Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I was born and raised in Dubai and for as long as I can remember, I’ve been a techie. I started coding on my Commodore Amiga when I was 12 years old, and quickly moved to building websites before the days of Netscape. The passion for coding and design has stuck with me.
Prior to founding Growl Media, I co-founded Flip Media in my parents’ garage. Flip Media grew from a small start-up to becoming the Middle East’s largest interactive agency and was acquired by the Publicis Groupe in 2012.
What lead to the creation of Growl Media?
After the acquisition of Flip, I took some time off and I wanted to teach my son Hindi. The apps that were available on the app store left a lot to be desired and I felt it was the not the best way to introduce him to the language. I just wanted to create an app for my son that would teach him Hindi in a fun way. This led me to start sketching up some ideas and characters to introduce him to first word concepts in Hindi. That’s where Alfie, Haathi & The Magic Bioscope (our first series) and Growl Media came from.
You started with apps for learning Hindi, why was this?
My wife is Irish and we speak English at home. I wanted to teach my son Hindi and give him the benefit of being raised in a multilingual home. Research has shown that children from multilingual households have better cognitive skills and multitasking abilities. Hindi was the natural first choice as it is my native tongue.
You've just launched Zee's Alif Ba as the first in a proposed series of Arabic apps. How important was it to create a character that was culturally relevant such as Zee?
One of the reasons I started Growl Media was to create culturally relevant content for kids from developing regions and countries, including the Middle East, India, China and South East Asia, among others. Despite having a rich history and culture, there isn't enough high-quality content being generated in these regions. As a result, most of the content that children are exposed to at a very young age, comes from Western sources. I don't think there's anything wrong with Sesame Street and Dr Seuss. They have great educational value, but the one very important thing that they lack is context.
The same problems existed when I was growing up. My books featured Marmite sandwiches, treacle pudding and picnics on the moors. I was surrounded by sand dunes, kebbeh and camels. My first taste of Marmite was when I got to college (I hated it)!
It's been thirty years and we've still got the same problem, and that's why it was extremely important to have a character that was from the region. Someone who echoed the cultural values but was also contemporary. Zee is representative of those values. She is a determined girl with a penchant for exploring the world like her role model Ibn Battuta.
What features of Zee's Alif Ba do you think make it stand out from other Arabic apps?
It’s a combination of things really. We put a lot of detail into the app, from the high-quality graphics and animations, to the original music and sound design. Most importantly, we placed a lot of emphasis on creating an app that was interactive, engaging and educational. From the alphabet puzzle pieces, where kids learn the shape of the Arabic alphabet to the reward games where they can have fun and develop other cognitive skills like memory and sorting, every level of the app has been created to grab the attention of children and get them to have fun.
The presentation of the app is very impressive, how did you accomplish this?
A lot of storyboarding, brainstorming sessions, prototyping and going back to the drawing board...and a lot of sleepless nights! One of the key pillars of Growl is our Eureekah app development framework that enables us to focus on content production rather than development.
We have a great and growing team at Growl, from storytellers, to illustrators, play designers and interactive developers and each person has an integral part to play in the development of an app.
Are your apps aimed at a specific age of learner?
Growl Media produces apps for the early years, from ages 1 to 6. This is when children are most receptive to learning a new language and retaining that knowledge as they grow older. There are, of course, varying abilities within the 1 to 6 age group. Each of our apps is designed and created with a specific age group in mind and we always mention the age group in our app description on the app store. However, every child is unique and develops at his/her own pace. What might appeal to some children at the age of 2 may only appeal to others at the age of 3. We try to bring as much variety into our apps as possible so that we can entertain, educate and empower as many children as possible.
The inclusion of English elements make it accessible to parents who perhaps don't speak or learn Arabic themselves, was this the intention?
Yes! We wanted to create an app that would also help parents learn the language so they could guide their kids. We firmly believe in the concept of co-viewing and a parent is a key part of the education process. So, if we wanted to succeed with our apps, we needed to make it easy for parents to participate as well.
Do you think kids today can learn effectively using games?
Research has shown that children in the early years learn unconsciously. Through play, a child is able to develop abstract meanings separate from objects in the world. Gamification takes this learning up another notch, instilling these concepts in a fun and engaging manner.
What's next for Growl? What apps can we expect in the coming year?
Lots! We have just started and have some amazing apps in the pipeline. Watch this space!
Thank you so much for taking time out to speak with us Dinesh, we look forward to hearing more from Growl Media over the coming months!
Download the awesome Growl Media story comic strip below: