Once upon a time—specifically, almost a year ago, in winter 2014—we had the idea for an educational framework that utilized the power of storytelling to help teach communication skills to children. A year later, Li’l Stories is being used by educators at several schools around the country. As 2016 begins, we would like to thank everyone who supported the project and helped make it a reality, especially those who backed our Kickstarter campaign, which exceeded its goal and was successfully funded at an incredible 143 percent! Your support has allowed Li’l Stories to reach thousands of students, giving them the opportunity to start the beginnings of their own narratives—as storytellers and lifelong communicators.
For us, Li’l Stories kicked off a richly rewarding process that enabled us to collaborate with the people who would ultimately be using the framework. The project originated close to home: Li’l Robin founder Anke Stohlmann noticed that her daughter Luna and her friends loved stories and thought this interest might provide a natural foundation for teaching communication skills like reading and writing. Li’l Stories proved popular with the educators and students when we tested it, and we resolved to make it available to a wider audience.
Prototyping with kids at the Children’s Museum of the Arts, February 2015.
Human-centered design is at the core of our practice, and over the past year we’ve applied the principles of this approach to develop the various phases of the project. We’ve spent many happy hours in the classroom—prototyping with kids and teachers, observing and listening to their needs and learning from clients, colleagues, friends and users. Li’l Stories also gave us the opportunity to create a cross-platform design—from the structure of the activity to the story pads to the app and website—and to guide its evolution as teachers and parents begin to use the framework with their children.
Kickstarter was essential in getting the project off the ground. An amazing 140 backers helped us reach—and exceed—our goal. The response wasn’t limited to New York, where Li’l Robin is based; we had backers from across the U.S. To date, we’ve sent out 71 storyboard PDFs to 71 backers, and 44 story pads and 25 resources kits to 39 backers. We also received funding donations from many supporters. In addition, backers helped us donate 122 story pads to 12 elementary schools (encompassing 25 classrooms) and the Children’s Museum of the Arts (CMA). All told, that’s 6,100 sheets of story pads—and stories—potentially adding up to 8,250 happy kids.
And the story continues: Last month, we launched the Li’l Stories website, where teachers and parents can find information and resources about the framework, including activity ideas and a blog about how it’s being used in the classroom. We’ve also set up an online shop where educators and parents can order the story pads and download free storyboard templates. Last week we launched a beta version of the Li’l Stories app for testing in classrooms. And this year, we’ll be conducting additional collaborations with New York’s P.S. 3, the Brooklyn Arbor and CMA. We created, for example, a custom version of the project for CMA—a self-guided activity in one of the exhibition halls—that is launching next month.
20 Myths of Interaction Design back cover illustration by Brian Rea.
The cross-platform thinking behind Li’l Stories has influenced our other recent work, where we try to both enlighten and entertain. We continue to design new editions for Life Books, including volumes on Fleetwood Mac: 40 Years Later, The Enduring Power of To Kill a Mockingbird, Sinatra at 100, and the recently published Downtown Abbey: Behind the Scenes of the Iconic TV Show. We’ve also been co-teaching a class on the photo book in the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media department at the School of Visual Arts (SVA), and have designed a new ebook by the department chair, Charles H. Traub, which is set to come out this spring. And last but certainly not least, 20 Myths of Interaction Design, the second edition of stories from SVA’s MFA Interaction Design Alumni—a publication of the MFA Interaction Design department at SVA—arrived hot off the press from the printer last week. We again collaborated on the project with the illustrator Brian Rea, whose wonderful illustrations add a quirky interpretation of the stories. We look forward to sharing these projects with you soon.