On 6 May 2014, more than 15,000 mums and dads opened their mail to find a personalised Mini Boden catalogue selling children’s summer clothes and accessories. However this was no ordinary catalogue, as each front cover featured an unique illustration that had been art directed and signed by their own child, using illustrated elements – sea, sky, animals, flowers, cute characters – created by Boden designer Jessica Allen.
‘It created a social media buzz and went a bit viral on Facebook and Pinterest,’ says Allen. ‘The covers have become collectable and go beyond being placed on the coffee table – I think they are being kept on bookshelves. The children were very proud of their creations.’
Boden, a British clothing company, has been making use of variable data publishing – finding fresh ways to personalise its mailings – for several years. ‘We like to experiment,’ says Boden production manager Anne Beales.
Though it had a small print run compared to other Boden publications, the Mini Boden catalogue has had a very positive reception. ‘We love to keep our customers engaged and surprised,’ says Beales.
While the rest of the catalogue was printed using conventional offset litho, each cover was digitally printed on 170 g/m2 Fedrigoni Arcoprint 1 Extra White. To achieve this innovative result, Boden approached design agency Kin and printer F. E. Burman, both in London. Kin’s lead designer Clair Neal and director Matt Wade explain how they went about the project.
What project led you to the Mini Boden catalogue?
In 2010, Meirion Pritchard, the then art director at Wallpaper* magazine, briefed us to design a tool that allowed customers to create their own cover design for that year’s ‘Hand Made’ issue. Meirion commissioned five artists to create imagery, while we designed an online interface and developed the software that allowed subscribers to take predesigned elements and arrange them on a page. Their design was then saved, printed and mailed directly to them.
What was the initial brief, and how did you approach it?
About a year after the Wallpaper* project, Paul Regan from F. E. Burman spoke to Boden about us and we met a member of the Boden team. In November 2013, Boden came back – they wanted to let children design a fantastical island for the Mini Boden catalogue cover. We proposed to develop an online system that would allow three to eleven-year-old children to create a personalised cover from a set of existing elements. The design would be saved as SVG [scalable vector graphics] data. The SVG format was important because it described the location, size, rotation and name of each graphic element used, which allowed us to scale up the design to 300dpi for printing.
What were the technical challenges and the time frame?
The project took four months to design and develop, with a couple of extra months of support. It used a completely new system and was built using modern Web languages. We also built a system for managing customer information and print data. To make the technology accessible to children, we started by stripping back the design tools. Although even very young children are fairly tech-literate, especially on touch-screen devices, things like layering are quite hard to grasp. We worked with the creative team at Boden to decide on the file format and a colour system that would work with their graphic style and give a large variety of outcomes. Boden designer Jessica Allen created a suite of 500 lovely graphics.
As with the Wallpaper* project, the main challenge was to develop a system that had integrity in different resolutions and across colour spaces. The Web is 72dpi and RGB [red, green, blue], viewed as light on screen. Print is 300dpi and CMYK [cyan, magenta, yellow, key], viewed as ink on paper. You need a good understanding of how colour works to develop confidently something that works in both spaces. Luckily we have a good relationship with Paul Regan and the team at F. E. Burman, and we discussed the technical approach from the early stages of the project.
Why Fedrigoni papers?
The way colour looks on different papers is important. We also wanted the physical object to feel special in the hand, considering the time each person had invested in it. Paul mentioned early on that he was speaking to Boden’s Anne Beales about the value of investing in the right stock.
What feedback have you received?
The feedback was very good. We had all sorts of lovely comments on the Boden Facebook page about the project. We even had pictures of kids with their covers sent in. Some were very sweet – there was one with a child who’d fallen asleep with their cover!
What do you think the future might hold for this innovative approach to design for digital printing?
There are exciting opportunities. As machines like the HP Indigo 7600, papers such as Fedrigoni Arcoprint 1 and software systems like ours get more advanced, the possibilities are endless. However, our system worked well because it had constraints; it had boundaries within which the children could play.