Tita Toys, digital toys for the 21st century

Contribution: Team member, Lean UX
Employee at: Sanoma Lab
Character design: Kristof Luyckx

[Blog, Originally from Sanoma Lab website, read original article here]

Tita Toys, digital toys for the 21st century.

Tita Toys involves a series of apps that offers learning by playing.

Sanoma Mobile Accelerator
In March 2013, Tita Toys was one out of the four first internal ventures that came out of the Sanoma Mobile Accelerator Program. Through a competitive and intensive program involving 150 entrepreneurial talents, Sanoma tapped into the ideas and knowledge of its own people on a cross-departmental and international scale.


Team, left to right: Hilde ten Thije, Karim Amrani, Danny Grob (, Kristof Luyckx, Natasja Corver, Martijn Bruckman (, Leonie van de Laar

Lean method
Internal ventures at Sanoma Lab are working with Lean start-up methodologies. Tita Toys started as a small team with team lead Natasja Corver, and UX researcher- and designer Leonie van de Laar. Later in the process the Tita Toys team quickly shaped and scaled up on the specific needs at that time, in order to work and test faster. Game designer (Karim Amrani), character designer and animator (Kristof Luyckx), marketeer (Hilde Ten Thije) and a duo of developers (Martijn Bruckman Danny Grob of were added to the team.



Tita Toys’ office was based in creative hotspot De Gruyter Fabriek in Den Bosch, but we worked on flexible locations.

How did we start? Customer Development!
The goal was to discover the customers needs and find a solution to fulfil the needs of future customers in the field of educational apps for preschoolers (age 2-5 years).

Starting off: Customer Discovery
We did quantitative and qualitative research. In the quantitative research we sent out a survey.
The qualitative research was explorative, open one-to-one interviews with parents. We got the customer interviews by posting on social media and personally approaching people we know. We interviewed 40 parents with children at the age 0-4. The team tried to get as much information as possible from the parents about the following subjects:wishes for their children, how much screen time their kids have, what the worries for the parents are about apps for their children, how do their children learn, what parents are looking for in a new app and how much this may cost them.

The most important outcomes are patterns of parents saying:

1. Children learn by playing. Fun fun fun! Children decide themselves which app to open and play with. Parents don’t have that much influence on that.
2. Relationship with the real world is important, both on-and offline connection.
3. Worries about being exposed to too much screen time.
4. Parents don’t know what their children are exactly doing or learning when they are playing on a tablet. Parents like to stay connected with their children.

Furthermore, children love to see characters! And parents too!

‘Young children develop best when they are having fun’

Customer Validation
After getting insights in our customers, we’ve started building Minimal Viable Products (MVP’s) to validate our riskiest assumptions. We’ve been doing this in a variety of ways. When working lean it’s all about designing experiments that are low in costs, high in outcomes that show actual customer behaviour.



Validating Tita Toys UX with our target audience: children in schools

What did these tests look like? Creating Lean Minimal Viable Products
We’ve been testing in various way’s:

Assumption: connection to on-and offline world
For the proposition of connection to on-and offline world we’ve created a free paper craft app in only 2 weeks time (Paperjoy) and launched it in the Appstore. With this app children can create a mask on the iPad, and this mask can be printed out so children can actually play with this app in real life. We’ve also tested the opportunity of creating merchandise around artwork created by the children.

Assumption: parents like to be updated with their children’s progress
Testing the parent’s need for online connection with their child, we’ve used an already existing app (Maily) and let children play with that for one week. We’ve asked the parents to keep a diary of the children’s use of the app. This way we get outcomes that are based on behavior, and not on asking people whether they should use an app.

Assumption: parents like to stay updated with their children’s progress
The last assumption was that parents likes to be updated by what their child learns while they are playing on the tablet. We came up with a product feature to keep parents updated: a parent dashboard that can be added to the app. We’ve been thinking about how we can design a test, that’s as close to the real situation as possible. Minimal of course, so with the least amount of money being spent.

MVP: testing parent dashboard
What we did was: we’ve used an educational app that’s extremely popular in The Netherlands: Letterschool. With this app, children learn how to draw letters in the iPad. We’ve talked to 10 parents with children who are positive about the app.

We didn’t actually build this feature, but we just designed screens of how the parent dashboard could look like. We did solution interviews with parents, and showed them the screens and asked them open questions about what they see and think and feel about the parent dashboard.

The outcomes are, that the parent dashboard is a nice to have, not a must.


Tita Toys most popular character, we’ve organized a Facebook competition around him

With all of these learnings in the pocket, we were ready for testing our riskiest assumptions by making a High MVP.
The high MVP should be close to how the final product could look like.

We gathered quite some insights in what our future clients find important for our product. At this time, the Business Model Canvas comes in again, and we’ve been thinking about the other boxes in the Business Model Canvas like revenue streams, channels, cost structure and our key resources.

We’re hungry for getting learnings about many things: App Store Optimalisation (ASO), how media would respond to us, how many downloads we need to be in the top 10 (and therefore being visible in the Appstore), are parents willing to pay for an app, what will the cost of acquisition be etc.

Concept of the high MVP
We were shaping the concept of the app with the learnings we’ve had so far. The app should consist these elements: Build, play and learn.

The concept of the app is a playground (connection to the real world). Within the Tita Toys playground, children play outside in the playground and create music by combining characters with playground instruments that make unique sounds. Characters are also used for children to play around with words, which in turn improves language skills.

At this time, our superstar character designer and animator Kristof Luyxcks was added to our team. The art concept was that we are going to make a series of apps, all taking place in their own ‘3D-world’. Art work for kids apps is very, very, very important. We knew that we can stand out, if we combine 2D- and 3D techniques. Besides that, we were looking for a style that stands out for children, but also puts a smile onto their parents face. The parents are the ones that in the end push the download button. We feel very lucky we’ve found Kristof.


How did we validate the styles and the characters?
Kristof had created 4 styles of characters. For example a carrot character on a drawn on a variety of ways: with very bright colors, with a lot of detail, more simplified etc. How did we get customers to test these characters with? We needed to speak to children and their parents. We figured that the best place to find these people, is to go to places they actually are in their natural habbit. So we went out of the building, visiting them at playgrounds and parks. It was an easy way of validating fast what style we should zoom into. Outcomes were that the young children like simplified characters most, in bright colors. Fathers thought the same, mothers liked more detailed design.

After this learning, Kristof could go in full speed and start designing the full character family and the 3D worlds.

Build, Measure, Learn
With the first first minimal version of the app (only 3 characters were ready) built we started testing with our users. Children of a primary school became our best friends for a while. We were welcome to let the children test the very first versions of the app. We were observing the children’s user behaviors. We focused on how the children interacted with the game, how long they played with it, how long it took for them to understand the game mechanics etc.

With these learnings we went back to the drawing board and optimised.

UX testing
Testing which characters the preschoolers liked the most. The favorite character got the lead in marketing materials.

Usability testing
Build, measure, learn in 24 hour sprints. This is how the sprints looked like: testing with children in the morning, making design decisions in the afternoon and coding at night (thanks to for the nights of hard work!) And after that: iterate!

Media testing
With the High MVP proudly in their hands, Tita Toys could start testing how the world would respond to Tita Toys. Bloggers and journalists got informed about Tita Toy’s launch. Tita Toys got picked up in leading Dutch newspapers (de Telegraaf, AD) and international blogs (,


Launch in Appstore: Tita Toys has been featured in several European country’s and even in China. Tita Toys was nr. 1 in the Dutch Appstore for approximately 6 weeks.

Launch in Appstore
After launching the MVP App in Appstore, the magic happened. Tita Toys got featured! In the Netherlands, several European countries and China. As soon as Tita Toys got featured in China, Tita Toys translated the app into Chinese in only 3 days time.

After being in Appstore for 2 months, the downloads decreased, and Sanoma decided to stop investing in Tita Toys. The Appstore game market is unpredictable and extremely trends-sensitive. The only way to gain sufficient traction and download conversion is to get highly ranked in the Appstore. Aside from the difficulties in getting traction Tita Toys Business Model Canvas was out of balance, especially in regards to the Revenue Streams (people that like to pay for an app) being too low, and Channels (Appstore) too rigid. 

Learn more about the Tita Toys journey on Slideshare:
Leonie van de Laar presented a keynote about the Tita Toys Journey of Tita Toys at the Meet the Makers event in A-Lab, organized by Appsterdam.


Tita Toys at Meet the makers, A-Lab Amsterdam. 31-01 2014 from Leonie van de Laar



Next ArticleSneakerporn