Welcome To Yonder is a interactive children’s book, using the power of augmented reality to activate digital content within the Yonder AR companion app.
Each page is designed to immerse the reader in the story, with both 2D pop-up content and scan-to-play audio narration.
Inspired by the imagination, creativity and invention of kids, big and small.
As we move into a world of a digital native generation, access to connected devices and interactive content has become a normality for the children of the 21st century. As more are introduced to digital devices at a younger age, the consumption of stories has moved further from printed media to closer to a more immersive, interactive experience.
This generational shift from paper to screen, along with research suggesting only 30-50% of parents read to their children, left a substantial gap for the consumption of potentially unsuitable content.
This lead to the idea of creating an interactive storybook, suitable for children and adults, that enhanced the traditional storytelling experience, not distract from it. A storybook that supported both language & literacy development, engaged the reader, and was an enjoyable and meaningful experience.
To make sure the right story was being told in this book, a series of storytelling workshops were organised with a local primary school, allowing over 300 children from ages 4-11 to participate in the study. Conducted over a 6 week period, each classroom got the opportunity to create their own collaborative story, with no limit on creativity or imagination. Older students, ages 8 and older were also able to work together in smaller groups.
Alongside the workshops, parent & child interviews were conducted to help gather qualitative insight into the parental decision making process of purchasing suitable content, as well understanding reading and technology behaviours. To balance the qualitative research from the interviews and workshops, a survey was sent out via social media to a larger secondary audience, aimed at parents and other adults.
The workshops provided an opportunity to find out what types of content children enjoy, as well as insights into story, gaming and media genres, and device and technology well usage.
Supporting the primary research, additional desk research was conducted on competitors and exemplars within the children's literature, media and augmented reality markets. This included reviewing current and traditional children's books, cartoons and games; and defining the technology and interaction needs of Augmented Reality usability.
Once the initial research was gathered and analysed, a clear roadmap of the needs and requirements of the target audience was defined. This definition allowed for the creation of user personas and an initial product journey map, outlining key actions, opportunities and potential pain points.
Understanding the product/user journey lead to the prioritisation of specific content, interaction and functionality. This included reviewing features such as perceivable interactive content i.e. image markers and QR codes, through to defining the software and mobile requirements of the project.
A major outcome of this process was determining how digital technologies could enhance the traditional reading experience, supporting the reader throughout their journey. This lead to a clear project outcome: If the story wasn't right, nothing else mattered.
A key aspect of this project was about designing an engaging storytelling experience, enhanced by digital technology. During the storytelling workshops, a 'pass the story' activity allowed the pupils to create a story together, one born out of collaboration, creativity and imagination.
Each individual idea was captured during these workshops, leading to hundreds of ideas being generated. Following the rules of Joseph Campbell's 'A Hero's Journey', these ideas would form the basis of what would become the first 'Welcome to Yonder' storybook.
Insights from desk research highlighted the use rhyme in language and literacy development, helping increase reading ability and performance. As a key goal of this storybook was to support reading development, it made sense to develop rhyme as the writing style.
The ideation phase of the project included character and landscape design, typography, colour and materials. I was important to approach the physical feel of the storybook as much as the story itself, ensuring a more enhanced experience. Illustration work began with character development, ensuring that the style of the illustration suited the audience and story.
Various illustration styles were tested with different age groups, finding a singular style that suited different audiences.
The finalised style of the illustration heavy influenced the interface design of the associated mobile app, including colour, typography and overall design style.
While mapping the overall proposed experience, it was decided that a image marker-based approach to activating AR content was preferable to QR codes or obvious scannable prompts. Various different software solutions were reviewed, with Unity 3D and Vuforia being decided upon to develop the demo mobile app. This allowed for fully illustrated AR image markers to be present in the book without distracting from the reading experience.
Using Unity 3D and Vuforia allowed for an lean development schedule, support requirements for functionality of the application, with initial demo testing being available after two of days development.
Different variations of paper quality and colour vibrance were printed and tested with both primary and secondary audiences. These quality tests provided an better understanding of the potential finished product, insights which help decide on using 170gsm uncoated paper and a Pantone colour library; ensuring a vibrant, colourful visual and physical experience.
Three storybook prototypes were printed to test with both primary and secondary audiences: soft cover, hardback and lay-flat (coffee-table) bound books. These different binding methods provided insight into tactility, AR image marker recognition, overall experience and commercial market potential.
To complete the testing phase, another workshop was arranged with the local primary school to showcase the storybook, along with updated AR functionality, including scan-to-play audio. The different books types were tested with the pupils, along with mobile app usability testing.
Feedback was really positive from the primary audience, with children really liking the story, illustration and visual style of the book. The Augmented Reality companion app was a great success, with children finding it easy to navigate and use; and being "blown away" when the illustrations pop-up out of the book.
The initial product launch was a great success, with both primary and secondary audiences enjoying the look, style and story of the Welcome to Yonder book.
Feedback from testing with users highlighted areas of the book that could be improved, as some parents felt the book was perhaps too long for its intended age group; currently running at 80 pages. To support this, three main chapter markers have been added to the book at key intervals in the story, breaking the book into easier consumable chunks.
Testing of the AR functionality highlighted the need to improve soft-cover and hardback image markers, as the natural fold in the book can interfere with AR image recognition and scene content placement. To improve this, separate AR markers have been added to support content within these book types, as well as book cover image recognition, to support multiple books within the same application.
Being self-published and having over 150 books sold since launch has been an amazing experience, with the book also being available digitally online.