First we had Drawnimal. Then we had Miximal. Now Niels Hoffman and Lucas Zanotto, the coder and hand-animator behind the children’s app studio Yatatoy, is about to release Loopimal, which is both his finest work to date, and the closest thing to a perfectly designed app I’ve ever seen.
Loopimal is an anthropomorphic take on a classic MIDI sequencer. You drag and drop a few different shapes onto a looping timeline, and the shapes make music. But those decisions also sync with an animal dancing up top. So each shape produces both a beat or melody as well as a quirky dance move.
Silly dances and addictive beats meld into one. A pig pirouettes to the strikes of a xylophone, a sloth medicates to the sounds of a sitar, and an octopus plucks its legs as a makeshift bass. It’s a sickeningly charming world that will make you feel like Peter Pan for a few minutes.
“I wanted to build something that brings kids closer to the concept of programming/sequencing. In a playful way,” Zanotto explains via email. “For a kid the linear, sequencing thinking is a new thing. I wanted to make something that gives them a little experience of: ‘if I put THIS thing into THIS position and the cursor passes, THIS happens.’ We started playing around with the concept and we ended up with this great kit full of elements to build actual great little looping tracks.”
Zanotto drew the dancing animations frame by frame in classic cel animation style, which creates a hand-stamped aesthetic that we’ve lost in the era of more automatic, digitally animated cartoons. The score, meanwhile, was composed as a gutterly perfect complement to the visuals, by Ulrich Troyer. Together, the experience melds into that of silly, synaesthetic glee, as if you’re creating some PBS kids music video in real time.
But it’s really the interface that drives the app, and it’s a work of restrained brilliance. The user is tossed into the music maker with no instructions. There’s just an stationary animal, a timeline, and a few shapes you can drag onto it. After about 30 seconds, you’ll have the scheme mastered, because everything you see on the screen has been paired down to its most minimal requirements for functionality–in fact, there are no buttons in the composition window; each object responds in a way that just feels right.
Swiping right will let you try out other animals-cum-instruments, and, via a pull down menu, you can mix two or four animals all playing music at once. You’re no longer writing one instrument of music, but composing a small symphony–a task that’s no harder than tapping on an animal to bring up their timeline, to which you drag more shapes.
“The interface was set when the idea came up and I sketched it down pretty much as it is. It was the most obvious design,” Zanotto says. “[But] we tweaked a lot on how to change between animals, how to change from the single mode to the double and four mode.”
That said, Zanotto had to delay a few features to get the app live. He still hopes to add a sharing feature for users to boast their compositions to friends, but notes the difficulty of adding social components to children’s software, which is constructed to live in a box apart from potentially offensive content. And he’d like to add more animals to the mix as well.
Now in the App Store, Loopimal is a must-download app. Try it out if you have a kid, want to feel like a kid, or simply want to appreciate an app with a near-flawless UI design.