How Bandimal works is simple. Start a new composition on the mobile app and a cartoon animal representing an instrument appears on the screen. Tap and a new animal joins in. Soon there is a trio of cute creatures bopping, bouncing and swelling up and down to the tune you just created. Colourful bars under the animals can be used to alter the melody, while various icons and dials let you add effects, switch tempo, set up drums and swipe between different animals.
“We tried to design a tool that introduces the joy of making music to kids. There is no need to learn notes – kids can jump right in and compose music,” explains Lucas Zanotto, designer and founder of Yatatoy, the company behind Bandimal. “We designed everything in a way that whatever you do it will sound right. There is no failure, no right or wrong, just pure fun.”
It is fun that seems to appeal to kids and adults alike. Yatatoy doesn’t reveal numbers but says since its release in late 2017 Bandimal has found fans across the globe, particularly in the US and Asia. Even some DJs use the app to create mixes.
“They are like the Oscars of the Apple industry. It was a huge thing for us,” enthuses Ilari Niitamo, software developer at Yatatoy.
No hand holding
Bandimal is Yatatoy’s fourth mobile app. The Helsinki-based company was founded in 2012 by Zanotto to create playful, creative toys for kids. In the company’s first app, Drawnimal, hand-drawn animals help kids to learn the alphabet. The same visual theme has continued in the company’s other apps Loopimal and Miximal, two children books and now Bandimal.
“From a child’s point of view, many apps have a distracting amount of content and colours. Our style is more minimalistic. We always bring something new, but in a way that is easy to understand,” Niitamo explains. “We don’t like adults coddling kids too much. We don’t do hand holding [in our apps]; learning happens through play and experimentation.”
Furthermore, all text is replaced by intuitive interfaces in Yatatoy’s apps. This makes for a time-consuming design process – Bandimal, for example, was two years in the making – but Niitamo emphasises that speed isn’t a priority for the company.
Nor is geographical location. Italian-born Zanotto and Finn Niitamo are based in Helsinki, while the company’s sound designer, Ulrich Troyer, lives in Vienna, and previous software developer, Niels Hoffman, in Berlin. Working together happens remotely.
“Clear roles help in this and everyone is in charge of their own field,” Niitamo says. “This is important as none of us do this full time, everyone has their own companies as well.”
The borderless structure seems to be working for Yatatoy. Currently, the company is working on a new feature for Bandimal, which will allow kids to direct their own music videos within the app. The company also continues to expand its animal-themed product assortment.
“We are starting to work on our fifth app,” says Zanotto. “We will expand the Yatatoy brand with books, music and more media – we are aiming for a TV series as well.”
Niitamo reveals the company is already looking at a few opportunities with TV production companies. But no matter the medium, Yatatoy will continue its focus on children as for Niitamo they are both the most rewarding and demanding audience.
“I like how receptive kids are. But, on the other hand, their feedback can be brutal. Kids either like or don’t like something, there is no room for excuses,” Niitamo says with a laugh.