Earlier this month I had the honour and pleasure of presenting at Digital Kids Today – a conference in Denmark organised by a fantastic games studio Funday Factory in partnership with Filmby Aarhus. It was a great day, with lots of inspiring talks focused on the themes of Bridging digital & physical and Monetising brands and, in the spirit of sharing, I wanted to talk about some of the things that got me thinking…
Casper Mathiesen – an expert holding a number of roles including the Founder and Board Member of the Designing for Children’s Rights Association – talked to us about children’s rights, something not often discussed at children’s media events. But if you think about it, creating content and products for children is an incredible responsibility and until very recently the guidelines of what ‘creating ethically’ means didn’t really exist. People created and interpreted the rules as best they could, working by themselves, often having to battle multiple stakeholders in an attempt to act as guardians for ethical design.
In response, the Association gathered a group of children’s product and design professionals from diverse backgrounds, all of whom were willing to commit to working together to develop methods and guidelines on how to create ethically for kids. The result is the Designing for Children’s Rights Guide (available here: https://childrensdesignguide.org/ ), a democratic document that is owned by the people who made it, that is open to contribution, to people learning from it, trying the techniques, and adding to it. It’s a playbook more than a rulebook, but it is also very comprehensive and built by some of the best experts around. It’s definitely something worth having a look at, especially as the Association is expanding its thinking to cover the commercial value of ethical design.
Cephas Howard, the Chief Play Officer at the Play Institute, shared his learnings from creating for the physical and the digital (both separately and together), having honed his approach working at LEGO. A point that really stayed with me focused on the necessity of thinking about different media formats in the nascent stages of a brand or a product. This is especially important now that many of us know - even before we start creating - that the output of our work will need to cut across different media formats and thrive in each.
In order to create a truly integrated experience, one format cannot be an afterthought of the other, and the creative process from the get go needs to involve more than just “the toy”. Perhaps what you have today is just a toy - but what would it look like as a game? As a movie? What kind of theme park ride would it make? These exercises not only stretch one’s creativity, but also help ensure that different formats are taken into account and that fewer brands find themselves in a situation where they are trying to artificially superimpose a digital game onto a cartoon that won’t take it.
From one game to a network of many, there was an interesting theme that got me thinking: just generally, how many apps can you get people to download for your brand? Are there economies of scale with many apps, or are you dissipating the marketing budget by having to promote each app individually?
It’s not a simple question, and the answer won’t be universally applicable either, but I’ve definitely observed a shift in thinking as a number of respected brands move towards a more consolidated approach. Whilst fully acknowledging that multiple apps can mean cross-promotion opportunities, as well as a cleaner “sell” for each of the apps (doing one thing really well vs. doing many things), they are also taking into account the users’ limited memory space (a significant issue for children), the sheer cost of promoting a new app each time, and also the emotional labour of getting the user to faff with the download and set-up over and over again. If you’re a “parent” brand with multiple sub brands, how many apps will people want from you? Does it make sense to move to a more consolidated ‘home’ for your experiences? It’s a question I’m pondering, so do share your thoughts!
And finally – and this is something different to the rest of the post – but I must say that Digital Kids Today put together a fantastic networking process. And they did that by, quite literally, inviting the audience to play! Genius! The games ranged from repeating certain movements in a pattern (e.g. “clap when I say 1” - although it got way harder than this), to dancing around the room and stopping when prompted to discuss the question shown on the screen with whoever happens to be next to you. One of the games also had us all anonymously write down a question or a problem that we’re trying to resolve on a piece of paper, and then send it as a paper plane towards someone else in the room, ideally randomly (although there was nothing to stop you from aiming). The recipient would answer anonymously and send the plane over to the next person, and then the next. All of the “planes” were then collected and put up on a wall, creating a hugely interesting and diverse collection of thinking from the people working in our industry.
We went through a couple of games, each of them a couple of minutes long, and at the end of it all the attendees had moved around the room, met the people sitting near and far, and had conversations both super serious and super playful. It genuinely made a difference and any ice that normally exists when people try to network was, simply, broken.
If you’d like to read more, and even listen to some full talks, do check out the blog post written by the Funday Factory team here - https://fundayfactory.com/blog/2019-digital-kids-today-2019/