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ustwo: Nursery Rhymes with Storytime

Posted by Will Hudson,

Digital design studio ustwo™ deliver UI/UX design, app development and content creation services and are the preferred digital partner to some of the world’s leading brands. They also demonstrate their talents with their own apps, including MouthOff™, Inkstrumental™ and Granimator™. Their latest release is Nursery Rhymes, an iPhone and iPad app that allows you (or your child) to play with Humpty Dumpty, Jack & Jill, Three Blind Mice and other classic nursery rhyme characters. We caught up with co-founder Mills™ to find out more…

Hi Mills, to start with can you tell us a little about the project…

We wanted Nursery Rhymes with StoryTime to look as if it had been hand-built. To do that we literally hand-built it first out of natural media using card, paper, pencils and our hearts. Nursery Rhymes merges the illustrations of Denslow, created over a century ago, with the very latest in physics simulations. We love the fact the app appears to have been built out of a torn-up and rearranged copy of Denslow’s original book Mother Goose. That was what this project was all about – blending the old school with the new school! We couldn’t have done one without the other.

Nursery Rhymes uses the very latest in Box 2D physics to modernise the pop-up book concept for a 21st century audience. You can touch, tilt, and shake your iPhone or iPad to make the scenes and pages come alive. Nursery Rhymes was the first of ustwo’s own IP releases this year. For 2011 we’ve invested half a million into the creation of a commercially viable set of product releases under our own ustwo™ brand. We felt that Nursery Rhymes was a perfect first release as it allowed us to showcase all our skill sets, from design, animation, development to storytelling and finally to promotion. We always mix up each app release and on this occasion felt it was time to dominate the book category and take on the world of publishing. It’s so important for us to make products we want to release for ourselves, from MouthOff™, to Inkstrumental™, to Granimator™ – we’re luckily in a position to make our own call on what we do with our money.  We believe that producing quality products conceived by the studio sets us apart from the competition out there. 

What made you choose the nursery rhymes and can you really compete with Peppa Pig or Rastamouse?

The digital book market is as fresh as it gets. It’s still in its infancy and each new release helps to nourish the market and take it one step closer to where it will be one day soon. The potential is huge and the market and opportunities surrounding it grows every day. No one has taken ownership of this area – not even the big publishing houses. When coming up with the concept behind Nursery Rhymes with Atomic Antelope, we wanted to keep some of the familiar elements of the traditional reading experience, but add tasteful, worthwhile interactions. Some publishers have found it hard to resist the temptation to shoehorn technology into a story, rather than think carefully about what interactions will improve the book. The rhymes we chose to include in the app are as relevant today as they were a hundred years ago, but the technology used to communicate them is radically different.

Nursery Rhymes with StoryTime is aimed not only at children, but at the parents who ultimately purchase the book (after being nagged relentlessly by their kids). We wanted to attract them with a hand crafted interactive book that would take them on a journey down memory lane. This is the challenge of the market: To create a book that appeals to children, but that adults want to buy. The app store is a democratised market but the power of a brand definitely helps to sell a product to the public. In the US, we debuted at position 15 in the book category. Interestingly ten of the books above us were branded apps. These brands have an advantage over new non-branded releases such as ours: There is already a market for their products. We’re not trying to compete with these brands, as there is room for all. Quality, passion and craft is our brand.   

The project is a collaboration with Atomic Antelope, what do they bring to the table and how important is it to collaborate on projects of this nature?

Atomic Antelope helped bring the experience and gravitas of a successful book title on the App Store, Alice for the iPad. Alice was hugely successful and Chris Stevens massively impressed us with his vision and passion for publishing on the iPad. As I said before, no one is an expert as of yet because the market’s still too fresh, but we find it important to work with people who care about what should and can be offered on these devices. We only work with people who can help us define and push new experiences directly to the users, as that is what we’re all about. We’re happy to collaborate with anyone who shares our values and it obviously makes sense to work with authors that have an existing fan-base.

I’d also like to mention Condiment Junkies who we collaborated with to produce the sound effects for Nursery Rhymes. They have great track record of designing sounds for apps and they brought a unique sensitivity and creative understanding to the table. We didn’t want an app that would annoy parents, we didn’t want to make a book filled with annoying sounds or patronising voice-overs. You read books, they don’t read to you.

The app includes StoryTime, a ‘magical’ new feature, tell us more…

We added a sprinkling of magic dust on top of the perfectly crafted Nursery Rhymes app. It’s the app’s USP, but it doesn’t detract from the beauty and craft of the main content of it. Of course, no kids book is complete without an adult to read it. But adults aren’t always around. So, Nursery Rhymes uses an amazing new technology called StoryTime which allows parents to read the story to their child remotely. It takes advantage of Apple’s Game Centre service to allow two-way voice chat, and lets the parent control the page turns whilst the kid interacts with each page in wonderful ways. A business trip overseas no longer means your kid misses out on a bedtime story. 

You recently hit No 1 on the UK iTunes chart store for both the iPhone and iPad app, what do you have to do to get there and does this warrant the project a success?

You have to make something with true worth and you have to show users that what you have created is truly wonderful. It has to have craft, it has to have a reason to exist and it has to have emotion. The book category is a growing part of iTunes, but we know you need a big promotional push to get to the top of any chart in the store; so yes we see the position as a huge success and the right reward for the massive effort we’re putting in behind the scenes to get Nursery Rhymes noticed. With the increase in iPad sales we reckon more users will be looking for new experiences, new ways in which to make the most of their devices and we feel interactive books is the way forward.


Posted by Will Hudson

Will founded It’s Nice That in 2007 and is now director of the company. Once one of the main contributors to the site he has stepped back from writing as the business has expanded. He is a regular guest on the Studio Audience podcast.

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