Challenge 5: Drops

by general

Learning a new language is hard. Tried and true ways of learning a new language like listening to audio, using flashcards, etc. are strategies that work but aren’t very fun or motivating. Even if you are willing to tolerate those methods, nothing is more difficult than getting past that discouraging feeling after you realize how much time and resources you’ll have to commit.  Drops is a mobile app whose goal is to distance itself from all of the difficulties of traditional methods and make the process of learning a new language so much more approachable. If you are looking to learn vocabulary in a new language and want to do so visually behind the guise of a game, you should definitely check out Drops.   Per its namesake, the content in Drops is appropriately “drip fed.” As a side effect of its freemium model, users of Drops are limited to one 5 minute learning sprint a day. However, this time limit serves a lot of useful purposes. First, it reassures the users that all it takes is 5 minutes a day to learn some vocab. That means the overwhelming feeling that was previously associated with learning a new language is effectively eliminated. Being limited to 5 minutes also forces users to use those 5 minutes wisely. Users engage their modules with more focus and purpose because they know that this is their only opportunity to learn for the day. With only 5 minutes required, users are easily able to incorporate their learning into their day. It’s a clever way to integrate the classic game design of a goal. Players can see a status bar to assess their progress for the day, and receive encouraging messages and push notifications from the app if they haven’t met their goal for the day.   The learning modules are where Drop users will be learning their language of interest, and are the game’s form of challenges. These modules are focused on teaching one specific group of related words. The learning takes place through various familiar interactions. Depending on the language, users can start with the basics and draw letters on their screen, progressing from tracing shapes to free drawing. Users engage with other familiar interactions like swiping left or right for correct words, matching words to icons, spelling letters by tapping like a puzzle, etc.  The interactions all have a smooth, well-optimized feel and are complimented with micro animations that maintain engagement. These animations highlight the needs of the “Achiever” persona described in Neupane’s article on game design: through small badges and progress bars, users can assess the results of their gameplay and feel motivated to continue the tasks.   The look and feel also really sets the app aside from other language learning apps. The words are matched exclusively with icons, never the English word, so that the user associates the vocabulary they are learning with a picture. The sound of the game is simple; a clear voice says out the words so that the user associates the audio with the text and picture. This is a really important step in language acquisition; associating sounds and with the actual things rather than the translated word, and Drops cleverly bipasses the usual middle ground of the user translating the word in their head. The app background alternates between a smooth orange gradient or a teal gradient, and the bright jewel tones are very visually engaging. The icons are clear and simple, as is the typeface which is a simple sans serif. Aside from the colored background, everything is presented in white with clear smooth lines.   The motion design reflects Drops’ approach to seamless language acquisition. For example, in the syllable-arranging challenge, the syllables and tones appear in playful circles and playfully jostle each other every few seconds to prompt the user to drag them into their proper position. When you scroll, a paintbrush-like transparency appears where your finger touches the screen, echoing the free-flowing “drip” of the app’s logo. When you press the eye icon beside each item in the list of icons and their translations, the translation bar and the word collapse into each other, mirroring the physical action of “closing your eyes.” Even simple details like the gently pulsing clock feel clean and intentional. Through using logarithmic instead of linear transitions, the motion feels deliberate: items accelerate and then come to a natural stop as they glide across the screen. Even the rounded edges of the settings card convey the nurturing feel of the app — it’s here to hold your hand as you pick up basic vocabulary, just as kids learn to speak by hearing the names of objects that they see.   Despite the “handholding” feel, the app feels anything but childish. Gradient backgrounds and white text make Drops feel more sophisticated than apps like Duolingo, which present cartoon-like characters reminiscent of children’s games. The visual design also utilizes transparencies to convey information with subtlety, letting the gradient echo through the various modules. Drops may qualify as a game, but it’s branded like it’s a luxury good. It strikes a balance between engaging and sophisticated, designed without feeling too overdone.

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