Wild Eyes is an innovative, gamified web app designed to get Kiwi kids off screens, outside, and engaged with nature... using screens!
This is worth sharing far and wide. I think I need to borrow someone's kids!
NZ children face a nature connection crisis. Only 15% of NZ children play in the rain; many have never been to a beach or forest, and can’t identify common animals. The iconic Kiwi childhood playing freely outside is now a myth for many, replaced with screen time and supervised, structured schedules. It’s arguably never been more urgent to connect Kiwi kids with their environment.
Our clients wanted to design a product to help change this and inspire a behaviour shift. With near-universal access to screens, they needed to engage with Kiwi kids where they were congregating: online. So they set out to create the first Aotearoa-specific digital platform encouraging tamariki to get outdoors....using screens! In partnership with core funders, NZ On Air, MBIE and UNESCO, Wild Eyes gives children a tool to get started. It's a pathway to foundational nature experiences, providing Kiwi kids with a personal connection to our environment, so they grow to care about it in the future.
Unlike most online kids platforms, our challenge was to help design a product that would encourage kids offline to complete a mission, then return online, repeating the cycle...creating a loop. But targeting kids 8-12 the audience was tough. As digital natives these kids have grown up with highly funded international apps, games and online content so we had to create something compelling to get them engaged. We also had to target busy parents and educators to make the product take off. The other big challenge was to get kids over the barrier of nature being perceived as ‘boring’ or uncool, we needed a very fresh and original approach.
No one will protect what they don’t care about and no one will care about what they have never experienced.
We developed a brand strategy that was all about triggering Kiwi kids to connect with nature by giving them a ‘new way of seeing it’. We set out to create a brand that was local; it had to feel Kiwi and real, but it also had to cut-through; we wanted to make it funny, a bit edgy and as wild as possible! It had to be entertaining.
Our descriptor: Nature missions for Kiwi kids.
The tagline: Open your eyes, go wild.
The identity idea is simply about re-presenting nature to make it relevant and cool. We wanted to juxtapose real images of Kiwi kids doing fun stuff in beautiful natural settings against an ultra bright, loud, and almost urban gamified graphic language, creating impact to differentiate from other NZ enviro brands.
The central character of the identity is a mad NZ Tawaki penguin, with crazy ‘wild eyes’ pulsing out of his head. Eyes are a core concept in the project as it's about looking at nature through a different, specifically NZ lens. The design is mad, loud, entertaining, interactive and community (kid) focused, blasting those 'wild eyes' across a wide range of exciting missions. Witty, colloquial language and lots of poo talk, combined with urban typography set on big blocks of colour help grab kids’ attention. Quirky animations add liveliness and a bit of mad to the experience.
The identity is largely expressed digitally: on the web app, video, in digital marketing such as display ads and EDMs, and on partner collateral. The app design had to bring it all to life with an engaging UI that was distinct from other apps, yet still intuitive to use. We also knew a very interactive, animated and humorous approach to the design was important.
Although Wild Eyes is an educational tool, we prioritised engagement and fun in our design of the app in order to succeed with this audience. We collaborated with children across every stage of design. The result is an app where users choose from a range of offline ‘missions’ and upload photos to their profile to earn rewards. Users can like, comment or use emojis to favourite others’ photos. They earns avatar sets of native NZ species 'wild eyes' as they collect points and level up.
Our goal was always to design for culture change and community. That meant putting kids centre-stage in every aspect of the content, which provides ownership, and allows users to validate each other’s contributions and be inspired by others in the community to keep going. We also kept the app easy to manage. Technically it is built in SilverStripe with a simple CMS for the client to build up rich content, and to manage the growing database of user accounts.
How does Wild Eyes work? By exploiting the fact that our 8-12 year olds are digital natives who expect everything to have an online interactive component. It’s an idea so brilliant, I could almost have thought of it myself.
Wild Eyes’ personalised journeys and individualised, creative responses to mission briefs have inspired the minds and imaginations of Kiwi kids. Thousands of children around NZ signed up to get mucky, have fun outdoors and find new ways to connect with nature.
Two months after launching there were 1,700 subscribers. Feedback from kids, parents and educators alike strongly validated the Wild Eyes concept. It was widely reported on in the media, it was featured on What Now and the video content has appeared on the online kids portal HeiHei. Schools, holiday programmes and nature clubs for kids have all got their kids signed up and engaged with the outdoors. The challenge for our client now is to find funding to keep pushing kids to go back with appropriate marketing!
And it won a Silver BeST award in the public good category; the ultimate endorsement for design that makes a difference.