EPIC Buddies!

TLDR: At Epic Kids, I designed an incredibly effective buddy mechanism. It supercharged our engagement metrics and is adored by over 3,500,000 kids! Designs done for web, iOS, and Android.

Illustrative art by Matt Kaufenberg

How do you convince kids to read?

One of my first major product initiatives was to help skyrocket our engagement metrics. Our target demographic is full of reluctant readers, so it was my job to convince kids to read.

Character-Driven Product

Not every kid wants to go to the library.

But give them puppies… lots of puppies, and they’ll flock to your doors.

This was the premise that led to my product initiative – buddies!

The Buddy Mechanism

Our beautifully crafted characters are the puppies of Epic! The mechanism included:

  • Choosing & hatching an egg
  • Modular speech bubble for dialog
  • Reading milestone celebrations
  • Equippable accessories
  • Fun Fact Tuesdays
  • and more!

My colleagues at Epic would often incorporate the Buddy into their designs. Various A/B tests always confirmed our hypothesis – you get higher engagement when an animated character is present.

Illustrative art by Ryan Hungerford

The results

Teachers were in tears.

They couldn’t believe their reluctant readers were reading whole books.

We lifted stubborn metrics for our core demographic. Depth rose 12% while frequency rose 4%. This heavy impact sent positive ripples through the business. Buddy became a cornerstone for many of our design decisions.

Crafting the Art

In fashion with startup culture, I wore many hats. My roles included:

  • Product Designer
  • Technical Artist
  • Art Director
  • Animator

I joined forces with two illustrators to craft the look and feel for our Buddies. The style acted as a glue that unified the vibe across product and marketing.

  1. Provided research team with buddies in multiple art styles
  2. Tested in classrooms (this was pre-COVID)
  3. Adjusted & tested various base shapes
  4. Designed a scalable character system
  5. Built & animated buddy using Lottie
  6. Documented everything

I collaborated with our developers to implement a scalable system that could handle:

  • Additions of new buddies at various resolutions, all animated
  • Additions of new animations with time markers
  • Accessories that worked on any Buddy
  • Weighted distribution of Buddies

We released dozens of Buddies to over 3.5 million kids. It is loved by kids, teachers, parents, and even my own toddler.

To this day, it remains one of our primary product pillars.