Did You Say You Make Apps For Kids?

If you make apps for kids, or are involved in children’s interactive media, I’d like to talk about Dust or Magic and the role it plays in this space.

Warren Buckleitner, Editor of Children’s Technology Review, knows how to gather captivating minds to demonstrate, debate and discuss product design for children and how it relates to child development. He organized the first Dust or Magic in 2001 on the tailwind of Bologna Book Fair’s New Media Prize. He followed up by adding App Camp every spring in Monterey, California, starting in 2009.

While there is no shortage of conferences on kids and tech, Dust or Magic stands out in the crowd. This might be because attendees are required to leave their egos at home, or cast them into the ocean until the sessions are finished. Or it might be that Warren chooses down-home locations where attendees can relax and brainstorm freely. But the real reason might be that Warren is one of those people who really gets kids, and he is doing his best to keep the experience authentic — for their sake.

To focus on the interests of children, no sponsorships are allowed at Dust or Magic. This means attendees need to foot the bill. Out of pocket expenses can be high for an independent developer or small company. Warren recognizes this and tries to work with small publishers. In fact, he or someone in the office answers a real land-line phone just to hear those pleas.

Dust or Magic conference agendas brim with storytelling from a range of kids’ tech experts and pioneers. What I admire most about the speakers is their inclination to share failures as much as successes. These mistakes help us learn about Dust to better understand how Magic is made. The archives of past App Camps give you a flavor of who spoke on which topics, along with videos of memorable presentations (like this one from Dan Russell-Pinson about Letting Magic Happen).

I first found out about Dust or Magic back in 2010. Caroline Hu Flexer, founder of Duck Duck Moose, let me know about the conference through Moms With Apps. Living in the Bay Area, it was easy for me to make a trip to Monterey for the pre-conference demo sessions (now called AppFest). I enjoyed taking my girls along to test apps and provide feedback to the app makers. I popped in again for a brief panel in 2012, and later during the 2014 and 2015 AppFests at the the CoLab offices in San Francisco.

Although I usually just mingle on the conference periphery, I don’t hesitate to promote Dust or Magic to newcomers in the app world. The 15th Annual Dust or Magic will be held November 1st — 3rd in Lambertville, New Jersey. The agenda from Warren sounds timely and compelling:

“We have a lot to talk about this year. The iPad Pro has expanded screen size, opening new play patterns, and several Virtual Reality devices are ready to be launched. These will be discussed in a review of the year panel with Chris Byrne of Time to Play magazine; followed by a banquet and special talk by Muppet legends Michael Frith and Kathryn Mullen.”

Warren goes on to highlight new guests from the Parents’ Choice Foundation, New York Times, and MIT’s Education Arcade, along with top-notch industry veterans and app makers. This includes a presentation from Caroline about their new app, WonderBox. Reviewing the agenda while writing this post is making me rethink where I want to spend my November birthday this year. New Jersey sounds nice.

Keeping the child’s well being at the top of any conference agenda is a laudable goal to accomplish. Warren continues to get this priority right, every time.

@LorraineAkemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *