Dick King-Smith

January, 2015

In 2014, Multiple States was commissioned by the author’s estate to design and build the official website for much-loved British children’s writer, Dick King-Smith.

Kevin Beck, who led the design, talks with Will McLean about working with a young target audience and the joys of traditional illustration.


Closeup of illustration by Layn Marlow

What was the brief for this site?

The brief was for us to create a website that would serve as the definitive place on the web for all things related to Dick King-Smith. The Dick King-Smith estate wanted to provide rich content for fans of all ages that related not just to Dick King-Smith’s stories, but to his life as well. They wanted the site to be an enjoyable experience for younger readers, so they had an idea for a quiz that could be played to test children's knowledge on the author.

Website screengrab

With the client being close family of the site’s subject, it must have been a very personal project. How did this affect the process?

It was a dream to work with the Dick King-Smith Estate. The client having a very personal relationship to the product did mean decisions took longer, but we knew when we got an answer it was well considered. The fact that they really cared about how the website turned out made it a real joy to work with them, from showing wireframes and content prototypes to designs and build previews. By the time the site launched, we were all very happy and familiar with it.

First draft of children's book

The key audience for this website included children and young people. How did this affect your approach?

The lower age audience fell into two groups: children discovering more about an author they already loved, and children discovering a new author for the first time. This made us very conscious of how we represented the author and his work.

A big part of the design was to focus on making the site very visual, but clear and accessible for children aged five years and older. We achieved this by placing beautiful illustrations carefully, without over-crowding the screen with too many elements competing for space and attention.

Photograph of Dick King-Smith

Adults are also a part of the audience, many of whom read Dick King-Smith’s books as children. How did you accommodate them in the design?

We wanted this adult audience to be reminded of the books they used to read when visiting the site. We felt the site should reflect the physical books as much as possible. Our research and design took King-Smith’s back catalogue as our inspiration and starting point. We went for big colourful illustrations on blocks of colour at the top of each page, like a book cover, with line illustrations throughout as you scroll down the page – much like reading one of his books.

Children's books by Dick King-Smith

What did you learn from working with a children's book illustrator on a digital project?

We chose Layn Marlow to do the illustrations because she has the most beautiful style and really knew the content, but we were uncertain about how pairing a predominantly print-based illustrator with a digital project might work. As it turned out, many of the processes involved in producing an illustrated book are similar to how we commission illustrations for a website.

It was wonderful to see these illustrations come in and they worked so nicely with the site concept. Sometimes in this industry you get influenced heavily by always trying to reflect the current trends. It was wonderful to work with someone who has been refining a set of techniques quietly and methodically for many years.

Preview pencil illustration by Layn Marlow

What is your favourite part of the site?

I like how our designs reference the books so completely. Each hero illustration works on the page much like a book cover. The black and white line illustrations combined with the serif font reflect the nature of Dick King-Smith’s life work very successfully. The animations within some of those illustrations also really help to bring the pages to life. I was very proud of those aspects.

Children's illustration by Layn Marlow