Megan Rae

Smarties – Designing for Generation Alpha


Generation Alpha (born after 2010) are fully immersed in digital technology. Intertwined in their upbringing, they have never experienced a world without it. Hankering after a few minutes’ peace, parents will too often hand their kids an iPad, computer or smart phone as an easy solution. Does this aid a child’s cognitive development? Whilst digital technology has a tactile component (keyboard, gaming console, iPhone texting), there are consequences of not embracing physical objects such as books or musical instruments, which allow them to engage the ‘real world’.

Smarties, known for their colourful chocolate sweets are advancing the consumer goods sector in Travel Retail, where they also sell toys. Smarties sought to address the digital overload issue by using technology to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds of play to enhance a child’s learning experience. Echo has partnered with Nestlé International Travel Retail for 4 years helping to create a range of educational toys for Smarties known as the ‘Learn Through Play’ experience. We focused on physical toys which help develop children’s cognitive skills through music, puzzles, roleplay and creativity, supported by a recently launched digital portal.

One example is the ‘Smarties Music Creator’ which combines a physical recorder, with a finger placement guide and a digital song book. Having previously collaborated with Nestlé to redesign the look and feel of their website, we had already seen the potential of creating added value digital content, so we also included an on-pack QR code. Once the QR code is scanned, the user is taken to the Smarties ‘Learn Through Play’ centre which gives access to:

·     An interactive chart which shows the finger placement for each note which also plays a sample

·     5 play along nursery rhyme tutorial videos

·     5 downloadable nursery rhyme music sheets

Imagine how easy it would have been to learn the timeless and beloved classic ‘Hot Cross Buns’ if one had access to a bit of digital assistance!

An added bonus is the longevity of the product, as digital content can be continuously updated with new songs for example – this is key when developing any product in a market where consumer sustainability expectation is trying to catch up with those of non-travel retail products. Another major benefit of ‘Learn Through Play’ is that it can address issues around over consumption. The chocolate can now be seen as part of a positive reward system of permissibility rather than greedy scoffing.

Similar trends of physical-digital interaction span entire sectors. Leapfrog, continually adapt their products in an ever-developing technological world. Whilst the child still interacts with a physical book, a digital display on the top of the pen presents an image to enhance the learning experience. Another is Nintendo Labo which allows a child to create their own toy from cardboard packaging (one example is a piano!). You then slot in your digital console and away you go with a physically enhanced experience!

The benefits of assisted learning outside the classroom are clearer than ever before as parents engage in home schooling during the COVID-19 lockdown. It is an increasingly exciting arena. Echo certainly enjoy unleashing their inner child when working on the brand! Afterall, how can we create a brand for children, if we don’t attempt to occasionally be child-like ourselves?

As Designer Susie Whittaker says: “Working on Smarties is a constant reminder of how we as designers are connected to people and have the opportunity to create a positive impact on their lives. We’ve been lucky enough to develop fun and exciting ways for children to learn and it feels good to create meaningful products that play such a significant role in child development.”

At Echo, we aim to support brand organisations that have ethical drivers and aspirations of sustainability. Alongside their sustainability initiatives, Smarties ‘Learn Through Play’ looks to help support a happier and healthier generation of children, striking the balance between tactile play and high-tech assistance.


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