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NY Times Illustrator Creates Interactive iPad App For Kids

Christoph Niemann, creator of Abstract Sunday, has developed a responsive picture book.

Daniela Walker
Daniela Walker on March 5, 2013. @emptyofpocket

What is a book without words? When Christoph Niemann is the creator, it is whimsy, fun and pure entertainment. Niemann, the renowned illustrator known for his New York Times Magazine blog Abstract Sunday, has released an app for iOS and Android, Petting Zoo, which he calls an interactive picture book: there are no words because words aren’t necessary.

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Petting Zoo is a collection of 21 animals that when tapped, swiped or touched, react in some way or another. Pull an alligator’s teeth and they turn into guitar strings, of course. Push the bunny and it will stretch. It is an interactive, tactile app whose play is intuitive, simple and engaging. For children, especially to see how their touch can transform something, is a certain kind of magic, and this is what Niemann was hoping to capture. He told Co.Design:

I wanted to create the digital equivalent of one of my favorite moments with the kids: When you sit down with a child, and draw very simple things with a pencil on a blank sheet of paper. You draw a dog or a cat or a cow, and first they are just delighted to see simple black lines turn into a recognizable shape. Then you start adding silly stuff (a hat, a monkey riding on the back of the cow, etc.) and all of a sudden you can create this wonderful hybrid of still image and animation.

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While Niemann’s illustrations have been on the covers of The New Yorker and TIME, he was searching for a different way to stretch himself creatively. He even taught himself code, although most of the programming was done by friend and developer Jon Huang. Of this new medium Niemann says:

It’s such a new and exciting field, and really, for once in my life I feel there’s a field that’s in a way, wide open. There’s a ton of apps, a ton of really great stuff out there, but I can sit down there with a developer and we can create something.

He has managed to create something that will spark kids’ imagination while entertaining adults as well, with nary a word in sight.

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Christoph Niemann // Petting Zoo

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