February 27, 2013

Niemann’s doodles come to life in new app for kids


Christoph Niemann, who has a great website and whose blog-turned-New-York-Times-column-turned-book Abstract City includes that napkin art about coffee you probably sent to someone a few years ago, has created an interactive app called Petting Zoo. It bridges the world between children’s books and the iPhone games people hand to their kids when they’re restless on the subway.

As he explains,

The only thing I knew was that 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.”

There are no written instructions between the 21 illustrations. Niemann’s aim was to make the interactions as intuitive as possible (obviously, much of his market will be too young to read). An extension of his napkin doodles, Niemann’s menagerie includes a porcupine that needs spines, an alligator whose teeth can be played like a guitar, and an octopus with glasses whose moving arms sound like a mandolin. Niemann learned to code for the project, though most of the app was built by developer Jon Huang.

I doubt you’ll see a break-dancing dog in our Hybrid books anytime soon, but it’s a pleasure to see playful ideas for digital media executed so well.


Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.