This unique book, still in user-testing phase, is the only product to use British Sign Language in conjunction with AR/MR technology.
Baby BSL is an augmented reality storybook that combines printed books with smartphones and tablets to support the hearing parents of deaf and hearing children in learning British Sign Language. Baby BSL combines animated AR characters and objects, video, and audio with traditional print media to create an immersive multimedia storybook.
"We are also developing a range of AR products such as stickers, games and textiles alongside the book - all of which, like Baby BSL, have been specifically designed with a soft-touch approach to gently, ethically and unintrusively introduce immersive technologies to young families to encourage stronger communication between parents and pre-verbal children," says co-founder Victoria Forrest.
VIKA Books are publishers of interactive books with an AR/MR element. Co-founder Victoria Forrest MA(RCA) is an award-winning graphic designer whose "groundbreaking' interactive designs have been shortlisted for awards including FutureBook. Her fellow co-founder Emma Nuttall is a writer, editor and researcher studying toward her PhD focusing on AR and MR (mixed reality) books.
VIKA is working in partnership with BDH, an established team creating award-winning content for digital media with an extensive commercial experience in VR. Partners from within the deaf community include VS1 Productions, the Deaf Studies Trust and Elmfield School for the Deaf.
What's the gap in the market?
The VIKA team believe that the lack of learning support for hearing families to learn British Sign Language opens up an important publishing opportunity.
"Baby Sign Language is a recognised, but little used, language that supports communication between hearing parents and their pre-verbal children," Forrest explains. "This barrier is considered a possible cause of ‘The Terrible Twos,’ when a child cannot express their independent thoughts and wishes.
"Signing bridges this gap, helping children express complex concepts earlier. BabyBSL is the only product that uses British Sign Language in conjunction with AR/MR technology to inspire and empower hearing families to learn basic signs in the home."
Success so far?
VIKA Books' inaugural publication In the Shadow of Things was shortlisted for The FutureBook Awards' Best Reference Digital Book category, alongside big name publishers such as Touchpress, Hodder & Stoughton and Octopus Publishing. In 2018, the team received investment from InnovateUK’s Audience of the Future fund to develop proof of concept for BabyBSL, the AR prototype for which they are now user-testing.
"Please join us in our second user-testing phase and supply your feedback!" Forrest exhorts. "All feedback received before 1st March will be considered for hard coding into into the final product that we hope to launch in Spring 2019. Your opinion is vital. Visit www.babybsl.com for more information."
Forrest and Nuttal believe that educating their prospective audience will be key to the product's success. "Many people still don’t know what augmented reality is or how much it can enhance the printed page," Forrest admits. We are looking to create products that include tech as an integral part of the experience and so we need to guide users through that learning process clearly and simply."
Seamless integration of tech and print is also a challenge. While AR books are currently a pop-up-type experience, VIKA aims to deliver a product that brings an additional dimension to reading but is never annoying to download or use - hence their emphasis on user feedback.
Finally, there are hefty upfront costs to contend with. "Finding the funding to support risky, early stage innovation with an fledgling market is hard work," Forrest explains. "We are always looking out for new partnerships and potential investors. Please contact me if you think you might be one of these at firstname.lastname@example.org."
"To redimensionalise reading!" The VIKA Books team want to become industry leaders in the fields of immersive publishing and digital storytelling. Their roadmap to achieving this includes expanding the team, fostering new partnerships (affinity and VC) and creating a new independent imprint specialising in multi-device and hybrid books.
Advice for other publishing entrepreneurs?
"Find partners that you can trust but that challenge you. VIKA’s biggest strength lies our collaborations. With good partnerships, opposing ideas can turn into possibilities rather than barriers."