Brainbean is an iPad app filled with eight fast paced mini-games to help children think more creatively.
For several years I had been researching and writing on the topic of creative thinking on my blog Creative Something. I came to wonder why, when popular apps like Lumosity and Fit Brains promised players an improvement in intelligence, there were no apps to promote creative thinking and education?
After talking with teachers at local elementary and middle schools it was clear there was a real appetite for a creativity-focused game for the iPad. At that time iPads were becoming popular in schools and Apple was making a strong push to get as many iPads into the classroom as possible.
I decided to try building an app to encourage creative thinking in young students, to meet the need.
I knew I wanted Brainbean to function similarly to existing thinking / brain training apps, which offer players a series of mini-games or challenges they must complete in a timed environment.
Thanks to my years of experience researching creativity, I already had a few ideas for what those possible mini-games could be, such as remote association and an incomplete figure challenges (both of which are commonly used in research studies involving creative thinking).
I started imagining what the interface would look like. How would players interact with each of the games? How many games could I offer? What would the menus look like? What about the icon that would hopefully capture people’s attention and vividly stick out in their memory?
For styling the design of Brainbean itself, I first looked to Apple’s own work. iOS 7 had just been released a month earlier and I knew I wanted to use a similar aesthetic in some way. This decision is evident in the text-based buttons used in final version of the app, among other things.
Because Brainbean would also be primarily targeted at children, I wanted to incorporate a type of fun, flat design style to it. Something that children could easily pickup and play with.
For the next several months I spent any free-time I had outside of my regular day job designing and programming Brainbean.
After five or six months into the project I remember feeling completely overwhelmed with how much was left to do.
I’d finish the development on one or two of the mini games only to remember there were six more ahead. Any time I would program one small feature, I would realize that it had broken twelve others. The design hardly ever felt right. It seemed like certain details in the way screens came into view were missing, or how seemingly empty animations appeared.
My greatest fear was, of course, that it would all be for not. That the hours and hours and months of work would add up to either a project that simply didn’t work, or one that nobody noticed.
One of the crucial elements that would keep me going when I felt like giving up was honest feedback from potential “users.”
As I worked on the app I would show it to my young nieces, or take it to a nearby classroom (with permission from the teacher and student parents) for testing.
One of the best parts of letting children test your work is that they’re always brutally honest.
With strong feedback and a clear vision of where to go, I pressed on with building the app.
After seven months I shipped the final product.
On launch day, June 5th 2014, I gathered with friends to celebrate the launch. We drank, played with the app, and watched the progress of the app as it climbed the app store rankings.
When the celebrations first began that night, Brainbean sat at #62 out of the top 200 apps in the US iPad App Store. That’s out of all categories combined. That’s a tremendous feat for any app.
But then, within an hour, the app reached the top 40. In another few hours it entered the top 20. The next morning Brainbean had reached the #3 position in the top apps in the App Store.
Brainbean has been downloaded by more than 1.5M people to-date and is used in classrooms all over the world.
There are things I would like to do with the app at this point, but other priorities have taken precedent. Still, it’s been an insightful journey to create the app from scratch and watch its success.
Hearing from teachers and students who have used the app has been the most rewarding part of the experience of building it.