The creator behind otter on the TraceTogether check-in page wanted him to dance

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SINGAPORE – Late last year, the ubiquitous TraceTogether app saw an addition that brought a smile to many people’s faces.

When checking in to a location, a smiling otter appears, quietly swimming through a teal-colored check-in pass on screen.

The moving animal brought a much-needed levity to what some found to be a grim process. One user bragged about the “kawaiification of TraceTogether”, a reference to kawaii, or the culture of kindness in Japan.

Behind the page’s success is Government Technology Agency (GovTech) designer Joycelyn Chua, 30, who told the Straits Times last week that she originally intended the animal to dance on the page.

“The cartoonist I was illustrating the animation for said it was a bit difficult (to make her dance),” she said. “He then suggested having him move horizontally with his legs kicking like he was swimming.

“I was like, ‘You’re right, otters swim, they don’t dance.'”

Ms. Chua is one of the leaders of the TraceTogether team, made up of around 20 people. They developed the new registration page and had it in place on the app within three weeks of the Ministry of Health easing dining restrictions last November.

She has been with GovTech for five years and previously worked for the Department of Manpower, having studied psychology and supply chain management at school.

Otter is his brainchild, beating out Merlion because it has the letters “tt” in its name, which TraceTogether is often abbreviated to.

Because restaurants need to quickly check their customers’ vaccination status, the team decided the app needed a new feature. People were showing their vaccination certificates to restaurant staff before switching to the check-in page, a small inconvenience that has multiplied with millions of people using the app.

“We know people were fumbling, so we wanted to combine it to show it on one screen. The vaccination certificate was also quite small, so staff had to look into it. We decided our solution had to be something that could be glimpse from afar,” she said.

For those who are not vaccinated, the page will be white instead of teal. When asked why it wasn’t red – a more common color for access denied – Ms Chua said the team didn’t want those who weren’t vaccinated to feel discriminated against.

“There were color blindness considerations, but the main reason is that we don’t want to discriminate. They have their own personal reasons for not taking the vaccine,” she explained.

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