Oct 12, 2013

Impromptu Swag Review: Zipper Magazine

From time to time, I review the physical objects from various transmedia projects. If you have a project and you want to send me something for review, drop it in the mail.

Usually, I review things I get in the mail from ARGS and the like. This edition of swag review is something a little different – something that just randomly fell on my desk yesterday morning.


This is Zipper magazine. It’s a promo mag for Levi’s Orange Tab, created by their dedicated agency Levi’s XX, and it’s being handed out at music festivals. That’s right, today I’m reviewing a piece of event swag. A print project, no less.  More shocking still, it’s a piece of branded content.  The scandal!

Before we open this beauty, let me tell you the remarkable story of how I ended up with this copy of Zipper.  My parents found Zipper on a swag table at the Austin City Limits music festival.  It was not handed to them by a street team member; it was on the table where promo items go to die.  My mom picked it up, looked inside, and decided to keep the magazine.  It was so funny and interesting that she brought it home with her.  And then, about a week later, she picked it up again and started reading it aloud to me.

This is the trajectory that most brands hope their event swag follows – but most of the time their stuff just gets thrown out, or tossed in a swag bag and forgotten about.  Which is to say that Zipper is a good piece of tangible.  Really good.


The cover of Zipper is no put on or gimmick.  Inside is a tone-perfect 60-page Rolling Stone-style rock magazine set in Topanga Canyon, 1972, complete with album reviews, letters to the editor, classifieds, local news, profiles of area DJs, horoscopes, and 16-page feature following a fictional band called Witches Hat on tour in Amsterdam.



Yes, that is a photograph of a man playing a flute to some tulips.  Opposite, copy proclaims, “The flute in question is now hung in the Cincinnati Museum of Rock Curiosities, next to Eric Clapton’s appendix.”

The photography in this mag has a very distinct voice, tongue and cheek homage to the era.  The members of Witches’ Hat meander through a flower-filled wood, relax drinking in a booth at a blues bar, and take a piss on the side of their tour RV. A fictional groupie holds a bright orange telephone to her ear as she pauses in painting her nails, a look of excitement on her face.  A retired frontman sits in a field carving wooden mushrooms.  Oh yes.


Caption from the mag: “Bryan plans to carpet Mirkwood Paddock with more than 3,000 hand-carved mushrooms by the year 1980.”

The writing is similarly delightful, managing to capture the joy of reading genuine old magazines.  (I’ll admit, at first glance I thought Zipper was a mag out of my mom’s vintage collection.)  The tone is earnest and passionate while being genuinely funny, with little details added in for realism.  The result is a certain flavor of dry humor that reminds me a lot of Welcome to Night Vale, only set in the hip 70s microcosm of Topanga Canyon instead of a vortex of supernatural madness.

“I’ve always been a big fan of Witches Hat, ever since they were still Dirty Wurds in the late 60’s,” the feature begins. “I was still a teenager when Mind Potato was released, and it completely rewrote my musical DNA. Many inner parts of my mind are still potato shaped even now.”

“Every lyric from the album is tattooed on Bryan’s left thigh,” reads one highlighted quote. “We know a yogi who also does micro-calligraphy.”

One classified reads, “SIGNED SOCCER BALL. Unsure of name, could be Pele, could be Pete. Take a chance! Box 178”

And then there’s the local news.


There are 60 pages of Zipper, and almost every paragraph is like this.

At this point, my love for Zipper is pretty much unabashed.  It has a vivid little world, interesting characters, gorgeous visuals and a streak of weirdness laced throughout.  And did I mention all the little details?  The faux black and white and color flats.  The font and layout choices.  The fake filler ads for the Pinballers Society and the Zappa sandwich grill (“Please send me your free guide to toasting sandwiches, including over 50 delicious new Swiss Cheese recipes.”)  The appropriately-paged faux spot color.  FAUX SPOT COLOR. ASHSDBSHVHG!

But, readers, we’re about to venture into choppy waters – for you see, Zipper is branded content. With the rare exception, branded content is not that great.  The branding and the content tend to gloop into each other, and you end up with a sticky, unfocused, disingenuous mess.  I’m happy to say that Zipper is one of those rare exceptions. In the end, I like the magazine more because of its brand tie ins, not less. Will wonders never cease?

All of the real adverts in Zipper are for Levi’s (with three exceptions – period ads for Fender, Jack Daniels and Schlitz) – and oh, these ads.  Gorgeous.  Some of the pieces are played straight…



….some are period tone pieces…



….and some are just plain weird.




The spots are done in such a variety of styles that it takes you a while to even notice as you jump over the ads, flipping through to the next piece of content.  Of course, it should have been obvious since the mag is called Zipper.  And every single person in it is wearing jeans. And there are URLS pointing to the Levi’s website sparsely scattered throughout.  And whole zine has an orange color scheme to go with the Orange Tab branding.  But those things occur to you later, after you’ve read a good bit of it.

(There’s also an ad for a free music festival put on by Levi’s which by all accounts amounted to a 1970’s themed Renaissance Fair.)

All of this works because there’s a pretty solid wall between the brand and the content.  Levi’s is essentially playing along with the story rather than inserting itself, ham fisted, into the fictional world it’s created.  They come across as a generous and entertaining host, rather than a sponsor in need of impressions.

That meant taking some risks for the sake of elegance and subtlety.  For example, “Flared Jeans Can Save Your Life” – the story of a hiker saved from a fall by a snagging flare cuff – doesn’t mention a brand name at all.  You won’t see the words “jeans” “denim” or “Levi’s” anywhere on the cover, or any reference to the brand in the magazine copy.  The music festival serves as the in-world call to action, and every URL is fenced off in ad space. In a weird reversal, this fake branded magazine seems to have more journalistic integrity than many real world news outlets.

All in all, this is one of the best pieces of tangible I’ve seen this year.  It’s playful, elegant, funny, and evocative.  I’m keeping this one on my bookshelf – if my mom doesn’t steal it first.  If you want to read it in digital form (which isn’t nearly as lovely as flipping randomly through the physical version), you can find it on the Orange Tab website.

Have some swag you’d like to see me opine on?  Go right ahead and send it to me.

Nov 27, 2012

The Personal Cameo Sitting – Prepare to be Transformed

The $500 reward in our Kickstarter campaign, the personal cameo sitting, is an amazing reward, and I’m really surprised that no one has yet taken me up on it.  The reason for this is that I haven’t really talked about it very much, and as we go into 25 hours left of funding, I want to correct that.

The first and most banal thing you will be getting in the personal cameo sitting is a custom cameo – fully custom. It will be as unique to you as the 7 cameos in Laser Lace Letters are to each of those characters. In these cameos, the patrons are transformed into creatures of myth and power, their existence distilled into a moment of deeper meaning.

The personal cameo sitting is more than just a custom cameo. It’s a chance to become the star of a Laser Lace Letters story. Your Laser Lace story will trace the origins of that meaning.  For, just as each of these stories answers the question, ”where did these disappeared people go?”, they also tell us just how they came to appear on their cameos as unicorns, rabbits, foxes, and robots.

You and I will be working together, to produce a brand new story, and to offer that new story to your fellow patrons if you so choose.  It’s also the rare chance to bring my entire unusual set of skills – and the new laser cutter I will have command of – at your disposal.  Unlike the other stories in Laser Lace, yours will run the gamut of my storytelling and propmaking capabilities.  Does your character collect ancient Egyptian artifacts? You can expect to find one in your story. Perhaps she carries a pocket watch that was given to her by a relative now long gone. That pocket watch will be coming to you in the mail.

Every one of these stories comes down to a moment of truth, where a secret is revealed – your character’s true self. What will it say? More importantly, what will it be?

Nov 18, 2012

UNLOCKED! Limited Edition Mechanical Companions

The Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s companions were my first steampunk storytelling project , created in 2009.  I designed and sculpted a little clockwork robot, asleep in his holding fob, and called it the Ladies’ Mechanical Companion.

The original sculpt, made from clay and metal.

To go along with it, I wrote a short user’s manual, with copy like this:

2. Operation

Your unit will now take orders.  When giving orders, you should address your unit by its chosen name and follow immediately with a word of command.  For example, “Aloysius, fetch me a some ink” or “Jeeves, throttle that cacophonous feline.”

BE ADVISED! LaMech has a limited memory capacity, and can only hold up to twelve months of experiences in its standard memory tube.  After its memory tube has been filled, LaMech may begin to exhibit signs of automaton dementia.  This includes erratic and even dangerous behavior.  

Signs of automaton dementia include: spontaneous demounting, kleptomania, suicidal behavior, homicidal behavior, spontaneous hiding in luggage or undergarments, spontaneous lockpicking, spontaneous shearing of friends or strangers, industrial sabotage, and stuttering.

The manual set up an imagined relationship between the little robot and you as its owner, and gave you ideas of how to incorporate it into whatever persona you might want to step into when you step into a steampunk costume.  In every box, there is also a resin key that, according to the manual, is your last defense against the dangers of automaton dementia.

As Laser Lace Letters developed, two stories emerged that center around these little guys, and what happens to them when they go insane.

So, as our next unlockable in the Laser Lace Kickstarter, I’m going to make a small batch of very limited edition Mechanical Companions. Like the ones offered at HighLondonMechanical.com, they either come in the form of a necklace or on a fob watch chain.  Like the regular ones, they also come in a special box lined with Fox’s own art.
However, a few things are going to be different on these.
  • They will be made using “cold cast” brass resin, as opposed to the painted resin used on the originals.  This stuff is shiny, scuff-proof, and has a pleasant weight to it.
  • They will have red eyes instead of the classic bottle-glass green, because in our mythos, the robots’ eyes change color throughout their lifetimes, and the final stage, in which they go crazy and start stabbing people, is the red eye phase.  And both of the Laser Lace stories about them deal with this state in one way or another.
  • They will be accompanied with TWO different tangible Laser Lace stories about the tiny robots.  (No cameos, but you will get a mini cameo of your choice.)

Each of these will be numbered and the manual will be signed, and we’ll be offering them ONLY during the Kickstarter campaign.  We unlock them as soon as we hit $10,000.  Go up there and pledge today.

Nov 10, 2012

A skeptic’s approach to storytelling

A few years ago, I wrote a guest blog for Deus Ex Machinatio about how quacks are great storytellers.  They create a parallel world – a world of magic and boundless opportunity – and put you, the audience, at its center.  For a while, as you listen to a charlatan’s sales pitch, a world of wonders orbits around you.

All of the glory and hope of the quack’s storyworld is invested in the central totem –  the product.  Hope is stoppered up inside the product like a genie in a bottle (and the fact that we can neither see this genie, nor its effects, is just more proof that it exists!)  It doesn’t matter if the product is a literal bottle, a book, a bracelet, or a DVD.  The product soaks up the story; that’s what you’re really buying when you buy one of these things – a fantastic, if dubious, story where you are the hero.

The best artifacts of a charlatan’s storytelling also reflect the story back to you, and that was the jumping off point for my skeptical approach to storytelling.  On the surface of my stories, you can see my skepticism coming out as mimicry and mockery.  I’ve invented both fake magic and fake quackery, but a skeptical approach can run so much deeper in the way that you approach a story.  Laser Lace Letters isn’t a story about quackery per se (although, there’s some quackery in it), but it’s every bit as connected to the way I navigate the world as a skeptic.

I spend a lot of time thinking about evidence – examining things scientifically, interpreting evidence to come to an understanding of what it says about the world, or marveling at how sparse it is.  When you’ve listened to enough conspiracy theories and other dubious claims, you know how to write a story that leans heavily on a few key pieces of evidence, and how those key pieces should look if you want to tell a convincing story – by turns stark and beautiful, clinically official and viscerally immediate.

The challenge is in turning your reader into the investigator, letting them build their own pinboards full of facts and connections.

Ultimately, that’s what being an artifact creator is – giving someone the pieces with which to build a vision of your world.

And yet, being a writer, I know that the telling of a good story isn’t about hard facts – it’s about cadence and tone, synchronicity, happenstance, coincidental themes that seem to breathe life into the universe and give it a mind of its own.  The universes I build out of fake evidence are lucky enough to have an invisible, omniscient hand that crafts them into places full of meaning.

I’m also fudging the investigative process a little by bringing meaning and pathos to the surface for anyone to discover.  In the real world it takes other kinds of storytellers* – reporters, biographers, documentarians – to make the connections between disparate elements, process them, and turn them into a more straightforward type of story.  In this ginned up little microcosm I’m creating, the evidence speaks for itself – something difficult to achieve in the real world.

Explore some of my evidentiary fiction for yourself – back Laser Lace Letters on Kickstarter.

*Sometimes, we artifact creators go back and revise the evidence to fit the narratives we’ve built or found elsewhere.  For example, the snake oil bottle at the top of this page, which looks like a close crop of an old advertisement, seems to be a modern image made from an altered version of a historical ad.  There is a constant cycle between perception, imagination, and creation, the upshot of which is that this image is all over the web, in articles calling out everything from acupuncture to social security.

Oct 25, 2012

Laser Lace Launching

After six months of constant prototyping, intense planning and caffeine-fueled story development, my new project, Laser Lace Letters, is finally going up on Kickstarter today. It’s a unique project with elements of handcrafting, fragmented storytelling, and design. Also, it brings together two of my favorite things: steampunk, and lasers.

(If for some reason you LIKE reading press releases, you can also get that here.)

Laser Lace Letters is a line of laser-cut felt cameo pins that I designed and prototyped at Dallas Makerspace.  I’ll be making for everyone who pledges for them during the Kickstarter. They’re designed to be worn like a button or a badge: on a lapel, a backpack, a purse, or even on a hat.

If you’re familiar with laser cutting, you know that most things made on a laser are made from sheets of material, which means they’re usually quite flat; but that’s where Laser Lace will surprise you. The cameos sit in the center of a special doily, which is cut flat, but designed to be woven into itself to create a wreath of twisted color around the image in the center.

But inside the beautiful packaging for each cameo – a laser cut envelope tied with twine and sealed with wax – is a little story world for you to dig into. There are seven cameos in the line, and each represents a character living in an alternate version of Victorian London, where an all-woman airship corps keeps the peace, tiny robots ferry messages to secret lovers, and the rich build extravagant country homes in the sky.

Their stories are told through items like:

  • A charlatan’s pamphlet about the appearance of aethereal cities in bolts of lightning.
  • The letter a young socialite left for her family, the night she ran away.
  • A help wanted advertisement, calling for door-to-door sales girls to hawk pocket robots.
  • Plans for a machine designed to evaluate people’s souls – and act accordingly.
  • The report of a police officer who saw his partner vanish right in front of his eyes.

If funded, I’m going to release the stories two ways: as tangible stories that include their respective cameo pins, and as a digital book that you can read anywhere.  On the Kickstarter you can buy either one, so whether you like the crafting side of the series more, or the storytelling side, you can get what suits you.

I’ve also been working on some online supplements – or teasers, if you will – that will give you an idea of what to expect from each story before you decide which cameo to buy.  The characters have distinctive stories – from Sarah, the aviatrix who left her lover for a chance to fly one of Her Majesty’s airships; to Linnaeus, the mad scientist looking for a way to cross over into the other universe to find his missing son; to Lucy, an assassin who uses a fleet of tiny robots as her weapon of choice.

When Yomi Ayeni launched his project Clockwork Watch, I knew immediately that we shared a perspective on steampunk that would make for a good collaboration. So for the past several months, I’ve been working with Yomi to mesh our two stories. Our stories both take place in the world, and bits of Laser Lace are already scattered across the Clockwork Watch in-game blog, the London Gazette.  Most of the voices in the above video are also from members of the Clockwork Watch team who beamed their recording across the ocean to bring life to the characters.

Inspiration for Laser Lace was drawn from Jordan Weisman’s artifact-laden book projects – with Sean Stewart on “Cathy’s Book” and with J.C. Hutchins on “Personal Effects: Dark Art.”  Laser Lace stories are like miniature versions of those books.  As far as I know, no indie creator has attempted something like this before – and I can see why.  It’s calling on all the tools in my mental Swiss army knife, and I’ve even had to hack together some new ones.  It’s been a long, big, complicated road to get this project to the point where money is the most needed resource.

Here’s what that money is going to buy: a small hobby laser cutter, around $7,000 in printing services, and supplies ranging from felt to card stock to sealing wax. Once I have the laser cut parts, the cameos will be finished by hand here in Texas. I hope to be able to do all of the handwork myself, so everyone gets something I created from start to finish.  It will be a rare auteur project in a world of big teams.

I’m absolutely abuzz with excitement today!  Let’s come together and make this happen!  You bring the beer, and I’ll bring the party.

Sep 18, 2012

Unboxing: Byzantium Security

Last week, I took a personality test that may or may not have brainwashed me, and this weekend I got a black bubble mailer full of puzzles and secrets from the testing organization, Byzantium Security International.

Black packaging seems to be code, by the way, for “transmedia is happening here.”  I mean, take a look at my last three mailers.

In any case, here’s what’s inside this particular black package – a nice, out of game letter telling me that this is a promotion for the new Cinemax show Hunted, and a puzzle box.  I really like the fact that the letter was folded in such a way as to give me an in-game message above the fold, and a polite promotional letter below.

It’s shaped like the Byzantium Security logo (more or less), and rattles when you shake it, which means there must be something inside.

There’s something poetic about this puzzle box – and this might be me reading too much into it.  If you haven’t played through the test yet, go do it.  Everything in the experience is designed to make you feel smart, with nerve-wracking and sometimes disturbing tests that (mostly) turn out to be easier than you expected.

That’s pretty much the experience of opening this puzzle box.  Opening it involves a bit of guesswork adjusting your grip and pulling at pieces.  But once it begins to move, you’re rewarded with a gorgeous view of the box opening like an iris.

The puzzle is made of three pieces, one of which has a little hollow that hides a gunmetal-colored miniature USB stick, bearing the Byzantium Security logo.

Each piece also has a set of three letters etched into a face that’s hidden when the box is closed.  (Etched with LASERS, by my reckoning!)

Thank goodness we’ve got some clues here, because the files on that USB are all password protected.  I’ve unscrambled the letters to form a word, but that doesn’t seem to be the password.  Any ideas?  Tell me on Twitter.

I’m not able to give this a proper review because I’m a bit pressed for time this week, but I will say this is a classic piece of ARG swag.  It’s a puzzle box with a puzzle inside.  I love how every item is its own call to action – the box invites you to open it, the USB invites you to look at the files inside, the files themselves are encapsulated in a ZIP file called UNLOCK_ME.zip.

The campaign was created by Campfire, which is famous for its ability to build atmosphere and establish a mood.  This item is similar in tone to the rest of the campaign – on the outside, it’s a rather naturalistic and simple test of your abilities – and on the inside, it’s a polished and highly artificial experience.  It’s also a highly personal one – the puzzle it leads to exists on a physical piece of media in your possession, not on a website.

The only thing I can find to criticize about this object is that sometimes, you can open the box too quickly, sending one of the three pieces flying.  My dad and sister managed to send one skittering off the kitchen counter and break it – luckily, though, the wood glue was close at hand.

All in all, it’s a very slick, simple artifact that gets right to the heart of its subject matter.  Now if I could just figure out that password….

Aha!  Password cracked!  It had to be capitalized (not all caps or all lower case).  The files contain a bunch of high quality promotional stuff for Hunted, as well as a video and links that urge you to visit the two main landing sites for the experience.  I was expecting more puzzley goodness or some extra narrative bits, but if I’d experienced this in the proper order (mailer, then website) the site would have probably been enough of a payoff.  Still, looking at a multi-page announcement press release for the show is always going to break the flow of your immersive experience.

As always, if you’ve got something you’d like to see carefully photographed and then scrutinized here, send it my way.

Sep 4, 2012

Package Prototypes

I’ve been working on the packaging for Laser Lace.  I posted some photos of the prototype before, but now I’m to the laser cutting phase.  The graphics need some tweaking, but so far the results look pretty good.


These boxes are lasered from various craft papers mounted on poster board.  They’re tied with cord at the moment, but I might change it to ribbon to add a dash of color and control the shape of the bow a bit better.

I was playing around with these materials to see which I liked best; it turns out they’re all pretty great.  I have a special place in my heart for the paper in front, though.  It not only looks like leather; it feels like leather too!

Aug 30, 2012

Swag Review: Deadly Affairs

This is the start of a series wherein I review the physical objects from various transmedia projects. If you have a project and you want to send me something for review, drop it in the mail.

Today, I’m looking at a box I recently got from Investigation Discovery, leading to a short ARG that’s playing for the new show Deadly Affairs. The team was kind enough to send this to me after it was released to players, because I told them I wanted to start reviewing game swag.

Before I opened it, my mother saw the package with its return address (Susan Lucci, Investigation Discovery) and was perplexed – she’s the ID fan in the house, not me. By now you might have seen it, but here’s some lovely photos anyway.
We’ve got a shiny black box with the program branding on it:

…and inside, a card…

…and tied to the card, a key.

This isn’t a very complicated or very ambitious mailer. The key is a craft store buy, and I happen to know that because I built the key for the Ladies’ Mechanical Companion out of an identical one.

This is basically serving the same role as a postcard – just like the Random Acts of Fusion viewmaster that was sent out last month, and which I’m still writing my review of. From the mismatched sticker on the front of the box (it’s more matte than the box itself, making the sticker look cheaper than it likely is) to the fact that there it contains so little for its size, my first impression is that there could have been a lot more going on here – especially because the design of the website tugs at my artifact-loving heart strings.

Can you imagine if the mailer had half this stuff in it? Family photos, ticket stubs, a fashion label tag, a receipt for a romantic dinner, a business card, a tiki-themed party invitation, a napkin with a phone number – by the time you read this, this list will be incomplete because new virtual artifacts are being added constantly. All with little, elegant calls out to the experience’s various bits of content, in old school ARG style. Love. So much love. Getting the equivalent of this in the mail would have been so boss.

So the question is, if you’re going to send out a postcard mailer, why even bother tying a key to it and putting it in a box? In this case, it works with the overall experience design, and I think this shows how far a strong design goes in making a good piece of tangible work.

Players’ first interaction with the website was to open a virtual box using a “key” (a code provided on the card), so Deadly Affairs sent out physical boxes with physical keys in them. The relationship between the artifact and the online experience is clear, and the call to action is simple but compelling – if you give someone a key, how can they NOT use it?  It’s trip and fall simple.

There are no puzzles here, nor is the mailer in character, but it sets up Lucci’s role in the experience – half Greek chorus, half eyebrow-cocked gossip. Hers is the voice of someone who knows a story, but wants to draw out her story as long as possible, dropping little hints along the way to keep you at the height of suspense. (I can only assume this is the way the show will feel, too, because it’s the way *every program on Investigation Discovery feels.* I can’t be the only child of ID fans who gets the urge to google the case fifteen minutes into a show.)

Ultimately, a lot more could have been done with this, and it still feels like a waste of opportunity and resources not to include some of the artifacts from the virtual box in the physical one. But for what it’s supposed to do, it works. I can’t see shoehorning in more items just to have more items if it doesn’t work with the structure of the experience. Hopefully, ID will start doing more stuff like this, because if any brand lends itself to ARG, it has to be them. Maybe next time we’ll get something more robust.

Note: I have two friends working on this experience. I am not, nor am I privy to any of their creative decisions on this project.

Have some swag you’d like to see lovingly lambasted?  Go right ahead and send it to me.

Jun 3, 2012

This is not what I do.

My dad got this piece of mail a while back.  Name and address in typewriter font.  Cow stamp.  No return address.

Inside is a post it note from a friend who signed his note “J” – or maybe that’s just a squiggle.  From the fact that they use a typewriter, prefer Texana on their stamps and still send people newspaper clippings, we can guess that J is an older man or woman.

It’s stuck to a newspaper article from the Financial News section of the paper on Sunday, March 25, Page 3-B.  (The mailing was postmarked March 28, so this is timely.)

The article is about a book that purports to help people like my dad who are over 50 and facing a higher retirement age than they expected.  But of course….

It’s actually an ad.  But this isn’t even an advert placed in a paper that was later cut out; it’s a special printing made to look like it was taken from a newspaper.  This is a piece of junk mail, and it’s made to trick people into reading it instead of throwing it away.

This is not the same as a story artifact – or at least, not the kind I make.  The difference is the same as the difference between telling a story and lying.  This piece of media lies about who your interlocutor is.  It lies about the source of the information; it even lies about the main purpose of the ad copy.  I blurred out their 1-800 number in these pictures, and I would have blurred out the name of the author who wrote the “book,” but it turns out that information isn’t even in the article.  It’s on the cover in the picture, but the name is so tiny I can hardly make it out.  This isn’t even a book promotion; it’s a ploy to get you on the phone.

A real story artifact would name names.  There would be a newspaper title at the top of this page, a URL to the author’s website, and maybe even a bio or photo of the person who wrote it.  (This one is credited to “Steve Williams” who I like to imagine as a cooler cousin of Buck from the Left Behind books.)

The reason this isn’t what I do, why I wouldn’t lie in this way, is that this kind of lying doesn’t engender love or trust.  The point is to trick you long enough to get you to answer the call to action.  One person claiming to be J says that the mailings are a way to open dialogue with local financial planners, but would you feel comfortable starting any professional relationship this way?

…But if I Did….

But if I were to lie to people in this way, I’d have done a better job at it.  Let’s take a look at some details.

The interior edge of the page, the one that would contain copy from another article if this were real, is torn rather than cut, but it’s torn the way someone might tear it with a sharp edged ruler.  People either cut out articles with scissors, or tear them by hand.  The best way to finish this would probably be with a rough patterned tearing edge.

Blugh, this headline.  It’s got quote marks, all caps, AND underlining in it, and it ends in an ellipsis and it takes up four whole 3-column lines!  The AP stylebook would come to life and bludgeon me to death all on its own if I wrote a headline like this.  (We know it’s supposed to be a newspaper article and not a newspaper ad that looks like an article, because those kinds of ads are usually in a box with the word “advertisement” at the top.)

But really, the biggest giveaway here is the back of the page.  Those ugly artifacts are from scanning in a printed page and printing it back out.  It doesn’t match the printing style of the front of the page and it’s a pretty clear sign that its a fake.

You can see another version of this junk mail (and read from others who got this around the country), at Lisa and Michael‘s blog.


May 20, 2012

A Robot Made This! – a product prototype for Maya

UPDATE: Maya wore her necklace to school!  According to her mom, the other girls in her class were excited to hear about the jewelry-making robot.  She looks like a rock star.

I’ve been making stuff for a long time, and trying to master the art of telling stories with them.  This is the first time I’ve taken up the task of telling THIS story – the story of how technology can serve women just as readily as men.  It’s a vitally important story to tell, and a complicated story to convey to an adult.  To see that it’s stuck with Maya and her friends, at least for now, is so incredibly satisfying.

If you work in a creative field and have any kind of entrepreneurial streak, you know how tantalizing a new idea can be when you’re working on a big project – and how easily it can turn into a huge distraction. Two weeks ago, I had a good idea, but because I’ll never get anything done if I drop my other work for it, I’ve decided to go ahead and cut it off at the prototype phase and post it here.

The idea all started with Maya, the daughter of my good friend Andrea.

She’s in kindergarten, and is as clever and adventurous a child as you’ve ever seen. She loves dancing and princesses and rainbows and anything that is pink.

Maya has also always, always loved cars and robots, right along with those butterflies and flowers and hearts. But recently she’s been saying that she doesn’t like these things anymore.

“I don’t like cars,” she told me, “because I want people to like me.”

This breaks my heart. And I imagine it breaks your heart, too. Five years old, and she’s already figured out just exactly how this thing works.

Funnily enough, I use laser cutting to do some really girly stuff. I make jewelry, handbags, and beautiful spindly art pieces right alongside project boxes and monitor stands. I mean, they don’t call me the laser princess for nothing.

I was left wondering how I could show Maya that technology isn’t separate from the beauty of art or the flair of fashion – the stuff that girlishness is made of. And then I remembered I’d made this the week before.

It’s just a little pendant made from a design that never got used in the Alias ARG; but it was made with the help of a robot. A laser robot. Maya had to have one of these. Here’s the letter I sent her.

Hello Maya!
My name is Haley and I’m from Texas. I heard that some of the girls at your school think that cars and robots are for boys. I really hope they don’t think that, because cars and robots are awesome!

Cars are fast and beautiful and fun to ride in, and robots are smart and cool can do all kinds of things. Did you know robots can do girl stuff too? Me and one of the robots at my hackerspace got together and made this necklace for you.

(In case you didn’t know, a hackerspace is basically a clubhouse for girls and boys who like to play with robots. We have robots that fly and robots that run around like little spiders and robots that can sculpt like artists!)

I made your necklace with the robot that fires lasers. I gave it instructions, and the robot used really strong lasers to cut it out and make all the swirly patterns on it. It’s sparkly and pretty and totally made by a robot armed with lasers.

I make lots of cute jewelry with this robot, and people love it. So the next time someone tells you robots are for boys, just tell them a robot made THIS.

Love and cute convertibles,
Haley Moore

When I went to cut out Maya’s pendant, the laser was down for some minor repairs, so I had some time to sit around and toy with the idea of packaging the necklace too. I wanted to say in the package everything that I’d put in the letter, so that at a glance you’d know:

  1. Robots make things that girls want, for girls.
  2. A robot made this particular thing.
  3. This is something to remember whenever you feel like technology isn’t girly enough.

I came up with a package design with a robot reaching over the top of a regular jewelry card, with its manipulators around the attachment points for the necklace, as if the robot had just finished making it and was now handing it to the girl. It includes mechanical design elements, holographic paper, pink, swirly text and lace.

The robot is vaguely feminine but not super feminine – it’s just a machine, not a Fembot or Rosie from the Jetsons.  The declaration “A Robot Made This!” is written in a mix of typefaces that convey femininity and ties to technology.  The holographic paper tells you the product has a science element, and the lace tooling tells you that this isn’t just something for boys that’s been colored pink.

At this point, I wanted to jump down the rabbit hole and make an entire line of CNC produced pieces of jewelry for girls – design store displays, write all sorts of educational copy, start looking for retail targets – but I have to keep my focus. For the moment, this is just a nice thing I did for one kid, and hopefully it was helpful.

This necklace, along with three other designs, is for sale in my Etsy store. If you’d like yours to come on a card like the one I sent Maya, send me a note and I’ll package it that way for free.