Books with your child's name printed in them – or through them – are nothing new, but the Losymy.name project offers a level of personalisation we've not seen before – making them the must-have purchases for those of us with children in our lives of our own or others.
Their two picture books – The Girl Who Lost Her Name and The Boy Who Lost His Name – follow a central character who wakes one day unsure of what their name is. Over a series of chapters they meet characters to acquire letters that build up to spell their own name. The order of chapters – and which chapters you see – depends on the name of your child – so my daughter Alice will get a completely different story to her friend Bobby. There's also more than one chapter possibility for each letter, so my son Adam gets to meet an Angel and an Aardvark (as well as a Dragon and a Mermaid).
The level of personalisation is also great if you have a child with an unconventional name (or spelling).
The project brought together writer David Cadji-Newby, illustrator Pedro Serapicos with co-founders Asi Sharabi and Tal Oron – three fathers and an uncle respectively. As well as the words and illustrations, the team also set up a website that lets you create the book and preview how it looks – and then order it via a print-on-demand service.
We sat down with Asi to find out more about the project.
Use the slideshow controls above and right to read the interview and see more images of the books.
NB: How did you come up with the concept for Lostmy.name?
AS: "It all started a couple of years ago when I received a present – a personalised book for my daughter Thalia. It was the first time I’d seen anything like it and, intrigued, read it, getting a warm, fuzzy feeling... which lasted for around 14 seconds. After that, the shallowness of the creative idea left me feeling hugely disappointed.
"Still, I showed it to my friend Tal, who immediately agreed that there was a creative and commercial opportunity to do something really special. Next came David, another friend and the writer of the book. He came up with the creative idea – the story of a child who has lost their name.
"Off the child goes, on a splendid adventure, tracking down all the letters of the lost name. On the way this child meets lots of different creatures and characters, who all lend a hand - nice creatures, strange creatures, on-the-face-of-it scary creatures. But the child shows that, with a bit of courage and resourcefulness, there’s nothing to be afraid of and anything is possible.
"It then took us over six months to find Pedro – a genius Portuguese illustrator (as well as a dad and a surfer). Since then we’ve been working hard together, in every second of our spare time, to make this project a wonderful reality."
NB: How did you work out that you'd have enough illustrations for each letter to allow all the names on the census to be printed?
AS: "To begin with, we (rather naively) reckoned on 26 illustrations. Then we downloaded the UK 2011 census, and realised that there were 14,000 different children’s names – and many had repeated letters. Ah.
"Using friends with PhDs in economics and statistics, we worked on a formula that would pave a way for us to release illustrations every two weeks, and cater over time for more and more names.
"The stats we used included the likelihood of any particular name to come to us, so we could cater to them first. This data was based on the popularity of names over the last six years.
"Now, we have 236 double spread illustrations and stories that together allow almost everyone landing on the site to make their own book."
NB: Tell us a bit about the technologies behind how the books are put together?
AS: "In order to construct each book, we’ve developed our own proprietary technology that combines all 236 assets (though we’re still making more and more stories and illustrations to keep things interesting).
"On the backend, we match names with the best possible combination of stories for each order. In the future – and as we add more and more stories – we’ll be able to make even more unique books for each person. For instance, if you order two or three books, we’ll try to make them as different as possible from each other.
NB: How are the books being printed and how did you choose these?
AS: "We knew the printed edition of the book would only be the start of the journey, and that there were lots of different opportunities in the future. Because of this, we asked Pedro to make his drawings in a landscape format, in an aspect ratio that would fit an iPad (once we worked out how to do it!).
"Luckily, we found a great printing partner, who was able to produce our work to a very high standard. Amusingly, the size means that each book is still assembled and bonded manually – which makes the quality of the book just wonderful.
"The process is actually quite straightforward, once you get your head around it. It’s really just a case of helping people step out of their comfort zone, see what machines they have at hand, and how they can be used in an interesting way. We had no experience in mass-produced on-demand printing to begin with, which made us a bit of a liability to our suppliers at first, but now we’re a brilliant case study for them.
"One huge advantage for us is that printing a unique book to order means that there are no up-front costs. With print on demand, you choose your materials and suppliers, then spend most of your time, money and effort communicating your product to your audience.
"One thing to keep an eye on is quality assurance; as each book is handmade, we need to keep sampling our work."
NB: Will you be licensing the tech to third parties?
AS: "That is part of the plan for the future. There’s an obvious opportunity to turn it into a platform for other multi-possibility-narrative ideas. We’d like to allow more people to make use of the knowledge we’ve acquired and the technology we’ve invested in.
"If there are people who see the potential of our tech, we’d be happy to hear from them."
NB: What are you most proud of with the project so far?
AS: "Oh now, this is a difficult question. We love the stories and illustrations, and the way the book works, the relationship between the creative process and the technology which creates a really magical end product.
"But ultimately, making kids happy is the best feeling in the world. The feedback we get from parents. uncles, grandparents is heartwarming. Making something that gets people to reach out to you and say that both themselves and the kid absolutely enjoy the book makes us proud every day."
NB: What's next?
AS: "We only just launched and still learning and iterating, making the product better and better. We’ve started conversations with angel investors to take this whole thing to the next level.
We always wanted to lead with a physical book – done by culturally digital dudes through a very digital process – but we have some very interesting ideas for some ‘digital extensions’ of this project.
"We think that digital books today are quite boring – they are either just eBooks [that are] rather inferior to the physical ones, or digital products (mostly iPad apps) that are crammed with unnecessary interactive layers with little justification or purpose.
"We want to change all that, but it’s going to take a while. We want to properly disrupt both the old world of publishing and the new world of kids’ digital entertainment (as well as to spin-out the proprietary technology we developed for this title), but for now all the focus is on this very special book."