Man reading a book to a young boy

Super-powered storytelling for Generation Alpha+.

Google & Disney | Read Along with Disney


  • Technology


  • Design Visualization & Storytelling
  • Market Research & Analysis
  • Prototyping & Simulation
  • User Experience Research

Google and Disney partnered with Teague to innovate on, and enhance, the traditional reading experience with the magic of AI.


Innovating a tradition.

Several years ago, Disney Publishing challenged themselves with a question: how to innovate on the traditional parent/child reading experience without distracting from the invaluable core of the experience itself - the shared focus on a physical book.

The team built several early prototypes of a responsive audio soundtrack designed to play music and sound effects in concert with the parent’s reading. Play-testing of these early experiences was received with great excitement. However, it gradually became clear that without the right partners, the substantial technological requirements of the “Read Along” experience would be prohibitive at scale.

In early 2018, Disney began collaborating with Google to further refine and develop the concept for the Google Home platform. Google expanded the collaboration, bringing in Teague for further refinement of the design and user experience.

Traditional 1950s family gather on a sofa for family reading time
Women reading book to two children with speech bubbles displaying voice interaction with Google Home Mini


Harmonizing magic and technology.

One of the guiding principles of the design work was that storytime is a sacred, intimate moment shared between caregivers and children—one that is already inherently meaningful and compelling. Thus it was critical that any additions to the reading experience not detract from the core book-focused experience. Any concepts that involved third-party interactions—such as a conversation with the Google Assistant, or concepts that added meta-narrative content—such as trivia, were abandoned. Throughout testing, the requirement to make the interactions as transparent and minimalist as possible became manifestly clear.

Together, we utilized a “thinking through making” approach that put a premium on creating prototypes as quickly as possible to test and iterate concepts. The Disney team took repeated trips to an on-site daycare facility to iterate concepts in a live environment. A few hundred miles north, Teague designers hid behind couches in our own testing spaces, triggering sound effects and music as parents and children read aloud.

Graph showing soundscape from the book Moana

This testing surfaced a delightfully unexpected use case. With the supporting music and sounds empowering them to embrace the drama of storytelling like never before, parents felt more encouraged and excited to act out the narrative. When reading the same story for the umpteenth time, this support and breath of fresh air was a welcome one to help caregivers combat book fatigue.

The initially expected scenario was to experiment with the caregiver reading to the child. However, as trials progressed, we began to see children proactively wanting to read independently or to other children. The experience of Read Along with Disney was engaging enough that children jumped at the opportunity to become the storyteller, creating the magic as they read.

Our fundamental and straightforward approach to prototyping also allowed for the system's design to be quickly refined. Video of the test sessions—with both parents and children alike enjoying the experience—proved to stakeholders across all teams the concept's validity.


Bringing stories to life.

Read Along with Disney is a Google Assistant-based action that adds magic to storytime with Google Home. In this groundbreaking audio experience, families can enjoy augmented reading adventures with the world’s most beloved characters. Compatible with over a dozen Disney Little Golden Books, your adventure starts by simply saying, “Hey Google, read along with Disney.”

As you read aloud, Google Home brings your narration to life, augmenting it with property-specific music and sound effects. As story time with children is often not linear, Read Along with Disney is designed to conform to your journey. Skip ahead, go back, repeat a page, or even take a break; your Google Home will automatically adjust to where you pick up and leave off, cueing background music while idle.

Due to its natural interface, kids are interacting more and more with AI assistants via in-home devices. Oftentimes, the increasing level of technology present during childhood development is associated with negatives, such as stunting imagination or interfering with face-to-face interaction. Read Along with Disney instead promotes positive interaction, leveraging AI to offer enriching and engaging experiences for children and families, thus bringing them closer together through technology. Read Along with Disney represents a best-in-class example of an opportunity space that leverages the unique qualities of VUI and AI, while simultaneously stimulating a child’s creativity, and kindling nostalgia for caregivers.

Google Home Mini sitting on table in darkly lit room
Man reading Little Golden Book to son while listening to Google Home Mini


From simulation to store shelves.

Within the year of completing our project with Google and Disney, the product was released in Barnes and Noble, Target, and Walmart stores nationwide, supporting over a dozen Little Golden Books and garnering five-star reviews across the board.

Read Along With Disney for Google Home was also named a finalist in for User Experience by Fast Company's 2019 Innovation By Design Awards.

Google Disney Moana Book Cover w Mini