters are all outside in a natural environment full of color.

Problem

This is first and foremost a personal project which I started to address some deficiencies I had found in the Taiwan app store. The app store is still starving for content. On the Taiwan app store there is a surprising lack of quality affordable interactive story books suitable for young children. Most are developed with their perspective companies platform in mind and aren’t stand alone apps. Those few apps. that are available, have wonderful interactive experiences but tend to be expensive, and fit a longer engagement model than what many parents have time for.

Most importantly, most books that are available tend to feature content that feature more traditional or historical themes, and they seldom use Zhuyin FuHao, the writing system used in Taiwan’s elementary schools, thereby not reinforcing what children learn in school.

By picking stories that feature Canadian themes, and by extension more contemporary than historical Chinese stories, I hope to introduce children (like my own) to different ideas and values while they are beginning to read.

Background

When my children were just starting to read books in Chinese I turned to the App store to download some interactive story apps that would both increase their enjoyment of listening to stories and help them develop their reading skills. At that time I was not confident in my Chinese reading ability.

For the most part there was a wide range of options from which to choose. Curiously most were developed outside Taiwan and featured stories that focused primarily on the cultural traditions of China. Or stories that children there might be accustomed to hearing. Importantly, most of the voice talent featured Northern Chinese accents and though most had traditional characters as an option, none had zhuyin, the system used for children in Taiwan when they are starting to read characters. Also, there was a paucity of options when it came to more modern concepts or values, and any Western stories were generally translation of nursery rhymes.

It was at this time that I decided that there was a need to create story books viewable and listened to on the iPad and iPhone. The apps needn’t have a strong interactive component but should feature strong stories supported by beautiful illustrations, appropriate voice overs, and engage children time and time again. Importantly the apps should be affordable.

My roles: Product management, development, design and direction, and translation.

Process

The app was developed with a UX Agile process and included multiple iterations until the final was to be created. Ideally, the art would be iterated as well but budget constraints nixed that norm – which necessitated really accurate direction for the illustrator. In addition to my usual near constant pencil sketching of ideas, I relied upon competitive analysis, front end iOS programming, sound design, concept development, wire-framing, user testing, and prototyping. Perhaps the least enjoyable part was finding suitable partners – hiring people on a skimpy budget is a long arduous process, but the people I have found have turned out to be great.

Early concept sketch

Early concept sketch

Another iteration later this early version adds color

Another early sample with color. This series of art were shelved and we went with a different approach.

Later line art

Prior to final art production we quickly iterate on line art versions.

Below is some example art from the app.:

See 青蛙舞者 on the app store.