Inspiration

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Trailblazers: Giving children the power at Familie van Fonk

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Familie van Fonk are a creative agency based in Amsterdam who work with children's open minds and ingenuity to produce digital and physical products which make not only their lives, but also their families and friends lives a little bit better. By putting children in the power this way, Familie van Fonk inspire and create in ways many other agencies can’t. Here Leonie Jonk & Stephanie Buijs talk to us about their ‘Loving List’, a new project working with refugees and how robots are making their lives that bit easier…

So first of all tell us about what Famalie van Fonk creates

We create digital and physical products ranging from iPad apps to a sets of cards. We do this mostly (but not exclusively) for families, children and the people around them. We approach every project with a set of questions which are very important to us and make up something we call our Loving List. It’s part of our overall mindset, questions include: “Are you kind?”, “Will you connect people?” and “Will you change things?”

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How did you come to be so specialised in products for children and families?

Our team started out as a part of Fonk Amsterdam and there our entire company believed that a product should always add value to the real world. Over time we saw that the children’s projects benefited from a different sort of specialised attention and that we didn’t need to treat children like tiny humans with an underdeveloped brain, so Astrid Poot (our boss) created our own department ’Familie van Fonk’ (Family of Fonk) where we could give these projects the attention they deserved. Familie van Fonk is now a team of five people led by Astrid.

What are you most proud of creating from the past year and why?

We are most proud of the impact our Kleine Stapjes (Small Steps) app has had on the families who use it. This is only a very small group of people if you only look at the numbers and the problems they face are not part of the more ‘popular’ social issues on the agenda in the Netherlands. In short, when you look at the project brief it doesn’t look like a very ‘sexy’ one. But to see the impact this app has had for the families who use it is quite humbling.

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Wow! Can you tell us a bit about the project?

In its simplest form Kleine Stapjes is digital version of an 'Early Intervention Method' which was created in the 1970s for families who had a child with Down Syndrome or some other sort of developmental disability. Used everyday, it helps children practice everything from motor skills to social skills, so that kids can grow up to be as independent and happy as possible.

The problem is, this method is impossible because of its size and academic language. Families found it difficult to navigate and it tended to overwhelm them making it impossible to integrate in their daily lives. We worked with our client, Foundation of Down Syndrome of the Netherlands, to create a digital version which used all of the old information to produce a much easier to manage daily routine and progress tracker which supported the families in everyday practice. The kids who use it are already progressing much quicker than before which makes us very happy.

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How have you seen the role of technology evolve and change the kind of work you produce? What do you think is next?

A fact many people glaze over is that for today’s children, technology doesn’t exist in a world separate from their own, it is part integrated in their lives in the same way books and TV were for us. This isn’t a bad thing either. Technology is a tool which can enhance your life so we should be teaching children how to be knowledgeable, autonomous, critical and self fulfilling individuals and acknowledging technology as a role in that.

VR could mean great things with this in mind, especially as it means we’ll be able to face fears without being in any immediate danger. At Familie van Fonk we don’t let trends guide our decision making though, we just keep an eye on them for their possible uses.

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That makes a lot of sense, what new technologies are you guys enjoying using at the moment though, what’s making your lives easier?

ROBOTS - just kidding! We are avid Giphy users! It might not make our lives easier, but it does make them better! We’re also total Slack addicts and Slack bots have made our workflow much faster. Stephanie loves the developments in prototyping and these make our professional lives a lot better, they make testing more real and since we believe in testing in context, the recent developments have made a huge difference.

Our developers also have a deployment traffic light. If there are any problems the teams are instantly notified. That is super useful because they can fix things right away and no one needs to worry. And it looks cool!

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What products do you have planned for 2017?

For starters we finally got the funding to bring Kleine Stapjes to Android! We’re really excited about that. And we want to get it translated this year too.

Another really exciting project that we think will make a huge impact is NewBees. NewBees is a non-profit organisation which believes in an inclusive society. Their aim is help refugees participate in Dutch communities as soon as they get here by providing volunteer work as well as creating a safe community to start in. When refugees enter the Netherlands there is a danger of isolation because they don’t speak the language and have no way of connecting to their community. Because we believe that connecting people helps them grow together, this project was the perfect match for us. We’ll be working with NewBees to improve what they have made so far, and to help grow their platform so they can help even more refugees.

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What’s your work process when a new brief comes in?

The initial client brief goes through Astrid first, then she sits down with us and we talk it over. We always assume that we don’t know the answer when we start, even if the client already has a direction in mind. Initially we aim to see how we’ll approach a particular project - what kind of research we’ll need to do, what interviews we’ll need to conduct etc. Then we’ll get to work creating the structures, making wire flows, designing the style and developing the product before testing.

For every project we work on we have two criteria: 1. We work together with the client to create the best solution. 2. We work with the users and their inputs guide our solution.

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And lastly, what’s your favourite type of brief?

We really like briefs which specific problem or question but without a solution. That way we can fall in love with the problem, rather than with the solution (which might not be the best one).

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