Digital storytelling: The next generation

Kids are my favourite kind of user. I haven’t yet met a user with more honest feedback than a pre-teen. And there’s no shortage of it: they always seem to have a lot to say for themselves!

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This year our tech team created Comic Relief’s third version of a digital interactive story for teachers to use in primary school classrooms — and it’s the best one yet (not that I’m a proud Product Manager or anything).

It’s an interesting product from the outset because there are two sets of users to engage: teachers and school children. I focussed on children as they’re the end user. Of course, teachers are still a vital part of the mix as the marketing troops have to sell it to them, but as a Product Manager, my priority is the clever little people who’ll be soaking it all in.

Why an interactive story?

So how to engage the under-16s? In the same way you’d engage anyone — through storytelling.

In its crudest sense, storytelling is a basic human tool for communication. That’s how us humble homo sapiens have taught ourselves to make sense of the world and each other.

And now it’s 2017, we’re lucky enough to have the miracle of digital storytelling to give us the perfect vehicle for our perpetual ramblings!

The success of the past two interactive stories we’ve produced at Comic Relief — Ngosa’s story for Red Nose Day 2015 and Champa’s story for Sport Relief 2016 — showed that these are popular tools for teachers, especially in schools already engaging in our campaign, as they give children the context and rationale behind their school’s fundraising antics.

The interactive element keeps kids engaged and ensures they’re learning at the same time.

How did we do it?

As this was our third interactive story we were lucky enough to have quite a lot of insight already into what keeps our users ticking.

The first story about Ngosa was about filling in the resource gap. Creating a tool that would be easy for teachers to use and engaging for their students.

The second story, about Champa, focussed on UX and getting the usability just right. Observations during user testing showed that children have quite different behaviours on digital devices to adults, so Champa’s story was about refining this.

This latest version was focussed on increasing understanding, relevance and engagement. We’d learnt from earlier iterations a lot about usability which informed this build. Although children were understanding the stories, we’d yet to really nail the connection between the user and the story’s protagonist. Our user testing showed that the stories of children in developing countries weren’t that relatable, to the point children thought they were made up.

Using this insight our copywriter and designer worked painstakingly on creating the most authentic experience yet, a journey that the user could empathise and relate to. Sounds and imagery played a vital role in this as well, unmasking some of Hassan’s personality through imagery, video and gifs for kids to relate to.
We ring-fenced the interactive story project so that two key players of our product squad — the designer and developer — could work together on this project and nothing else for more than two months. This method worked so well it’s something we’re trying to implement wherever we can — but in our sector, focussed time on a single product isn’t a luxury we can often get our hands on! If you do have the time available, I would thoroughly recommend it.

Has it worked?

I started this blog saying that kids are my favourite kind of user so I can’t end without sharing some of the nuggets they came out with during our usability testing sessions.

“Ebola? That sounds like a football move called Ribona.” (Three of the children then proceeded to stand up and show me the move.)

One interaction asks the user to control two boys in the story to play Sierra Leone’s version of swingball where you kick rather than use a racket:
“I don’t think it’s a very good game…” — here I’m assuming she was talking about the interaction — “…you could break your foot.” Nope, she cared about the players’ safety!

On choosing Hassan’s favourite football team: “Why would it say, Leeds? They’re terrible!”

“Ooh, he’s my favourite player too [Sanchez], that’s two things we have in common!”

Have a go yourself

Comic Relief Technology

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