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How we helped Pharrell Williams reimagine music education for students around the world

The challenge

Help Tuniversity—launched by Grammy-winning producer Pharrell Williams, Brent Paschke, and Kiko Doran—combat dwindling public school budgets and reinvigorate their music education programs by using high-impact multimedia technology and the energy of today’s top hits.

The Solution

Design and build a highly interactive iBook that advances the Tuniversity mission, and equip the Tuniversity team with a marketing website and tools to deliver their message and education curriculum.

A multi-year product strategy for a multi-platinum artist

Pharrell Williams is a 13-time Grammy-winning producer and recording artist who consistently attributes his meteoric rise to his public school music education. Years of playing in the marching band helped Pharrell learn how to capture and communicate his musical dreams.

But it’s no secret that public school music programs have been victims of shrinking budgets and competing priorities. To change that tune, Pharrell joined forces with Brent Paschke and Kiko Doran to launch Tuniversity, a company dedicated to bolstering school music education with high-impact technology.

Tuniversity’s first release was an iBook based on Pharrell’s song “Happy,” 2014’s best-seller and winner of two Grammys and an Oscar. Modern Tribe was hired to design and craft the book and, following Apple’s approval, build a website to accompany it and future releases. This was a large project that would span multiple calendar years, so we started by helping Tuniversity define their goals and produce a high-level product roadmap that broke the outcomes into manageable four- to six-week sprints.

Coding for an interactive educational experience

The iBooks Author tool isn’t meant to be a place for groundbreaking design or true interaction, so we found ways to work within its restrictions and create something genuinely compelling. We used externally created HTML- and JavaScript-driven code, with the help of our friend and developer Josh Broton, to build music mixers, players, and other tools directly into the iBook.

Translating from iBook to website

The companion WordPress website needed to balance familiar design elements from the iBook with a uniquely Tuniversity feel. How would our color panels animate into view using JavaScript? How would our users be able to interact with the design in order to understand the iBook’s goals and unique features? We crafted many layouts to create a modern, forward-thinking site that offers a digitally savvy generation highly visual experiences with distinct interactions.

Planning for heavy traffic surges

Pharrell and Apple’s marketing muscle would power the promotion of the iBook, which meant we had to be prepared for extremely heavy traffic on Using WP Engine’s digital experience platforms, we built a site that can scale seamlessly as demand increases and decreases and is resilient enough to withstand the loss of one or more compute resources.

Developing multi-platform file delivery solutions

To deliver the ideal hands-on learning experience Tuniversity imagined, students following along in the iBook need to access large files from GarageBand that accompany the lessons. Our development leads set up an external Amazon Web Services server so that when a user submits a request, we ping the AWS server, validate a user’s iBook purchase and then deliver the GarageBand files directly to the user’s device.


File Management


Big challenges make us, ahem, happy

Problem-solving throughout the Tuniversity project gave us an incredible chance to collaborate with collaboration extraordinaire Pharrell Williams and his team. It also gave us many new experiences—which we absolutely thrive on. We executed an iBook and companion site that will grow and scale with our friends at Tuniversity and help inspire a song in kids around the world.

We love being on the cutting edge. From Apple iBooks and custom JavaScript animations to pushing the limits of our code using React.js and countless API integrations, we’re always curious about what’s around the corner and how we can leverage it to benefit our clients.

  • Pages of bespoke design
  • Rating in the Apple Book Store
  • Pharrell Williams
Putting children in creative environments that challenge their minds is the quickest way to self-discovery.
pw Pharrell Williams

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