Nosy Crow: Lessons Learned From Children’s Book Apps

Nosy Crow has some of the best book apps on the Apple App Store today and they have continued to improve upon their past successes. They have successfully translated some of their picture books into apps. They have also published a line of books exclusively for the iPad that won a multitude of awards for their interactivity and innovative apps. Their Little Red Riding Hood by Nosy Crow app alone has won App Store’s Best Apps of 2013, Parents’ Choice Gold Award, Children’s Technology Review Editor’s Choice Award, and was on The Observer’s 50 Best Apps of 2013 list. But what can other publishers, even non-children’s publishers, learn from this company’s success with book apps? Electronic books are a new and evolving form of reading. Their final form is still unknown. Book apps offer a freedom for creativity and innovation that many of the other electronic book platforms do not allow. Apps allow for room to explore the content with added features to enhance the reading while remaining in a format that is widely available to and trusted by buyers. All publishers can learn from book app creators like Nosy Crow to innovate and test the boundaries of digital books.

1. Every book app is unique.

The distinguishing feature between ebooks and book apps is the customizable nature and interactivity that book apps are capable of. Book apps do not follow a set pattern on what they should look like. Book apps are created one at a time specifically for the book which allows the app creator to improve and incorporate previous models. The app creator can analyze the individual story’s assets in order to create an app that functions well with the story. A story’s assets include anything the app creator can expand on or engage the reader with at a specific moment in time during the app.

Some children’s book publisher’s who create book apps have a similar approach for each app they create. This process is understandable as this cuts down on cost and time. But most publishers who create book apps take advantage of the opportunity of building something on such a unrestricted platform. Any addition can add a whole new way to interact with the content. Nosy Crow’s Bizzy Bear series has two app installments with the second feature updated with word-tracking, an increasingly essential element for young readers.

Apps could be used for many different genres because of the versatility of apps, and some have started to appear on the App store. Anatomy books, picture-heavy books, poetry, and many types of adult learning books are available. And each book is completely new from the previous; the constructs of the iPad allow users to easily interact with each new book without much of a learning curse. There are however some books that do not work with apps and are simply better as ebooks. These include text-only books with no need for interactive elements.

2. Reader engagement through interactivity.

Book apps have the ability to grab attention because of their interactivity. Nosy Crow has ensured that each of their apps facilitates the capacities of iOS technology in order to create an interactive experience. Book apps have the ability to be multi-sensory because of the touch screen, microphone, and speakers. The user can interact with the content in a number of ways including tapping, swiping, pinching, speaking, zooming, blowing, watching and listening. This is a huge motivation for reluctant readers to engage with a story.

Nosy Crow’s recent release Jack and the Beanstalk by Nosy Crow was created specifically for this purpose: “We made it with younger boy readers in mind, maybe who are reluctant to read too much on the page, but who are comfortable with on-screen gaming experiences.” (Dredge) By making a book with video game-like qualities, these reluctant readers will be more comfortable around the text. The creators of the app were conscious of their audience and wanted to encourage positive associations: “It’s an app that rewards your success with more story, which feels like a really positive thing to do, in terms of encouraging reading for pleasure.” (Dredge) Creating a more enjoyable, relaxed reading atmosphere is applicable not just for children but would also be successful for learning new languages, struggling readers, or readers with little time to devote to a full-length novel.

3. Constantly considering user experiences.

The most important thing publishers can learn from Nosy Crow is to design with the user’s experience in mind. Treating each book individually and engaging the audience are parts of user experiences, but user experience is more importantly the way of thinking about a project with the distinct notion of the user’s actions in mind. When we pay attention to creating content that is accessible, unique, and engaging to a user at every possible moment we are UX designers. “Our attitude changes from ‘product-as-object’ towards the notion of ‘product-as-event’” (Armen, 2014) Each moment in a book app has the possibility for multiple moments of interaction which can lead to more moments which present themselves as games, new story lines, challenges, or other interactions.

Nosy Crow has a diverse staff of half publishers and half developers who create their apps. It is this relationship, between books and technology, that encourages the creators to understand how the user will use the product. Traditional ideas of what the reader needs combine with technological ideas of what a user needs to create a well-developed idea of what experiences the book app will create.

Book apps have the ability to retain textual qualities while also incorporating new ideas about technology in elements like game-like assets and learning aids. Knowing what users will need, how they will react to the content and why they are reacting in specific ways will help publishers determine where the future of digital books lies. User experience is crucial to app design; in order to understand how other people will traverse your app, you must plan, test, adapt, test again multiple times. It is a heavy process that requires creators to constantly ask themselves: “How can I create the best experience for our users?” (Ardizzone) To succeed on any digital platform, publishers need to create positive experiences for their users on those platforms.




Ardizzone, Marc. “What is User Experience (U) and why should I care?” Content Forward, Publishing Technology. February 4, 2014. Article

Armen, Haig. “Publishing in the Post-Digital Age.” Haig Armen. March 5, 2014. Lecture.

Dredge, Stuart. “Nosy Crow talk fairytales, reluctant readers and game-like apps for kids.” The Guardian. January 30, 2014. Article.

Nosy Crow Reinvents Digital Picture Books.” Nosy Crow. March 4, 2011. Press Release.

Robertson, Karen. “Five Myths About Book Apps” Digital Book World. March 14, 2014. Article.