NBC Sprout Playground + Terrific Trucks
Tasked with understanding and implementing UX and UI elements that appeal to and engage children, the team embraced the unique privilege of properly and responsibly designing for future generations, who are so easily impacted by technology at a young age.
With a goal of redefining what it meant to have a “branded app experience” for children, we overhauled the messaging, removed more complex and unnecessary UI elements, and replaced them with age appropriate navigation, controls, and audio feedback, which made it easier for kids to use the app intuitively. By user testing with Sprout’s target market of 4 to 7 year olds, the ustwo team unearthed the following UI/UX considerations which were applied when designing and developing the Playground app
- Extraneous text which children in the target age range can’t read needed to be removed, as did extraneous logos or controls, which proved to be confusing or distracting for kids.
- We implemented standard video controls that kids interact with and experience in other applications designed for children, making the app more intuitive.
- Designers simplified the means of scrolling through videos and games with an instinctive swipe motion children are already familiar with.
- Navigation controls were made bigger, easier to read and understand.
- The team also added multiple ways to access content – kids can find videos, games, or all content related to their favorite character in one place.
- With these design improvements came back-end, development ones as well, which resulted in improved loading times and a faster more streamlined experience, pleasing both kids and their parents.
In addition to an overhaul of the Playground application, ustwo New York has designed and developed a quirky, exploration-style game for Sprout’s Terrific Trucks show called Get Truckin’, one of five experiences which is exclusively available to kids via the Playground app.
Sprout’s aim is teaching children about “real life” – emotional learning. Terrific Trucks (the show) has the goal of social and emotional learning, including managing emotions and behaviors, setting and achieving goals, promoting positive relationships, and making responsible decisions.
For the Terrific Trucks Game, the ustwo team wanted to extend and expand on these goals in a mobile digital space.The game is free-play, encouraging children to explore, overcome obstacles, and discover new ways of interacting with the trucks and their environment. While keeping the “real world” aspect of construction and ensuring that trucks can still dig, dump, and drive, we also added fun familiar elements such as a town, a soccer field, and dancing air men.
Unlocking unexpected animations and new interactions rewards the curious and creative. This encourages kids to find exploration and decision-making rewarding without being forced to complete specific objectives or taking a competitive mindset which undermines the idea of teamwork the show strives so hard to present.
Making A Meaningful Difference
In an industry saturated with digital distractions for children, Sprout and ustwo came together and quickly bonded over our desire to create products that have a meaningful influence and impact on people’s lives, and we’re thrilled that both Playground and Terrific Trucks are completely devoid of advertising. This allows both products to focus wholly on encouraging social and “real life” emotional learning, including managing emotions and behaviors, setting and achieving goals, promoting positive relationships, and making responsible decisions.
Designing For Kids
This is a unique challenge that has been tackled head-on before by ustwo, previously in our London studio with the Sky Kids project. As with Sky, the New York team used our “one team” approach, inviting NBC into our studio on a weekly basis for updates and brainstorm sessions. This allowed us to not only embrace the Sprout goals and principles, but fuse them with our own.
Crafting in Unity
Apart from the fact that the existing Sprout Playground app was built in Unity, using it to develop Get Truckin’ had both advantages and learning curves for the team. Unity’s auto-layout meant we could create an interface that would work across iOS and Android mobile devices — and tablets. This was the first time that our New York studio had created such a complex mobile game experience, so Unity’s tried and true game engine and realistic physics were helpful to us as we iterated on the game mechanics.
Unity also allowed us to work with partners overseas within a single pipeline and asset management system, and provided native analytics capabilities which were important for the Sprout team. A few of our animations were done in Cinema4D, but we found some could be done more efficiently in Unity, which, while challenging for our animators, helped us improve the performance of the game.
We had to learn a lot about optimizing textures, 3D models and lighting for mobile platforms so the game would run smoothly on our target devices. Just for fun, the team even created a rough VR version of the game to play locally on our HTC Vive, which gave us a whole new perspective on “Awesometown, USA”.