interviewing a play designer: Toca Boca’s latest app

by mari

Toca Boca continues to be our favorite resource when it comes to kid-friendly apps. They are one of the few app companies out there that focuses on open-ended play for kids. There is no winning, losing, time limits, coins, levels, etc. t’s just kids playing with virtual toys instead of real ones. Plus, their design aesthetic is always spot on wonderful.

Toca Boca apps - Toca Life: City - Education Apps for Kids

Toca Boca’s latest app, Toca Life: City, is one of their most ambitious “games” to date. With 29 characters and 4 new locations, there are endless ways for each character to interact with their environment. It’s like a digital “play house” where kids are in charge of their own virtual world: from customizing hairstyles, selecting their wardrobe to grocery shopping and visiting the pet store. (Birdie’s personal favorite at the moment!)

Toca Boca apps - Toca Life: City - Education Apps for Kids

Toca Life: City came out of over 10,000 incoming feature requests from real kids playing with real Toca Boca apps. So you might say this app was designed by kids, for kids. Maybe that’s why Birdie loves it so much! Let’s learn a little bit more about how a Toca Boca App comes to be, with this interview I had with Play Designer Willow Mellbratt:

Toca Boca apps - Toca Life: City - Education Apps for KidsHow does someone become a Play Designer?

Play Designers can have very different backgrounds, but ultimately you spend a lot of time with kids. By doing this, you gain a lot of empathy for kids and can better see the kids’ perspective, which helps to create a better digital toy.

What’s the design process to create a new app? How long does it take from idea to launch?

A play designer typically comes up with a concept and works with artists, developers and producers to bring it to life. There are often 4-6 people working on an app and it takes about 3-6 months.

Do you test with kids – how do you incorporate that feedback?

Yes! We conduct play observations with kids continually during the production of all of our apps. We want kids to love everything about our apps so their feedback and reactions help guide the process.

The design/style of Toca Boca apps is so distinctive, where do you find your inspiration?

Each artist brings with them their own influences and distinct style. I would also say, overall Japanese culture is a big inspiration for us.

Thanks Willow, and thanks Toca Boca for another amazing app!

Toca Boca apps - Toca Life: City - Education Apps for Kids Toca Boca apps - Toca Life: City - Education Apps for Kids

A big thanks to Toca Boca for providing Toca life: City for this review. All opinions, as always, are my own.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jessica Adams April 4, 2024 at 1:55 am

Toca Boca remains a favorite among kid-friendly apps, uniquely focusing on open-ended play without competition elements like winning or losing. Their design aesthetic is consistently exceptional. Their latest offering, Toca Life: City, epitomizes this ethos with 29 characters and 4 locations, allowing endless interactions. Created based on over 10,000 kids’ requests, it’s designed by kids, for kids. Play Designer Willow Mellbratt explains the design process, emphasizing empathy and continual testing with kids. Toca Boca’s distinctive style draws inspiration from various sources, including Japanese culture. Thanks to Toca Boca for providing Toca Life: City, a testament to their commitment to imaginative play.


2 Toshiha April 4, 2024 at 11:53 am

The interview delves into the philosophy behind Toca Boca’s interactive apps, highlighting their commitment to child-led play and creativity. It explores how Toca Boca designs experiences that empower children to express themselves freely in digital spaces, fostering imagination and discovery. Thanks for the amazing content please also checkclick here


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