Art and technology can fuse in ridiculously beautiful ways. And one company, IF Interactive, is striving to bring that concept to one of the most basic forms of entertainment there is--coloring. The company is creating coloring books for both kids and adults that are designed to work with virtual reality smartphone apps.

How it all works

Once you've purchased your coloring book kit, use any standard art media--for example, crayons, colored pencils or markers--to color the coloring book however you want. Download the app that corresponds to your specific book and then register the book through the app. From there, use your smartphone camera to take pictures of the coloring book pages. The app will insert your creations into a virtual reality story and games. The kit includes goggles (similar to Google Cardboard), but you still can play the games and go through the story without them if you want. You can opt for temporary tattoos and a T-shirt with the kit, too.

What makes this so incredibly cool

Technologies surround today's kids, whether it's a basic coffee maker, a smart board at school or voice-controlled blinds in their bedroom. Children need to understand how these technologies work and feel comfortable interacting with them. At the same time, researchers know that too much screen exposure negatively influences brain development. Experts also know that dopamine release and subsequent feelings of happiness and pleasure come in anticipation of, rather than in response to, the receipt of reward.

With this in mind, IF Interactive's coloring books don't immediately allow kids to hop on a screen. There's a job to do first. Coloring the pages, in theory, genuinely might make kids happier because their brains release dopamine in anticipation of playing with the story, games and goggles. And while kids get the chance to fiddle with virtual reality, the fact the experience looks way better in color is a motivator for them to take the time off screen to complete the pages. Finishing that task is a time-tested way for them to improve hand-eye coordination, fine motor control and even general sensory processing. And all this is before you factor in the benefits of feeling empowered to be creative with their art media and color choices.

But let's acknowledge you as an adult for a moment. If you're like most workers, you probably have a decent amount of stress to deal with--roughly 3 out of 4 people (77 percent) say they regularly experience physical symptoms from stress, with 76 percent saying that money and work is the biggest stressor. And while you always have the option to meditate, exercise, listen to your favorite tunes or take a bubble bath, adult coloring books are soaring in popularity for their ability to help people calm down and relax. In fact, in 2016, 5 out of the top 10 bestsellers on Amazon were adult coloring books.

From another perspective, as responsibilities increase, parents are finding it harder and harder to spend quality time with their kids. Nearly a third of parents (31 percent) of parents say they always feel rushed, and a quarter of parents admit to spending just 34 minutes a day with their kids because of the stress of modern life.

With these elements in mind, the coloring books from IF Interactive offer a simple platform for even adults to recharge. They can be a bridge to improved relationships, as parents and kids can work on the pages together before picking up the goggles.

My honest review

IF Interactive sent me two of their kits to try out. So after a test run, here's what I noted.

Where there's room for improvement

  • There's little provided in terms of troubleshooting help or game play instruction. I found myself wondering how to move forward or take action a few times. (That said, when I set the goggles down, my son, who is 8 years old, picked them up and figured out what to do in about three seconds. So, yeah. We'll just leave that one right there.)
  • Getting the app to recognize your pictures can be tricky. Putting the coloring book in a position where there's no glare seems to eliminate the rejection of shots.
  • The definition within the app could be clearer through the goggles, but for a product kids are going to mess with, it's not a deal breaker.

What's already fabulous

  • The coloring books are of excellent quality with relatively durable pages.
  • The pictures are the perfect level of complexity for the intended age groups.
  • I actually can tolerate the music from the app. As a former double music major, that says something, and it means a lot if a parent is going to hear it over and over.

IF Interactive is still very much in the development stages with these books, distributing only to testers. You can learn more through their Kickstarter campaign, which goes through November 17, 2017. But the concept of approaching coloring through a literal new lens has real merit from several scientific perspectives. It's a great example that you don't always have to create something from scratch to make a big difference. You just have to look at something old in a fresh way.