Happy Chinese New Year from ReignDesign!

We had a busy year of the horse! 2014 was the first year for our new Chile office. We explored iBeacons, helped people swipe through their support tickets, attended cool events like Barcamp, CocoaHeads and GMIC, got kicking for the World Cup, helped a local entrepreneur, made some Shanghai street signs, figured out a more agile way to price apps, discovered two ways to build a pyramid, got ready for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, made some awesome educational games, celebrated Christmas, and welcomed our newest team member Anukriti.

Who knows what the year of the sheep will bring? We're hoping it'll be a baaaaaaa-d ass year!

The Barcelona office welcomed the year of the Sheep with beer...and popcorn.
The Barcelona office welcomed the year of the Sheep with beer...and popcorn.

Singing...yelling, it's all the same at KTV

Tuo wows Jason with his melodious voice

Nobody cares what the fox says!



Anukriti Verma joins ReignDesign

Anukriti Verma

Anukriti Verma joins ReignDesign as a Visual Designer. Next to creating visual designs for interfaces, she is passionate about user experience and product strategy.

Hailing from New Delhi, India, she is a graduate of the IDC IIT Bombay. During her studies, she took on the humongous project of creating a beautiful typeface of 280 characters of the Devanagari script, a Hindi font  (talk about dedication!).

In previous jobs she applied her talent providing UI solutions and creating visual design guidelines in Pune and Bangalore as well as illustrating comic books on cloud computing for Microsoft in Goa.

When she's not working she likes to do pottery, silk screen prints and cook amazing indian food.

Merry Christmas!

Hello there!

Since Christmas is almost here, I wanted to give my colleagues a special gift. And drawing is what I do best - since I am a graphic designer, so I decided to do a Holiday version of each of us. Since we're in three different countries, I thought this would bring us together for the holidays. In the past, I've observed everyones behaviour and quirks, so I used this to create a special red and green ReignDesign.


Merry christmas_Alex


Merry christmas_Andreas


Merry christmas_anna


Merry christmas_april


Merry christmas_Fluxa


Merry christmas_Jason


Merry christmas_JC


Merry christmas_Matt


Merry christmas_ming


Merry christmas_sherry


Merry christmas_sinae


Merry christmas_Tuo






I would like to wish everyone a joyous and blissful Christmas and a new year filled with joy, peace, and prosperity! May 2015 find you happier and more caring for all humankind.

With warmest wishes,Shinae.

Educational Games: Not Just Child’s Play

I recently presented at the Game Developers Conference China on the topic of Educational Kids' Apps. Here's a summary of my talk.


We all know that kids really love tablets: the immediacy of interacting on them, the games they can play, and the creative opportunities. But what do their parents think?

A lot of parents’ concern is that if their kid uses an iPad too much, they’ll end up looking like this:


A lot of research has already been done into how kids use phones and tablets and how their parents react to this usage. In the United States, PBS ran a study on how kids use mobile devices and mobile apps from pre-kindergarten to grade 3.


Parents restrict the time their kids spend on phones and tablets.

"A very popular control tactic for parents was to limit the time a child could spend on the device."

A common tactic is to limit screen time. But there's an important caveat:

“As long as their child was playing with what they deemed to be an educational app, he or she could stay on their device for longer periods.”

If you are creating an educational app, you have an exciting opportunity because parents are willing to let their kids play with your app for much longer than they would otherwise.

Let's explore that opportunity in thinking about what makes a great kids app: what is it that really distinguishes the educational apps that reach the top of the App Store from the rest?

I narrowed it down to five things: the CUBED model of educational app success.


Creativity, Understanding, Branding, Emotion ...and one more, which I’ll come to later.

C is for Creativity

A friend who lives in Shanghai was recently looking for a coloring book for his child. He went to one of the local bookstores and tried to find a coloring book. Here's a photo of one of the books he found:


This is a typical Chinese coloring book. On the right, the child is supposed to color in the bird. However, on the left the book tells you exactly which colors to use and where. Looking through all the books in the bookstore, they were all like this:



There’s even a notice on the page:

“When coloring, be sure to use different colors for the different parts of the dragonfly’s body.”

Now, what if your child wants to do this:


What if your child wants to color over the edges of the lines? What if your child wants to make a dog that is bright pink? Or a sky that is yellow?

When thinking about your app, you must be really careful not to limit the amazing imaginations that children have. Kids won't do what you expect them to do. They won't carefully drag a character across the screen. Maybe they'll smash both hands on the screen at once. Can your app cope with that?

In designing an educational app, there’s a continuum in terms of how much freedom we allow the player to have.


On the left hand side, we have a storybook. If you have an existing, printed book it's relatively easy to make an iPad app version by layering interactivity on to your existing graphics. Now, a character will speak when tapped on, or you can trigger an animation when the child taps on an item. I’ve seen a lot of really great storybook apps, but they don’t really make the most of the opportunities the medium allows.

On the right hand side, you have sandbox games. We know kids love real-life sandboxes! And there are plenty of non-digital examples of "sandbox" toys, like Lego. Give children building blocks and you have the potential to unlock a huge amount of creativity. Minecraft is a very popular game amongst kids, as well as being a powerful tool. But launching a new sandbox game is hard. It requires a lot of pre-planning in terms of what building blocks you are going to create, how you’re going to encourage people to create amazing things, and how you can demonstrate the educational value of your app to parents.

In the middle is guided play, as you see in a Piiig Labs app. When you're doing an experiment in Piiig Labs, you aren't told exactly what to do. But we guide the child in the right direction though positive reinforcement. If you’re trying to get the child to do something quite complicated, like building a volcano, designing a circuit, or making a radio, you need to gently guide them in the right direction.

U is for understanding

There are two critical things that you need to get right for making an education game for kids:

  1. 1. Understanding your audience
  2. 2. Your audience understanding your game

Educational games have two audiences. There is the parent, who typically is the person who buys the app, the person who leaves reviews, and the person who sets time constraints on the child's use of the app. And there is the child themselves, who wants to be entertained and delighted.


So, being an educational game designer, you have to act like a psychologist, getting into the minds of these two distinct audiences.


How can we make kids understand your game? One powerful tool you can use is repetition. One powerful tool you can use is repetition. One powerful tool you can use is repetition. Keep repeating something and kids notice.

But isn't repetition boring? When I was a child, I really enjoyed a television program called Postman Pat.


It’s about a postman who goes around a village and delivers letters. Every week, I would sit and watch this program, and I really enjoyed it. A few years ago, I was reading Wikipedia and I discovered that only 13 episodes of this program were made.  I’d been watching the same 13 episodes again and again and again as a child! And yet, I never remember finding it repetitive or boring.

And it doesn’t need to be exact repetition. So for example in Piiig Labs, we use a conveyor belt. The conveyor belt is used to bring in the different pieces that are required to solve the particular experiment that you’re currently working on. For each experiment, different sets of items are brought in. By repeating that mechanism of bringing them in on the conveyor belt, that helps children understand how each new kit works.

B is for branding

I was inspired by this quote from James Huggins who runs an educational game company called Made In Me.

“Always think about more than one app with every single idea that you’re doing.”

Why do you need more than one app? Well, educational games are special. While the rest of the industry is heavily dominated by freemium, you can still charge premium prices in kids' categories, but upfront pricing means a lack of ongoing revenue. If you only have one app, you constantly have to find new customers. If you have a portfolio of apps, you can sell more than one app to your loyal customers.

Who does this well? TocaBoca is one of the most popular and enduring kids apps brands. Here's a selection of apps that they’ve made.


Why is TocaBoca so successful in branding? It's because, as a parent, if I buy a TocaBoca app, I know what to expect. I know the kind of game play, I know the style, I know it will be educational, I know my child won't be pushed any in app purchases, I know the value I can expect my child to derive from this game.

At ReignDesign, we have published many games, and a few years ago we decided to put these under a single brand called Reign Games. But there was a critical problem that limited the success of this as a branding exercise: all of these five apps were really quite different genres:


  • Spot the Difference, a photo hunt puzzle game
  • Pig Rush, an infinite runner action game
  • Zombies and Mummies, a real-time strategy game
  • Flockwork, a quick-thinking puzzle game.
  • Monster Chorus, a kids’ music app.

Without the consistency between our apps, there was no guarantee that a player who had downloaded and enjoyed Pig Rush would also enjoy, say, Spot the Difference.

But build a brand that parents trust and you’ve got a really powerful tool for cross promotion, and for generating a recurring stream of revenue for you to develop your next concept.

E is for emotion

The best kids’ apps are apps that allow kids to experience varied emotions. There’s a tendency with many games to really focus on fun, which is understandable - after all, it’s a game. But look outside of games for a moment: if you read some children’s books or look at children’s television, you’ll see that the characters are not always happy. There are moments in these media where characters are lonely, scared, sad, or frustrated.


To create an experience, which is more than an endless "sugar rush", we need those same emotions to come through in our games.

So any character you put into your app needs to be capable of expressing multiple emotions, even something as simple as the light bulb in Piiig Labs. We didn't want the lightbulb to feel like an inanimate object: we wanted him to have some personality. Sure, sometimes he's happy, but sometimes he’s sleepy; sometimes he’s cheeky.


So that brings me on to my final letter, D. We have discussed Creativity, Understanding, Branding, and Emotion. But there's one more factor that separates the really successful games from the really unsuccessful games. And that's Dumb Luck.

D is for Dumb Luck.


I’ve been attending the GDC conference in Shanghai every year for the last six years, and this is the first time I have given a talk.  For many years, I sat in the audience trying to understand: what really is it that separates me from the people who are standing on the stage? Why is it that all their games are successful, and mine are not?  They must have some sort of top-secret formula for understanding what makes a perfect game.


Imagine you throw lots of darts at a dartboard. This is the app market.


Look! The yellow one in the middle hit the bull’s-eye. What was special about that yellow dart? Actually - nothing, it's the same plastic dart as all the other darts.

When you only consider the winners, the successful people, the successful games, that's called Survivorship bias.

In World War II, there were many soldiers who flew fighter planes like this one.


And it was a very, very dangerous profession.

Many of the people who set out in the planes would be shot down by enemy gunfire and never make it home. And so the General asked some scientists to have a look at the planes and try to find ways to protect the planes to make them safer. And so the scientists looked at the planes that returned back to the base, and they saw that a lot of gunfire (there were a lot of holes), a lot of damage on the wings of the plane, and so they were saying, well, it looks like it’s the wings that are taking a lot of damage. What we need to do is add some extra armor, some extra protection on those wings. But that would have been a mistake. Because then someone pointed out that the planes we’re looking at, the planes with the holes in the wings, these are the ones that survived; these are the planes that made it back home.  The planes that were hit with gunfire in a really critical place, crashed. They never made it back home. So if you look at the battle scars, that’s telling you where not to put the protection.

And people go on stage and say things that are completely wrong. I attended GDC five years ago, and I remember there was an executive from Zynga who was talking about social and mobile games.

So while you’re at GDC, listen to the inspiring stories that people up here on stage are telling you. But don’t think that there’s anything that special about the people. They’re just regular developers like you and I, who did all the right things and then hit it lucky and had a great hit.

Be inspired by the people on stage, but don't feel like you have to copy everything they do. And if you can create a game that kids love and parents love, and that really teaches kids amazing things then you have to be much less worried about this happening: and more about this….putting amazing ideas into the brains of children.


Thank you very much.

Preparing for the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus screen sizes

Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll be aware that Apple announced two new iPhone models yesterday, as well as a nice piece of jewellery.

For iOS app developers and designers, one of the most significant changes is to the screen sizes of the new iPhones, which differ significantly from what came before.

The first iPhones, up to the 3GS, had a 320×480 screen. When the iPhone 4 was launched, it came with a Retina display, doubling the number of physical pixels in the horizontal and vertical directions, while keeping the screen and UI elements the same size. Developers rushed to add @2x assets to their apps for the 320×480@2x screen.


The iPhone 5 was the first iPhone which changed the aspect ratio, and increased the usable screen area to 320×568@2x. Since only the height changed, it was relatively easy for developers to add additional height to certain elements, and fit the new screen.



Now we have two new screen sizes to contend with. The iPhone 6 is an effective 375×667@2x, both wider and taller than the iPhone 5 family.


The iPhone 6 Plus's screen is a weird beast. Assets will need to be provided @3x for a 414×736@3x screen, meaning for example a full screen image would be 1242× 2208. However the physical iPhone 6 Plus's display panel is only 1080× 1920, therefore software downsampling will be used to scale down the assets to the physical display panel.


Note the aspect ratio of the two new screen sizes is identical to the iPhone 5/5C/5S. iOS8 will take advantage of this, running apps which have not yet been updated to be optimized for iPhone 6 in a special scaled mode, avoiding the black "letterbox" we saw with the iPhone 4 to 5 transition.

Here's a handy reference to summarize the new screen sizes side-by-side:

iPhone Screen Sizes.001

What does this mean for developers and designers:

  • 1. If you don't update your apps immediately, you can benefit from the auto-scaling to get a reasonable temporary solution for the two new devices
  • 2. When you update your app to properly support the new resolution, you'll need to deal with more available width and height
  • 3. Designs will need to be more flexible, using features like the new Adaptive Layout introduced by Apple. Instead of being at fixed pixel positions and sizes, buttons and UI elements will have to stretch and scale to fit various screen sizes - not unlike designing an Android app!
  • 4. Icons and UI elements will need to be provided in @1x, @2x and @3x versions
  • 5. It's unclear how some elements will render on the iPhone 6 Plus, for example 1px hairline lines may become antialiased due to the software downsampling.
  • 6. Additionally, Apple showed off the iPhone 6 Plus running in landscape mode, which used a two-pane UI similar to the iPad. The iPhone 6 Plus even has a landscape version of the home screen, so we can expect more pressure to get your apps working in landscape mode.