Know Your Audience: Creating Engaging Digital Experiences

Digital experiences have been on everyone’s mind here at Made Music Studio. Companies are creating more digital experiences for their customers than ever before and media companies are no exception. With the upcoming untethering of HBO, floating into digital space as HBO Now, and CBS’s new All Access live-streaming and broadband service, we are expecting a wave of digital media subscription apps. This sparks an opportunity for these brands: Since they will no longer be stuck in the clunky, inefficient interface of the cable box, brands can deliver content to their users in a way that is unique, engaging, and tuned to their needs. Through knowing our audience well, we can create a user experience that draws the user in and keeps them engaged, and best of all, entertained!

A perfect example of this is some work I had the pleasure of doing for Made Music Studio recently: the sonic user experience design for the Noggin iPad app. The fine people over at Nickelodeon created this kids media app to be a platform for a huge amount of their back catalog and what better way to do it than to leverage one of their existing brands? They knew they needed an immersive sonic landscape to engage the user base of preschoolers, based on the existing Noggin theme song, and to support the characters who lead kids through the experience, Moose & Zee. Our task was to figure out how to use the existing theme to create an app that these kids, and their parents, wouldn’t want to put down.

What does it take to keep a four-year-old engaged in a digital experience? A simple visual interface filled with bright colors and fun, friendly characters combined with an ever-evolving musical background and buttons that provide playful, instant sonic feedback. What does it take to keep their parents from wanting to ’shut that darn thing off’? Some of the above, plus a taste of nostalgia in shows, a theme they know well, and real instruments playing the background music of the app (this is hard to find in kids entertainment these days).

Nuts & Bolts
Luckily, several of us working on the project are parents and have plenty of experience with trying to keep our kids attention. Most pre-schoolers love music but have notoriously short attention spans, and the trick to keeping them interested is to keep it lively and change it up. To achieve this we considered the different app landing spaces as different environments: introduction/loading, channel selection list, and then the specific channel itself. The introduction is a composed piece based on the existing theme and the other two are the theme itself, but played on different instruments, such as a person whistling and a melodica, that come in and out over time. The channel selection environment is the place where kids spend the most time so it has the most material. Because of engineering considerations (which we are always contending with in UX design) we had to limit the space the music requires in the app (more material = larger file). We decided on a one-minute loop which, in ‘toddler time,’ is an eternity! Lastly, the interactive moments/buttons transitioning between landing spaces were created to be fun to touch (sound is immediate upon pressing them), as well as extensions of the background sound (matched key/pitch and texture-relevant). Each one sounds like it could almost be a moment in the music as well as a reward for tapping the right spot.

In the world of User Experience, it goes without saying (although I’m going to say it anyway) that every decision we make must be empathetic and consider deeply the perspective and context of the human interacting with the digital world. This particular job was a joy to work on because we were directly accessing our inner children. I hope if you use the app, that immersion into the world of Moose & Zee will do the same for you!

Ben Arons is Creative Director, User Experience at Made Music Studio. Talk to him on Twitter @BenArons.

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