Fin and Lou. Children discovering the world
The number of app sales in app stores is increasing year on year. Users particularly like games. And children, apparently born with digital aptitude, have been the focus of the developers’ attention for some time now. Back in form 255 Mickael Brock, co-editor of Astronaut iPad-Magazin, presented various children’s apps. Working with Melanie Groh from Fin and Lou Media, an app has now been developed for children who can discover the world with the characters, Fin and Lou. We asked Mickael and Melanie about the challenges and steps they had to take when developing the app.
What was the motivation for developing an app for children?
Melanie: For me, it was important to bring the world and travel closer to children. I have a young daughter myself and I’ve been looking forward to discovering the world with her since the minute she was born. This was essentially the beginning of it all. Initially, I actually wanted to develop a series of children’s books. I met Anne and Mickael by chance and we considered together how this idea might be developed into an app for children. The appeal of being involved with a modern medium and developing something from it for children was simply enormous. There are always plenty of people who look askance at the idea of children using an iPad. So it was also a challenge to create something that would be fun for children and their parents.
Is this the first children’s app that you have developed together?
Mickael: “Fin and Lou – Little World“ is in fact the first children’s app for everyone involved. Melanie already has experience with children’s books, while we come from the area of digital publishing. And the fact that we all have children ourselves means that we had already been involved with games and interactive books for children in our private lives. And as often happens if you work in the area, the question arises while using other apps as to whether you should perhaps develop an app for children yourself. This issue is a hot topic at the moment and is one of the biggest growth markets in mobile devices.
What did you concentrate on in particular when developing the app? To what extent did you involve children?
Mickael: At the beginning of the development process Melanie’s daughter was three years old and mine approximately 18 months. As a result it was almost impossible to ignore the enthusiasm and indeed the disinterest of our own children in the respective test versions. And so we could see from an early state what actually interested the children and which elements resulted their tapping the screen. And the sophisticated and complicated animations are often not the ones that engage children in the long term. An important experience we had in testing the app on our children was that sound plays a considerable role. Children react very positively to the right combination of animation and sound. Anyone who has their own children also knows that children will watch the same content over and over again. Children don’t mind watching the same episode of their favourite series for weeks on end. Therefore, it is important to include children from the beginning because their interest is piqued in a completely different way to that of an adult. This is the most difficult part in developing apps for little people who see their environment in a completely different way. You are constantly asking yourself what would amuse the little nippers. In time, children can keep themselves occupied with the test versions for longer periods of time, above all, when the first studio sounds are added. As children follow their own logic, it was useful for us to observe how they take in navigating and ordering the various areas. Such weaknesses in the concept can be detected quickly by the development team. Children simply put the iPad aside if the content does not interest them. It’s quite simple.
Melanie: There is quite a big difference between what parents think their children like and what children really like. We have of course had a lot of fun developing the app but it was good – and important – to include children. It was always helpful to see what most fascinated the children. All the scenes in the app, the individual destinations on the map, have their own colour scheme, are part of different seasons of the year and the action takes place either in nature or in a town. My daughter always let me know immediately what she thought was interesting and what she didn’t like.
Would you describe the app as an interactive children’s book or as a game – and what are your thoughts about interaction?
Mickael: The simplest description of the app is an interactive “Wimmelbuch” [search and find book] in which children can get involved and through play can discover towns and specific destinations on Earth. The idea of going on a journey is reduced to something that children can understand with the image of an aeroplane on the map of the world.
Melanie: It works very well. Learning through play is of primary importance with Fin and Lou and the diary in the form of text is designed as an opportunity for parents to interact with their children. This way, they can “explore” the world together.
Which trades were involved and how were they timed? – First the text, then the illustrations, then the music and when did you do the animation?
Mickael: At the beginning there was a design with the initial ideas about the destinations and the relevant animations. Then the scenes were illustrated and evaluated before the animations were drawn up and produced as assets. In an app development the assets are all the images and graphics needed for the buttons, backgrounds and the animations, too. These are prepared in various resolutions to work on the various devices.
At the same time, work was done on the texts that kept changing as the whole thing developed because when you’re working with several people some details turn out a bit different to the way they were described in the original concept. But all this is part of developing an app. Apps are developed agilely so although changing the concept and new approaches and new ideas concerning what happens on a technical level cannot be predicted but they can be viewed as being highly probable. This means that the team is not unduly surprised during the process when particular elements turn out not to be as good or as appealing when implemented as predicted in the concept specification. Naturally, technical hurdles in implementation play a role here. Not everything can be implemented in the way it was originally thought out. It is impossible to identify all the problems and weaknesses in the concept in advance. As a result, the concept is a hand-drawn map that the team brings into the right destination area but the final goal cannot be achieved as the final version is constantly changing.
The sound and music – and, above all, the final version – were put together relatively late on in the studio to minimise the revision loop done by the graphics and the sound studio.
What age group is the app aimed at? Can or should it keep children occupied by themselves or are parents deliberately included?
Mickael: The diary entries are meant for the parents as the target audience very probably cannot read. So the app is also suitable as a read-aloud book. Parents can read out the diary entries made by the two little protagonists, Fin and Lou, and make their own comments.
Melanie: The app is meant to be for smaller children who enjoy sound and colourful pictures. Having said that, I also think that user behaviour changes depending on the age. Some things in the app appeal more to a three year-old child, and others captivate a five year-old. For example, a child only really understands the concept of a world trip or travelling on different continents when he is a bit older. So it was important to us that the parents could be included in the game.
The app costs 2.99 pounds in the app store. How did you work out the price or, put another way, how many units have to sell for you to cover your development costs?
Mickael: The sales price of the app is not derived from the production costs as the app market has its own pricing policy and rules. This means that too cheap apps are often downloaded by users who are really not interested in them and also given bad evaluations because their expectations are not fulfilled. But sometimes the purchaser has simply not read the summary correctly. Therefore, a higher price can also be seen as a deliberate deterrent that then produces reviews by users who buy the app fully aware of what it is. Optimally, the price corresponds to the content and the prices of competitive products so as not to annoy the customers. The room for manoeuvre is not large because apps are generally cheap in comparison to other formats. But fortunately, the price can always be adjusted and the seller can try out different strategies as a result.