Petting Zoo: Christoph Niemann’s Amazing First iPad Book

“My goal was to make an interactive version of the napkin doodles I draw to keep the kids calm while waiting for food at the local pizzeria,” says the Abstract Sunday illustrator.

Christoph Niemann has spent the past five years charming the world with his hand-drawn illustrations, hundreds of which have been published on his New York Times blog (not to mention seven books). This week, Niemann stepped into new territory, unveiling his first iPad app in the form of a picture book called Petting Zoo.


“When I started the project, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do: a picture book? A puzzle? A game?” Niemann told me. “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.”

Petting Zoo fits that description perfectly: Open the $1.99 book, and you’re greeted not with words or directions but with a volley of shimmying charcoal lines that move to form noisy animals, each of which can be manipulated with a few finger swipes. An alligator’s teeth become guitar strings, an octopus’s arms serve as a mandolin. It’s adorable, goofy, and immensely entertaining.

The idea, according to Niemann, was to design a book so intuitive, the user doesn’t need words. “I wanted to avoid any sensation of ‘you are doing things wrong,’” he says. “I couldn’t create a pop-up screen that would say, ‘Dear user, try swiping horizontally to the left. Swiping diagonally however, will not produce any reaction.’” Instead, the iPad’s vocabulary of swipes, taps, and pinches draw readers in, giving them what he calls “a real tactile sensation of interacting with the action.” Though Niemmann has drawn on the computer for years, creating Petting Zoo required some skill acquisition. He even learned to code, though most of the app was built by friend and developer Jon Huang.

Bells and whistles aside, it all came back to that feeling of drawing to entertain his kids. “There are a lot of great apps out there, but most of them have this hyper-rendered digital look,” Niemann adds. “My goal was an animated, surprising, interactive version of the napkin doodles I draw to keep the kids calm while waiting for food at the local pizzeria.”

Check out Petting Zoo on iTunes.

[H/t Swiss Miss]

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.