Molly's World is born

"The urge to draw must be quite deep within us, because children love to do it."
David Hockney

How, I am often asked, did a retired Professor of Architecture and author, with no children of his own, come to create an app aimed at 5-8 year-olds? The circuitous journey began in 2003. I had just published a book entitled Materials, Form and Architecture and became fascinated with scanning images from minerals such as these:

Liberty to the rescue

After several years trying, largely unsuccessfully, to encourage others to use them in interiors or fashion, I heard about an ‘Open Call’ from Liberty of London. Their new Head of Buying, a brilliant American named Ed Burstell, loved them. In 2010 the mineral images took their place in Liberty’s world-renowned scarf hall.

Working with children

A workshop was duly arranged in Albany Primary School in Cardiff with 7-8 year-olds and the results astonished me: Molly, Patch and Thumper were born, and with them the realisation that digital technology could bring a whole new dimension to children’s love of drawing.

More work with children followed, including the meadow image on this website: the flowers and ‘creatures’ were drawn and coloured by 6- and 7-year-olds at Woodside Primary Academy in London. Shortly after this I met an eight-year-old boy named Sam Boyce in the ‘Craftyartbox’ in the village where I live. His talent was obvious and I decided to loan him an old MacBook. After a 30-minute introduction to basic Photoshop tools he went on to create, without any further adult help, this design for a scarf for his mother:

The potential was now obvious, but most parents could hardly afford Photoshop or its slimmed down ‘Elements’, and computers are cumbersome tools for the young. What was needed, I was told, was an ‘app’ to run on iPads and tablets. Back then I barely knew what an ‘app’ was, let alone what they could do, but I found a very capable young ‘coder’, Joe Offside, to initiate me into these new technologies and decided to take early retirement. Molly’s World was conceived, but little did I realise that the pregnancy would last years, not months!

Molly’s World of Animation

The animation tools in the free beta version of Molly’s World, to be released in late April, were intended to be the last element to be coded. But when the company we were working with on digitally printed goods was sold to a large corporate concern, who had no interest in our ‘on demand’ needs, I decided to go ‘all digital’ and accelerate their development. Then came Covid-19, with millions of children confined to their homes needing creative outlets for their time and energy.

The final coding of the beta version has been done at breakneck speed and there may be some teething problems: the drawing and colouring tools should work well, but the two longer animation formats – ‘Scenes’ and ‘Stories’ – may not run smoothly (or at all…) on old iPads and tablets.

‘Social distancing’ has also meant that we haven’t been able to test it, as planned, with children in local schools. Feedback will be very welcome to help us refine it before the full release in the autumn and there is a form for this in the adjacent dropdown menu.

An app for All

Although Molly’s World is ‘styled’ for children we hope it will be used by parents and grandparents as well. The ‘Animated Postcards’ are easy to learn, quick to make and fun to share, offering a novel way to keep in touch and lift spirits during these dark times.

Richard Weston
26 March 2020