Storybooks is a digital platform that extends the Cirque du Soleil show experience with a personal keepsake, which allows parents and children to explore the magic of the brand together through reading, and helps foster a new generation of fans for years to come.
Context + Personal Role
This was a 4-week client-focused project created within a senior user experience design course (IAT 438). My specific roles included leading product strategy, journey mapping, research, conducting user interviews, facilitating sprints, and development of the product UI, interactions, and prototypes. After our initial academic project was complete, I revisited this project to refine the prototype UI and motion. Tools used include Sketch, Illustrator, Principal, Photoshop, Keynote, Premier, and After Effects.
Fostering a New Generation of Fans
While Cirque du Soleil has had over 180 million viewers, engagement with the brand has declined since the early 2000’s, including a 36.6% decline in ticket revenue in 2016 alone. In light of this, Cirque du Soleil needs to increase engagement with both new and repeat customers.
Digital platforms can't replicate the experience of live shows, and in-show interventions can cause distractions, diluting the existing product. However, Cirque understands that digital channels can provide deeper storytelling opportunities for its rich catalogue of content and characters.
Insight Driven Approach
We utilized both online and in-person research to discover common patterns and first-hand accounts customers had leading up to, attending, and following a show. One significant takeaway was that people couldn't fully comprehend the shows’ storylines. Another was that many people went to shows with their families, often taking young children who weren’t as engaged as their parents expected or were too young to remember the experience.
Initial Framing and Reframing
During the initial process, we understood the importance of thoughtfully and continuously framing and reframing our project as we gleaned new insights from our research about the Cirque brand. Here we were able to establish the frames "how might we take Cirque du Soleil's value of making dreams a reality beyond the live show?," and "how might we create a digital intervention that adds value for Cirque du Soleil customers?"
Creating Meaningful Value for Young Families
We synthesized these insights into a tangible persona, a parent with a young child. Focusing on young children would also allow us to address the need for new and ongoing viewership. This enabled us to audit how our persona currently perceives the Cirque brand and question how we could shift this to provide new meaning and value to the brand.
Storybooks benefit both the brand and the customer. For Cirque du Soleil, this means an ongoing connection with their audience, as well as strengthening their offerings for young children. For our customer, it’s the tangible value of imaginative entertainment, the intangible opportunity of spending quality time with their children, and the aspirational value of encouraging a love for reading.
We were able to form our findings, questions, and goals into a final proposal: A digital channel that will explore the narrative and ‘extend the dreams’ of Cirque’s shows while connecting audiences closer to the brand.
Developing Loyalty to the Brand Over Time
Creating a journey framework allowed us to understand which touchpoints customers interacted with and where they may begin to disengage from Cirque. As our intent was to encourage ongoing and repeat engagement with the brand we understood this journey as cyclical rather than linear. For this task, I developed the initial and broad cyclical journey, then worked with another two other members to create a more focused journey of our target area.
Through this, we identified the post-show ‘extend’ experience as the time and space for our product to exist. Here it could add value to the existing live show, capture engagement while the brand is at the forefront of attendees’ minds, and offer an opportunity to strengthen the brand for future engagement before people exited their relationship with Cirque.
Bridging the Show and Storybook Experiences
Since customers are likely tired after a long night, we wanted to minimize the friction of finding and downloading our product at a time when people are more focused on leaving the venue and getting home. A teammate and I were responsible for designing two touchpoints that would support each other in bridging the gap from the show experience to our product.
We introduce the app through signage seen as guests exit the venue. We reinforce this offering in the following days through a post-show email that provides access to Storybooks while the show is fresh in people's minds.
Low-Fidelity Tests and Iterations
Throughout our adapted sprints I was responsible for creating prototypes to make the team's ideas tangible and to receive feedback through user-tests. I and another teammate were able validated our concepts by conducting user-tests with parents that fit within our persona, and publishers specializing in children's books.
Specifically, we looked to measure the desirability of our product for parents and whether they would give let their child use it, the quality and age appropriateness of narrative content, the joy of our interactive elements, and the appeal of learning features. Once we were on the right track, I worked to refine the UI with increasing attention to detail and feedback every week.
Final Prototype and Decisions
For the purpose of this project we chose to create a Storybook for Cirque’s most recent touring show, Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities. I was the principal designer for the project's UI, motion design, and prototyping. After the initial 4-week project concluded, I took it upon myself to refine these interactions. For this I used a combination of Sketch, After Effects, Principle App, Premier, Illustrator, and Photoshop.
A Shared Experience
We chose to design for tablets as larger touchscreens naturally accommodate the metaphor of a child’s picture book, and the form factor allows parent and child to interact with Storybooks together. Additionally, research showed American kids are more likely to have access to their own tablet than a smartphone
A Personal Keepsake
A team member and I conducted a typology study at a children's books store and discovered many titles allow children to inscribe their name into their new books. We adapted this into our product, making the app a personal keepsake of the show they just attended, validating the effect this pattern has on children with a publisher. This also allows the child to becomes a part of the narrative as their name becomes integrated into the story.
Jump Straight to your Favourite Part
Unlockable chapters allow kids to relieve their favourite parts of the story while still offering a traditional narrative. Though we had initially anticipated the reading experience to be linear, it became clear after testing that readers wanted the ability to jump back to specific parts of the Storybook upon returning to the product.
It was important that interactions captured the magic of the Cirque brand. Narrative prompts allows for the reader to explore, uncover, and advance the story through creative uses of the device. This includes using the microphone to blow away objects or tilting the screen to interact with characters. With this, memorable moments are turned into fun activities that capture the excitement and wonder of the show.
A Deeper Connection to the Story
We recognized that viewers of all ages had a hard time following storylines during the show. Our product allows children to access character information at any time during the story, allowing kids to learn about their favourite characters after a show.
Support for Young Readers
We understood designing a children's book was out of our team's natural domain, so we enlisted the help of experts whom we could consult the quality of our copywriting and reading levels with. While testing with parents and a children's book publisher it became clear that there was a desire in integrating learning features around reading.
Parents can easily read to and with their kids, and a read-aloud option helps grow reading skills. A built-in dictionary lets kids discover new vocabulary and definitions.
A Bigger Opportunity
With over 20 shows currently in rotation, there exists enough narrative content for Storybooks to become both a completely new product category and revenue stream for Cirque du Soleil. During tests, we were surprised by the number of parents who expressed interest in purchasing this product for their own kids, regardless of whether they had seen a show. This opened our eyes to the possibility that Storybooks could exist as its own offering, instead of only being tied to the existing show going experience as we initially envisioned.
I think a considerable opportunity to validate and improve our product relies on the ability to test with real children. Though the team facilitate genuine user-testing with parents that fit the persona, and publishers specializing in children's stories, there's no substitute for feedback from actual children.
Filling in the Gaps
Given more time, I believe it's important for our team to address the need for a complete product flow. Aware of our project's time constraints, we chose to focus on making 'vignettes' of our product that would best communicate both our key features and overall vision. However, the next step would be to work with illustrators and writers to produce a complete storybook that could be thoroughly tested with kids and their parents.
🎉 You made it to the end! Thanks for taking the time to read this case study. This project was made in collaboration with Nikki Ann, Kristy Leung, Mark Strathern and Vickie Yim.