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Anders Sandell tells children's stories on the iPad

Anders Sandell has worked on phones, toys, websites and apps. Interested in reading from a young age and having worked with various design consultancies, he started Tank & Bear, to design toys, books and apps for young readers. He founded and ran the Toy Lab at Srishti School in Bangalore between 2009-2012 and has now created a series of animated novels about aliens.

San Francisco based Anders Sandell is the CEO of Tank & Bear, an interactive product development company. He founded the Toy Lab at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore back in 2009 and ran it till 2012. Sandell also created the animated series of ‘Jorgits’ (a group of aliens) novels for young readers on the iPad, with some help from a crowd-fund sourcing website. Explocity speaks to Sandell about his work and what his plans are for the future.

What is Tank & Bear?
TANK & BEAR was founded by me. We create interactive children's media. We tell stories that celebrate diversity, local culture around the world, and introduce children to complex environmental issues. TANK & BEAR also develops digital toys that encourage free-structured play and creativity. The company is founded in Mountain View California, but has most of its operations currently in India.

Tell us about your tenure at Srishti.
I founded the Toy Lab at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, which I ran until December 2012. The Lab is currently not functional, but when it was, 3rd and 4th year Srishti students would learn the concept of play and design of interactive toys.

What were you doing before coming to India?
I worked in the San Francisco Bay Area for various design consultancies, children's museums, and startups. I have a Masters in Interactive Art & Design from the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU.

What made you come to India?
My wife Michelle Cherian and I came to India originally to work at Srishti which my wife visited in the spring of 2008. She had a very favorable impression of Srishti. We had a talk with the Director Geetha Narayanan, and three months later we were in India.

Why did you decide to create animated iPad novel?
My parents instilled in me a love for reading at an early age. I grew up spending a lot of my time in library hunting new books. I have background in interaction design and developing interactive children's media, so it's only natural that I gravitated towards thinking about what future of children's books might look like. The best way to do that is to actually design and build some.

Tell us about the Jorgits.
The Jörgits are a group of aliens who come to planet Earth seeking warmth. The story follows a group of aliens whose planet, Jöerg, is becoming too cold for them. Jörgits is the first in a series of books that will introduce children to environmental problems and cultures around the world. The first novel takes place in Finland, the next one will be set in India. But the Jörgits is actually our second app. The first app that we published was Khoya together with Shilo Suleman (artist). It started out as Toy Lab project that turned in to a wonderful app.

How did the whole Kickstarter thing happen? And how successful was it?
I'd been interested in doing a Kickstarter for a while. When we began working on the Jörgits we wanted to build a strong fan base and raise a development budget for it. We raised the funds needed so it was successful in that respect. I would have liked to reach a bigger audience through our Kickstarter though, but this is very difficult if you don't already have strong media connections or an existing fan base. We had been stealth mode for the past three years so we had neither.

Why a product that targets children's interests?
Children's books and toys are a wonderful medium for grappling with some really interesting issues. In order to make these issues compelling to children you have to think about how clarify the message and wrap them in an interesting story. But my books are actually designed so that adults can enjoy them too. They are layered in meaning so that children will get one thing out of them and adults will take away something all together different.

How many downloads have you registered so far?
The Jörgits have had around 7000 downloads so far. The number of downloads is growing each month as the book get's more known around the world.

Have you been able to monetise the concept?
We are still in the early stages of our business. We have proved that we can create stellar apps. However, the key to long term success in the app store is to build a brand known for quality apps. We are looking to develop a portfolio of book and play apps in the next two years.

Why did you choose Bangalore?
I've been in Bangalore for four years. I'm actually currently living in Mysore. We're looking to probably live between the US and India. We have a very good relationship with INKONIQ (Bangalore based technology and design company) which does our App development and gives us access to local design talent in Bangalore.

What are your plans for the future?
We have begun working on concepts for a number of smaller play apps. I've also began sketching out an outline for the next Jörgits novel that will be set in India.