CASE STUDY: Design & build | Development

236% increase in website users for this children's favourite

Designing and building the new online presence and brand for Dear Zoo & Friends.


Rod Campbell is a trusted name in early learning and his books are loved by parents, teachers and children all over the world.

Dear Zoo is his most popular title with more than 5 million copies sold since publication. It was created in 1982 and has become firmly established as a classic children's picture book. The compelling story of a child who writes to the zoo to send them a pet has been enjoyed by millions of young children.

Having worked with Pan Macmillan on a number of digital projects including The Gruffalo, we were excited to have the opportunity to design and build the new online presence for Dear Zoo & Friends, one of their most successful and long-running children’s books.

Pan Macmillan


The main objective was to create a website that better engaged with the target audience (parents and teachers) and provide a site that could be used by very young children, with their parents or teachers. Distinction recognised from the start that the Games area of the site was a key opportunity to engage with children and do so in an educational and engaging manner.

Key objectives for this project were:

  • Create a platform that is frequently revisited and provides useful content for parents, resources for teachers and fun activities for children
  • Establish the Dear Zoo & Friends brand online
  • Increase PR opportunities online and offline
  • Target the pre-school market online using SEO and keyword research

What we did

Discovery and research

We started this project by hosting a discovery workshop to explore the creative and technical specifications for the new website.

Macmillan’s team worked with research agency Mumpanel, listening and responding to the thoughts and requests of parents. The research revealed the need for free activities and resources, both educational and fun.

Working closely with both the author and the amazing team at Macmillan, we agreed on building a website that focused on two core audiences: parents and children. A key consideration throughout would be how we could create a cohesive website that fits the requirements of both audiences.

Interactive games

In response to this, the website launched with two games that develop children's maths, memory and language skills, with more games due to launch, free downloadable activity sheets, book videos, an area of EYFS teacher resources and a books section that parents can browse by the age and stage of their child and find reviews and ratings from other parents.
Distinction developed two games for the initial launch of the site:

  • Matching Pairs – this is a traditional ‘snap’ style card game that helps children’s memory skills and rewards the player with engaging animation and sound effects.
  • Noisy Farm – this game plays the sound of a farm animal and then prompts the player click or tap on the corresponding animal.

To cater for different ages, both games have multiple difficulty levels to allow the player to challenge themselves further.

Recognisable design and UX

The design is heavily influenced by the existing brand, which is hugely recognisable and trusted by parents and teachers.
The key to the success of the project was ensuring a great user experience for all users, regardless of their device. Given the target audience, we anticipated a significant percentage of users would access the site on a mobile device, especially tablets. To allow seamless use, we created a fully responsive site, that would look great on any device.

The Results

The result is an easy-to-navigate and brand-focused website, navigated by age and stage. With regular updates on what to read next as well as new resources for teachers, parents and children, it turns into a great platform for everyone. .

The feedback so far has been incredible! The new platform has been extremely well-received by visitors, highlighted by the following statistics:

  • In the first month since launch there was a 308.77% increase page views
  • 236.48% increase of users
  • 378.91% increase in traffic from mobile users

We’re delighted with the end result. By working so closely with Rod and the great team at Macmillan we’ve been able to effectively reflect the distinct look and feel of these classic children’s books.

What do Pan Macmillan say?

James Luscombe Web Operations Director

"Thanks to our work with Distinction we created a site that is used frequently by parents and teachers with children so that they can learn and play together. The new site has been very well-received, we’ve had great feedback and it perfectly reflects the original story created by Rod Campbell in 1982."  

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