The Five Keys to a Successful eBook Production: The Story of Spot the Dot

By Mark Sigal
June 2, 2011

Unknown2One of my favorite axioms is, "If you want to see how it ends, look at how it begins."

I think of this truth in trying to assess the recently launched 'Spot the Dot,' a visually mesmerizing, play-based children's eBook that I lead production on in tandem with New York Times best-selling children's author David A. Carter for Ruckus Media

For those who don't know, Carter is a recognized master of the pop-up book, with over 6.5 million print books sold to date (fans of his 'One Red Dot' and 'Bugs in a Box' series are legion). 

But, this was the first time he'd be adapting his creative wizardry to the iPad, so there was always risk that in transitioning from a paper-based medium to a digital one something would get lost in translation.

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Spot-the-Dot-for-iPad-on-the-iTunes-App-StorePlus, ultimately this was a project being produced FOR someone else - Ruckus Media, in this case - so there was always the risk of conflicting agendas, miscommunication and a less than a sum of the parts end-product.

So how did it go? I am obviously biased, but I am super-happy with the results, whichThe Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) frames as: 

Tuaw-logo-whitebackground"Spot the Dot is a fun mix of memory, visual discrimination and puzzles that will keep toddlers engaged. Most importantly, the game encourages adults to sit with the young player(s) and offer another level of engagement." 

You can decide for yourself by following the links to reviews of Spot the Dot at the bottom of this piece, or by downloading the FREE 'lite' version of the app, but my goal with the rest of this article is to share some "pattern recognition" of the five things that we did right in making Spot the Dot.

I see these items as cornerstones in helping us to successfully translate David A. Carter's complex paper sculptures into interactive experiences for the touch screen - including ten discrete playspace experiences, such as "spotlight," "popcorn," "fractions" and "asteroids."

The Five Keys to a Successful eBook Production

  1. Clearly Articulated Storyboard: I give a lot of credit to Executive Producer Marc Cheshire for creating a storyboard structure that was both visual and specific, down to the level of desired voice-over sequences. The benefit of having a tangible document when decision paths were unclear, or we were at loggerheads about implementation details, was key to getting everyone synced up.
  2. Documenting of Process and Progress via Basecamp: When you have three companies working across five different geographic locations, there are endless opportunities for key details to disappear into the ether. Similarly, there is the perpetual risk of losing hours or days chasing down a resource, such as an image or audio file, that was previously provided. Like any project management methodology, Basecamp is not perfect, but it was the junction point and corporate memory mechanism for a whole lot of composition that would likely have otherwise not been synergized.
  3. Frequent (Weekly) Builds to keep things Tactile: There is no substitute for See-Touch-Feel. You can discuss implementation details, workflows and user experience until you are blue in the face, but when every sees it and experiences it firsthand on their own device, it's a lot easier to separate the wheat (and the heat) from the chaff. Similarly, we timed weekly builds to a weekly thirty-minute "alignment" call, and the combination was very purposeful.
  4. Sound is Core to the eBook Experience: A revelation fairly early in the project is the power that really good sound can bring to an eBook. Think voice-over, ambient sounds and audio effects. Just as Spielberg and Lucas harness great sound in breathing an extra dimension into their productions (think: 'Jaws,' 'Star Wars' and 'Indiana Jones'), so did we, and so should you.
  5. Leverage of a Proven App Foundation: Everyone has their favorite programming methodologies and toolsets for development, so let me acknowledge fully that I am biased and that your mileage may vary. That stated, we leveraged Ansca's Corona framework and my company's own eBook engine, Unicorn Engine for eBooks, for rapid application development.  What did that gain us? Number one, it allowed us to build ten mini-applications (i.e., the playspaces) into one master eBook app in about 90 days, probably half the time it would have taken us if we had to hand code. Two, it enabled the client to spend their "custom currency" on differentiating features instead of table stakes. Three, it gave us a straight path to come out with iPhone and Android versions of Spot the Dot, owing to the multi-device, multi-OS nature of these technologies. 

You may be thinking that very little of this is earth-shattering, and that's the point.

Through a combination of good process, clear communication, systems-based leverage and keeping things hands-on, the path to building a compelling eBook experience is defined by what you establish at the start of the project as much as what you do throughout the project's lifecycle.

Check out this short video, which is David A. Carter's assessment of the make process.

Spot the Dot Reviews

  1. How a Children's iPad App is Made: Spot the Dot by Ruckus (WIRED)
  2. Spot the Dot for iPad is a Fun, Simple Children's Game (TUAW)
  3. Spot the Dot Review (Teachers with Apps)
  4. Spot The Dot - Latest Fun Educational App for Toddler and Pre-schoolers (FEA)
  5. The Educational Components of Spot the Dot (applicable2u)
  6. Spot the Dot -- iPad App Review (Pad Gadget)
  7. 10 Apps You and Your Kids Will Love (The Twin Coach)

Related Posts

  1. Anatomy of an eBook App (O'Reilly Radar)
  2. Creating a Top 10 eBook with Corona (Ansca Website)
  3. Rebooting the Book: One iPad at a Time (O'Reilly Radar)

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