Many of us will have installed Toca Boca’s creations on tablet and smartphone to keep our younger kids amused, so when a new one is launched it's bound to be of interest. However if you're already a fan, Toca Nature will be quite different from what you're used to from the Swedish kids app design studio.
Created by Swedish designer Mårten Brüggemann, the app is imbued with a dreamy, artistic design amplifying the mysterious and magical side of nature. According to Brüggemann, the new app captures the wonder and magic of the natural world with its unique style.
In Toca Nature, kids can create and explore their own environment, populating it with different species of plants and animals, sculpting the landscape with lakes, mountains and different types of forest and woodland.
The app also encourages children to think about how different aspects of the environment connect and interact. Inspired by a child’s perspective and attention to detail, Toca Nature was also influenced by the Swedish app designers’ childhood experiences of the natural world.
Read on for our interview with Mårten.
Michael Burns: The app looks beautiful. What made you take such a departure from the previous look and feel of the digital toys?
Mårten Brüggemann: "Toca Nature started out as a bit of an experiment to try and create something with another feel from other Toca Boca products. Our first prototype was very creative and also proved to be very emotive. It was almost as if the nature theme demanded a beautiful and dreamy style."
MBu: What's the scale of the app? What level are kids/users able to take it to?
MBr: "We strive to bring a free creative spirit to kids. Our apps don't give any direction - instead we let kids find their own level of involvement.
"I guess the scope of the app itself sets the dimensions, being set in a Swedish forest, and we then added climate zones and the 24-hour shift between days and nights."
MBu: What key design elements did you identify in the concept stages?
MBr: "Nature is a giant organism in itself and is built up of many small parts that are joined together.
"We really put a lot of energy into trying to translate that circle of life to the digital world. We wanted to show how things tie in with each other and how, for example, different types of vegetation lead to different types of animals moving in."
MBu: What software, kit and processes did you use to create these and implement them in the final build?
MBr: "The app is built in Unity. We created a digital prototype with a limited scope to test the idea. This is where we found the unique values for this app and the scenic, easy pace.
"One process that is very much at the heart of every Toca Boca app is testing our products on kids all through the development process. When we first tested the early stage of Toca Nature on kids we made sure to test the values that stood out the most from previous apps."
When we received a lot of appreciation from both young and old, we felt confident that we were really on to something with this app.
MBu: Can you share any of your thinking behind the mechanics of the app – controls, actions/reactions and so on?
MBr: A"t first we tried to keep a lot of the Zen-like mood in the interactions within the app too. But along the way we had to adapt some of these ideas to be able to stay more true to the trademark Toca Boca tactility.
"We built in more interaction and had to make sure that the touching of the screen would be more of an experience. Hence the more nature-esque interactions and all the pine cones and rocks."
MBu: What elements have survived the best from the initial concepts?
MBr: "We managed to keep the dreamy atmosphere throughout the whole process. Our artists took inspiration from traditional Scandinavian illustrators and storytellers such as John Bauer and Tove Jansson, and the Dutch kids show De Fabeltjeskrant.
"All these design elements are as vivid now in the end product as they were in the prototype."
MBu: Can you explain any decisions taken over colour and sound?
MBr: "We were inspired by the movie industry and the classic three-point lighting they use. By mixing different light sources we could simulate the outdoors, and create daylight, dusk, dawn and night. We wanted the setting to be dreamy and almost fuzzy.
"The music plays a big part in this - we took a lot of inspiration from Scandinavian folk music."
MBu: Finally, what's your favourite element of Toca Nature?
MBr: "Toca Nature is an app with a lot of personality that comes through from the team that has worked on it.
"I personally like the animals a lot and the fox is my favourite. Foxes are intriguing animals and I really think that we managed to translate the real life animal into a digital one with a lot of personality."