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Ed. note: This case study is a selection from the 2013 “Justified” competition, for which an esteemed jury identified 14 submissions that demonstrate the value of design in a clear, compelling and accessible way. To learn more about the jury’s perspective on this selection, see the juror comments.
Wee Society, a brand of kids products created by the folks behind Office, is about raising good little people through happy design. The overarching goal is to create playful, colorful learning experiences that give kids a positive perspective on the world. With fun, engaging and beautifully designed products, Wee Society also hopes to give parents the tools to start conversations that will help build understanding, encourage empathy, inspire creativity, develop confidence and (hopefully) induce giggles. Office developed the brand strategy and all aspects of the brand experience: name, visual identity system, website, tone of voice, marketing communications and products (apps, art prints and wood blocks).
Our target audiences included:
We narrowed the initial primary target to “design moms,” identifying this target group as moms who:
The children’s consumer product market is saturated and highly competitive. However, it’s not easy to find beautifully designed, character-based learning toys and products (especially educational apps) that parents and kids can enjoy together.
In executing this project, we first developed the stories and characters. The products grew from there. Throughout the design process, we continuously sought insights from three different primary source groups: “design moms” (drawing on our own experiences and the experiences of others in this category), preschoolers and early childhood education experts. Insights were gathered via discussions about preliminary ideas and the sharing of prototypes throughout the design process. Appropriate adjustments were then made based on feedback.
Wee Society’s five core values also guided our overall approach:
Throughout the design and implementation process, we continually sought consumer feedback and tested prototypes with parents, preschoolers and early childhood education experts. We also conducted competitive research to understand the market: both what’s out there and what’s missing. This research is ongoing, as the dynamic in the kids’ app space is constantly shifting and evolving.
We met with experts at Common Sense Media and KinderTown, two organizations that help parents select quality learning apps for children, to better understand the opportunities and needs in the kids’ app space. For example, early on we learned that providing tips for parents would be an important element of our design. We also leveraged Sesame Workshop’s publicly available research and best practices on design considerations for apps geared toward preschoolers. Lastly, we referred to child development milestone research.
During the app development process, we started with a paper version of the app story, testing the concept and making adjustments. We then created a beta app and tested it with parents, kids and educators, making further tweaks prior to launch. Throughout this process, we learned a lot about how a three-year-old operates an iPad, and we made changes to some of our UX design. For the website design, we conducted usability testing and made adjustments accordingly.
In designing the Wee Society art prints, we consulted with our licensing partner, Art.com, for feedback on what designs they felt would resonate with their audience. Now we’re monitoring sales, and we’ll continue to make adjustments based on what we learn.
We created an identity system that, like the Wee Society brand experience, is simple, playful and colorful. Playing off the “society” name and concept in a kid-friendly way, the logo features a crest with five icons meant to stand for each of the brand’s five core values (outlined above). We set up a comprehensive visual system and guidelines for the brand that are now used across all communications and product design. While each story and character set may be different, they all have consistent visual threads that make them distinctly Wee Society.
The website was designed to feature and easily sell Wee Society’s products while reflecting the brand’s playful, quirky, happy spirit. The “Us” section of the site demonstrates the brand’s focus on storytelling, with a parallax scroll design that unfolds the story behind Wee Society in a surprising way.
The Wee Alphas are a quirky crew of 26 illustrated animals, a letter of the alphabet “hidden” in each one. Alexander the Angelfish, Biki the Buffalo and their furry, feathered or finned friends each has a story to tell.
Silly rhymes and surprising animations entertain preschoolers as they attempt to find hidden ABCs and practice tracing their own “special letter.” The app includes tips for parents on how to spark conversations and identify teaching moments when using the app with their kids.
To teach the value of differences, this quirky crew of characters celebrates “you-things”—the things that make you special and like no one else in the world. For example, one character named Ruth has a purple tooth. Grace comes from outer space, while Brad has two dads.
The Wee Alphas also appear in a series of art prints, including a limited edition 13-color screen-print, an offset print and a personalized print that is customized to feature a child’s name. Art.com has also licensed—and sells—dozens of exclusive Wee Society prints.
We reimagined a classic toy, with wood blocks that feature mix-and-match Wee You-Things characters and three different puzzles to solve. The product was designed to promote problem-solving and spark creativity and imaginative play. The blocks are eco-friendly, made with replenishable basswood and non-toxic inks. Vibrant colors and debossed patterns contribute to a beautiful, textural toy.
To extend Wee Society’s reach and build excitement around the new characters, we created free, downloadable DIY activities, such as making “Hallowee” costumes or valentines.
We partnered with Tattly to create temporary tattoos of Wee Society characters. These were sold in a pop-up shop event at the innovative retail concept, STORY, in New York City.
The biggest challenge in executing this project was to create something distinctive and meaningful in a crowded market. We sought to articulate the brand’s beliefs, using them as both a filter and inspiration for the stories, characters and products. By staying true to those values, we believe we’re meeting this challenge.
Response to Wee Society exceeded expectations. Feedback has shown that we’re meeting the goal of creating a distinctive, meaningful brand while offering quality learning experiences for preschoolers. To date, product sales, user feedback and website metrics have also exceeded our expectations.
Parents’ Choice honored the Wee Alphas app with a Silver Award, naming it among the very best mobile apps that entertain and teach, stimulate imagination and inspire creativity. Apple selected the Wee Alphas app as “New & Noteworthy” in the App Store’s education category and featured the app in its iPad mini release video. Common Sense Media gave Wee Alphas app its top (5-star) rating for overall quality. KinderTown named Wee Alphas at the top of its list of “Best Apps for 4-year-olds.” Cool Mom Tech named Wee Alphas a recommended app for 2012. Apple also selected the Wee You-Things app as “New & Noteworthy” in the App Store’s education category. The Wee You-Things blocks won the prestigious Parents’ Choice Gold Award.
Wee Society has also been approached with several potential licensing deals. Licensees told them that the quality of the design is what attracted them to the opportunity.
We were inspired by Dr. Seuss’ brilliantly silly stories, Walt Disney’s commitment to craft, Paul Rand’s bold visual solutions, Steve Jobs’ insanely great storytelling technologies and the boundless curiosity of our own preschoolers: Max (who wishes we’d make more choo-choos), Leo (who runs with his arms in the air) and Finn (who prefers yellow).
Learn more about the jurors’ thoughts on this 2013 “Justified” selection.
Section: Why Design -
AIGA’s “Justified” competition recognizes case studies that demonstrate the value of design in a clear, compelling and accessible way. The 2013 “Justified” competition honors 14 exemplary case studies that successfully demonstrate the value of design.
Section: Events and Competitions -
“Eclectic” and “diverse” are perhaps the best words to describe this year’s submissions to “Justified: AIGA Design Competition.” Examining clarity of concept, quality of execution and ability to engage and inspire, the jury selected 14 works from nearly 300 submissions.
Learn more about "Justified," AIGA's annual design competition from 2012-2014.
AIGA’s national design competitions celebrate exemplary design and
demonstrate the power of design.
Section: Events and Competitions -
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Section: Why Design -
Conference , Gain conference, advertising, business
Alex Center of The Coca-Cola Company shares his story, lessons, and tips on getting ahead as an in-house designer at a small and massively large organization.
The goal was to create playful learning experiences that give kids a positive perspective on the world and offer parents the tools to help encourage empathy, creativity and confidence. A well-executed brand strategy—including a visual identity system, website, apps and a range of products—made Wee Society distinctive in a crowded market.
Section: Why Design -
Competition, Justified, advertising, branding, design research, experience design, in-house design, interaction design, print design, product design, usability, user research, web design, posters, education, entertainment, digital media
As part of a major restoration to reopen the parks after Hurricane Sandy hit New York in October 2012, Pentagram created a program of environmental graphics that welcomed New Yorkers back to their beaches.
Section: Why Design -
Competition, Justified, environmental design, graphic design, identity design
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External Resources (cont.)
IBM Smarter Planet Illustrations and Posters
Turner Duckworth Holiday Card 2009