The Book of Everyone: customisation isn’t simply slapping a name on a mug

26 April 2017
Reading Time
4 minute read

The Book of Everyone is a company that allows you to entirely customise a book for a loved one. Its technology allows you to create unique and meaningful books, combining specific data and information about your subject with beautiful imagery from a wide list of designers and illustrators. Here, writer Janel Torkington takes us through the ideas, technology and meaning of The Book of Everyone.

I remember when I was a little kid, none of the custom keychains ever had my sorta-weird name on them, and feeling unfairly left out. Then getting a bit older and thinking my name was so much cooler for not being on a mass-produced keychain.

A truly personal gift has to be something that you’ve put a little bit of your heart into, which most often means making it by hand. For those of us who still have trouble holding scissors correctly, this can be challenging to the point just buying an Amazon gift card instead.

So it’s a bit of an odd thing to purchase something personalised, especially as a gift for someone else. It might say their name on it or sport their gemstone, but in the end everyone knows that it came from a mile-high stack of identical twins. Just slapping someone’s name on a mug isn’t enough to make someone feel cherished.

Anything available pre-made in a shop is going to be limited in this way. And really, anything that isn’t open to significant input from the giver is an equally “closed” gift. It’s impossible for any third-party to make anything truly personalised to someone they don’t know, so personalisation businesses try and push people into one of several categories in order to make us fit into ready-made products (“for the sports fan,” “for the movie lover,” etc).

But we think people are much more complex than that. We try to bridge the gap between resigning yourself to just picking up a generic gift at the store and the sheer intimidation of the blank page. We have to make something that’s compelling “out of the box,” but also open enough so that people who want to spend significant time feel they can make it theirs from cover to cover.

To accomplish that, there are pages that use the person’s date of birth to calculate biological information about them, like how many years of their life they’ve spent dreaming. There are pages of cultural goodies, both historical and nostalgic, from the day they were born. That makes the book immediately evocative of the world a particular person was born into.

One of the wonderful things about creativity is that, no matter how sharp the machines get, there’s always going to be a human that’s better at it. I recently heard about LifeBooks, where a couple guys come interview you for 100+ hours, then ghostwrite an autobiography for you. It’s quite cool, and not cheap.

We’re not that. We use massive databases and some slick tech to quickly generate an evocative, nostalgic look into the world a person was born into. Then we open it up to the irreplaceable human touch: your choices, messages, memories, and photos.

You can think of the books like vehicles for people’s emotions. They’re high-powered from the start, but it’s what you put into them yourself that makes them really special.

Good design fuelled by cutting-edge tech should be something that anyone can play with to make it their own. Because tech isn’t something futuristic that only weirdos in white lab coats use. Likewise, design isn’t something that only esoteric artsy types in wireframe glasses bother with.

We want everyone to be able to make something beautiful and meaningful for the people they love. That means making it affordable for many people, yet nice enough to be a coffee table keepsake for years to come. It has to be easy enough for your mom to use, yet original enough for you to talk to your friends about.

A really common thing that people tell us is that “it made me look great – no one knows that you guys did all the work, really!” That’s the ticket.

The three founders have years of experience working in ad agencies, so they know full well what clients can be like (“Make the logo bigger!” – “Put the text on the left” – “Can it be a little more… you know… viral ?”). So they took exactly the opposite approach.

They worked with artists and designers whose work they already loved (here’s just a few names: Vladimir Stankovic, Bruno Veloso, Jag Nagra, Ian Stevenson, Supermundane, Kyle Platts, Jean Jullien, Sac Magique, Nous Vous, Karen Klink, Damien Poulain, Jimmy Turrell, Matt Abiss). And they gave them the most minimal of briefs: “We love what you do. Do what you do.”

Customisation presents particular design challenges. For example, it means that people can enter names ranging from “Jo” to “Christopher,” so the layouts have to be flexible enough to work with that. On pages that calculate numbers (like the years you’ve spent dreaming or the litres of tears of joy you’ve cried), illustrated lettering has to jive with computer-generated fonts.

Then there are some pages where customisation entirely drives the design. We worked with data designer Tiffany Farrant-Gonzalez on my favourite page, which combines your name, birthdate, and gender to generate a totally unique symbol just for you.

It’s a process where design has to work hand-in-hand with tech to stretch what’s possible into what’s beautiful.

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