Jan Essig

Small software product or app company

What can others learn from the successes and failures of how you crafted your product experience for children?: 

I developed this App together with my little daughter (5 years old) when she asked me to teach her the alphabet. First we started with pen and paper and simple Flashcards I made for her. I drew an Animal for each letter of the german Alphabet so she was able to connect the letter to an animal. Then I thought of making an App out of the drawings with sounds, tracing etc. so she was able to study by herself whenever she wants to. While working on the „FlashCards-only-App“ I was also thinking of other ways of learning letters. What might be fun or what might be a good way to teach the alphabet. So the number of exercises of this App grew from one to six. While development I often watched her playing with beta versions. This way I saw many obstacles young children might have (and adults don´t even think about). So I was able to improve each Activity of this App until she and even her younger brother (3 years old) was able to navigate through the App and play the Activities without difficulties. So the most important thing is to develop an App for kids together with kids and to watch them using it until it works perfect. It was also very important to be open to customer suggestions. With the great support of parents and teachers all over the world it was possible to improve this App more and more. Answering emails and talking to them is the best one can to - especially when you´re not working in a big team or company. Doing this I was able to: * improve the localizations of each of the 6 supported languages (english, german, italian, french, spanish, swedish) and added american and british english sounds. * Improved some sounds or added new animals to make them fit perfectly to the given letter. * Improved or added exercises * Added a rewarding system * Added 4 additional fonts! Besides print type letters this App now includes an additional font for US-Schools ( Cursive Handwriting) and all three german handwriting fonts (Lateinische Ausgangsschrift, Vereinfachte Ausgangsschrift, Schulausgangsschrift). So this is currently the first App on the german market that includes all fonts that are taught at german schools today. Without talking to parents and teachers I wouldn’t even have know there were so many different fonts and that each school in germany was able to choose which font is taught.

Please describe any research, data, and other information about the needs of your young users that was used in the design of your product and how it significantly affected the thought process and final outcome.: 

My wife and I looked at many Apps about teaching the ABC but there were only very few that we really liked. Most of the Apps didn’t work properly for german (eg. A is for Alligator in english. You can also say Alligator in German, but children don’t. We say „Krokodil“ to this Animal so it would fit to letter „K“ and so on. That was the catalyst that set me - as a dad and designer - to work on my own children’s ABC app. I wanted to make one App that supports different languages perfectly. We also talked to friends whose children were in school already and I visited the local school and talked to teachers.

In what ways did the specific needs of and constraints inherent to children affect the design of the product?: 

Before I started to work on my own Apps I watched my children play with the common Apps on the Store. As I said before there were very few I would have been happy to give to my children. The Apps didn’t work as my kids thought they would, so playing with them was quite nerve-wracking and frustrating for my kids (and me). Why? Because the navigation was inconsistent, buttons were placed at the bottom or side of the screen - at spots young kids often touch by accident. The apps were full of adverts, In-App-Purchases and unprotected links to the App Store, Facebook or elsewhere. It often seemed they where primally made to earn money instead of being a great experience for kids. So I tried to make all activities as clear and simple as possible. I also optimized those things we disliked in other games or my kids had difficulties with. The whole App is clearly structured and has a consistend navigation, there are no adverts or In-App-Purchases and all Links are hidden in a protected area behind a parents gate.

How did you test your product designs and prototypes with children, and how did that testing affect the designs or how you thought about the product’s requirements?: 

I asked my own children, my wife, my parents (almost the same as children ;) ) and friends and their children to take a look at my App and just watched them playing with it. All obstacle they had were collected and improved in the next versions. I also received many helpful suggestions from parents and teachers all over the world. One thing I noticed watching my own kids was that young children have difficulties to touch and release a specific point without moving their finger. They often slide away a bit. So in many apps this was an obstacle which made it impossible for them to navigate through an App or play a game. It just didn’t work several times and this frustrated them. So I added a tolerance range to make everything work at the first hit. Multitouch is another very important thing for a kids App. Kids often lay their hand somewhere on the iPad. Without multitouch the App just stops working (e.g. a Puzzle or Memory Game).

Please share any quantitative, qualitative, and/or anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness of your designs for children and/or of the impact your product has on its users.: 

Playground 3 - ABC Edition is recommended by many App-Review-Sites around the world, Feedback from parents and teachers is great and it was awarded the: * Children’s Technology Review - EDITOR’S CHOICE: http://bit.ly/1dnIlFf [ USA ] * Kids App Award 2013 as Best Update: http://bit.ly/1eMpy9s [ Germany ] * Kids App Award 2012 as Best Learning App: http://bit.ly/S8xiwk [ Germany ] * Gold Award for excellent learning Apps by KinderAppGarten.de: [ Germany ] * 5 Star EAS Certification and EAS Recommended status by the Educational App Store: http://bit.ly/GZLpit [ GB ] * Bestapps4kids.ru - 5.0 Perfect Score: http://bit.ly/ZL7yrE [ RUSSIA ] * ipadecducators TOP SCORE: „Simply put, this is the best app we have yet seen for early letter learning.“ http://bit.ly/ipadeducators_s3 [ AE ] * The first austrian governing body Dyslexia recommended this App as expressly valuable: http://bit.ly/legastenie_S3 [ Austria ] * Pappasappar.se - 5/5 REKOMMENDERAS: http://bit.ly/TwIenS [ Sweden ] * 250 Media educators recommended this App in the German Focus Magazin School as educational and valuable http://bit.ly/1dIPbLJ * Is nominated as Best Teacher App at the 6th Best App Ever Awards 2013 (Reached TOP 10 - Voting is open through March 15, 2014) * Is nominated as Best Special Needs App at the 6th Best App Ever Awards 2013 (Reached TOP 10 - Voting is open through March 15, 2014) * Reached the TOP 10 at the 5th Best App Ever Awards 2012 as Best Under 9 Kids Game * Referring to reviews on the App store and emails from teachers this App is used at schools in germany and sweden. **For example:** 5 Star Review by GSGoethe: http://goo.gl/m0T7yK 5 Star Review by Awalz: http://goo.gl/DKyaI9 You’ll find all Awards, Reviews and Comments via this Link: http://www.janessig.com/apps-2/spielplatz-3/

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