This project aims to create a series of Chinese language interactive storybooks for the iPad and iPhone 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.
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.
At the time I started this project, the Taiwan app store had a surprising lack of quality affordable interactive story books suitable for young children. What was available focused on leveraging and repurposing existing print media into a “book shelf” model that required an ongoing commitment from parents. There were a number of beautiful standalone apps available but they were expensive and there focus was more on interaction vs. telling simple stories.
Importantly, most books that were available tended to feature content of more traditional or historical themes, and they seldom used Zhuyin FuHao in their text, the writing system used in Taiwan’s elementary schools, thereby not reinforcing what children learn in school. Most oration was by Chinese artists, which would have a foreign sounding pronunciation to young children. By picking stories that feature Canadian themes, I hoped to introduce children to different ideas and values while they are beginning to read, with a voice they are accustomed to hearing.
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.
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.
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.
I programmed Froggie’s Dance using Apple’s GameKit and designed the interface in Sketch. I also did the initial Chinese translation of the English text.
The original story, voice over, translation and illustration was outsourced to trusted freelancers.
After coming up with a problem statement and ideating on the solution I went straight to a prototyping and feedback loop. Ideally I would have spent time seeing what problems potential customers had through design research, but with this projects limited scope I decided to involve kids and parents in the prototyping stage. I had gone through some rudimentary competitive analysis prior to realizing the problem I wanted to solve. My prototyping involved an ever higher level of fidelity with each version and as the product took form, I gathered feedback from kids and parents and incorporated their suggestions. More formal user testing using a think around protocol was performed with kids when I had a more feature complete version.
Below is some example art from the app.:
Photos of one of our user test sessions:
What I learned
Since I took a programming class in high school (Basic using Commodore Pets) I have wanted to learn how to program. I saw this project as an opportunity to finally do so and found out very quickly just how difficult it actually is. After a lifetime of studying and working in the “arts”, the unique challenges presented in learning how to write this app proved frustrating.
Beyond the obviousness in the difficulty in learning to navigate GameKit, the biggest surprise came from a user test session. My goal with Froggie’s Dance was to create a simple and attractive orated reading experience. None of the feedback I received as I was developing the prototypes contradicted this simple goal. But when presented with a working version during a test, all participants kept requesting more interaction. The kids kept pressing on objects on the screen and asking why nothing moved or made sounds. Kids seemed to be already habituated to a higher level of interaction with the apps they use on the iPad and iPhone. As a result of their feedback, in the next prototype I added more interactive elements and some subtle animation.
See 青蛙舞者 Froggie’s Dance on the app store.
The accompanying iMessage animated stickers can be found separately here.