This is part of my ongoing series of posts on Maker Summer Camp, which has mostly involved a lot of origami and book design, which led to a lot of reflections on how magical practice has intersected with my Design Thinking awareness. I’ve worked on a lot of other things, but those have been huge.
So, now that I feel like I have some origami under my belt, I’m turning to books. Books and book arts fascinated me, but I didn’t really feel connected to the art form until last spring, when a parent brought in the trays of moveable lead type and other tools, and we actually printed pages. I found this information about the design of a four-‘room’ folding book that I quite like, and I want to build one. But first I made this mock-up, because the design of this particular book seemed… tricky. I think I’ve got the basics of it, but the real trickery will be in figuring out how to assemble the thing in such a way that it looks pleasing. Far trickier will be figuring out what paper to use to build it, since I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to put in it, yet.
Yesterday I made this book, called a Lotus Book. I learned about the design from this website, while I was looking for ideas for this class I’m teaching this year after school, called “Paper Engineering”. The ribbon is a little wide for the book, I think, and maybe there’s too much of it. But it’s pretty cool. The nature of the design is such that the book opens a little bit at a time; basically, it’s not really practical to open the whole book at once, unless you want it to look like a series of diamond-shaped pieces of paper randomly distributed on the floor. Which I did yesterday, while the glue was setting. I don’t think you’re supposed to read the book like that, though — although what do I know? You could probably set it up that way, to be read in a very peculiar way, based on where the text boxes were placed. When partially opened, the book has a tendency to look like an open mouth; when built out of red construction paper and given some googley eyes and other accounrements, the book winds up looking a bit like a Chinese dragon.
When I build it, of course, I build it with nice papers with some interesting heft to them. And it still feels a little on the cheap side. You can see the papers on one side, but not the other; and the paper does this weird thing, which you can see in the picture on the right. Here, you see two of the page sets open, and the ‘back side’ of the page between them.
The book has seven such leaves, arranged that four of them face “front” and two of them face “back”. I’m thinking about making it into a ‘book’ about the seven planets, either with Thomas Taylor’s Orphic Hymns for the planets, or my own Neo Orphic Hymns. I wonder how I’ll arrange them on the page, though, in a way that makes them readable and understandable.
When completely unfolded, the covers disappear, and the book looks like this. It looks mostly like I took seven bits of paper, folded them into the beginnings of an origami frog base or blintz base, and then left them there (maybe you can make out some of the glue, I’m not sure).
It’s an interesting first effort at this kind of book design, but it lacks content.
I think that’s one of the largest issues with the Maker movement, really. It’s one that the Eli Whitney Museum has ‘solved’ in a sense, by building their program around the school curriculums. You go to the museum, and if you’re a kid of a certain age, you build simple kits. Those kits are tied historical and mathematical issues in the curriculums of the schools whose children attend Eli Whitney programs. Older kids either assemble bags of parts for those kits; or they design new kits; or they pursue programs that are connected to what they are doing in school.
Mostly I find myself building a lot of blank canvases, like this one: “here are some origami folds.” “Here’s how to build a loom.” “Here’s how to spin wool.” It takes a long time to build up a library of these kinds of projects; keeping them around $5-10 in cost is one of the ways to make it sustainable. I think this book cost less than $5 to make, but frankly I’m not sure. There’s no easy way to calculate the cost of these papers — bought from the remainder rack at 60% off, in a pack of 250 sheets. How do you keep track of the quantity of glue that it took to make this book? Is it overhead? Is it cost of goods sold (they’re not even actually sold)?
I don’t have good answers yet. I do know that I have to think more carefully about what the Design Lab buys, what it recycles, what management and administrative policies I need to have. We’re in a new space, we’ve got new classes, and we’ve got new projects and programs to attend to. And while the projects I’m coming up with are interesting, they’re also complicated to sustain. Hmm.