TinyBop employees Kika and Ashley recently invited members of CMA to their bright and beautiful Brooklyn office for coffee and breakfast to see how their organization works, glean insight from their experience, and make connections to their own work and values. Tinybop creates elegant, educational iOS apps to spark the curiosity of kids around the world today, and launched a new app that they previewed for the CMA members, in the first of what is to be a series of breakfast events at various children’s media companies. The app, Weather, comes with a handbook to scaffold STEM education with fun facts and discussion questions for parents and teachers. Kika is the Head of Community for Tinybop, where she has launched a community newsletter to deliver ongoing communication on audience development and employee growth opportunities as well as the PR and marketing campaigns for seven major app releases. Ashley oversees content development for Tinybop’s Explorer’s Library and play testing.
Kika and Ashley discussed TinyBop’s interest in creating learning through play and curiosity, with hands-on activities. The biggest challenge working at a digital company, they told CMA members, was that people want the apps to “do everything.” Kids can start learning within the apps and find activities on the blog, go out in the world, and keep on learning. Kika discussed growing the brand by starting a blog called TinyBop Loves, in which they reviewed books, videos, music, and toys. This allowed them to build up a mailing list and talk about what they really liked – out of print books and videos nobody had ever heard of, with the goal of seeming less mainstream. That retro vibe extends to their own inspiration – their first step in creating apps is information gathering, ordering old textbooks, artwork, or movies online. Founder Raoul’s own childhood also provided inspiration, citing toys he played with as a child and focusing on sensory appeal. TinyBop considers questions such as, “What’s cool about them? How do you know what to do? How do you put them together? What sounds do they make?”
Ashley explained the research process, which involves finding out what kids know about a subject, what misconceptions they may have, and looking at curriculum to gauge what kids already know. Using out-of-date textbooks sometimes means updating the science, but the retro illustrations often provide inspiration for the artwork. The goal is not to provide comprehensive answers but to get kids to start tinkering and wondering so they answer their own questions. The learning goals help TinyBop decide how to build out the app story. Due to the age of their target demographic, visuals are key rather than verbal information. TinyBop believes the best way to let kids experiment and change things in the app is by trying to make the invisible visible – make it so they can pull back the second layer, showing paths of objects in motion to reinforce how and why simple machines work, so that when kids experiment at home they will think of the app.
With regards to the artwork, TinyBop will test with several designers as well as test the app with kids and parents to see how they’re responding, which allows them to tweak the app and promote co-play and create a dialogue with parents. Kika discussed how social media targets the parents rather than children, keeping in mind that kids can be right next to their parents as they’re on Twitter. She also discussed how to approach different social platforms, noting that Twitter “can be weirder,” “Instagram is more about people building apps,” and that they gather user stories to share on the blog. Videos and tutorials also help promote the apps across platforms.
Tinybop was the ideal candidate to kickoff the breakfast series as we at CMA share a similar mission. Additionally, their passion for play is inspiring and ingrained in everything they do. Thank you to Kika and Ashley for offering your time and expertise to our members!