“Everyone reacts like that,” says Fenton Smith, “Whenever anyone sees Robot, they break into a smile.” The second action is to start playing with the cardboard creature. Even a seen-it-all hack cannot help joining in. And this is exactly the effect that Smith, managing director of Boss Print, wants.
The Acton company has been building something of a reputation for doing things out of the ordinary. It has created a number of sought after notebooks with another to come later this year.
It caught the design community’s attention with Box in a Box two years ago. Robox is the natural evolution of this, capturing some nostalgia for children’s toys of the 1960s and what robots were perceived to be.
But it is bang up to date, tapping into a desire for interaction in the physical world and the tactility of paper, cardboard and print. “The idea was to come up with something that shows off the craftsmanship and demonstrates the reason for having print,” says Smith.
It was not always a robot. Smith conceived the idea as a Mr Benn like character where turning the torso or limbs would reveal a different costume like the old children’s cartoon character. The limbs would be attached by magnets so they might easily be moved and repositioned.
Designer Jim Sutherland took this concept, and almost immediately twisted it and it became Robot in a Box, Robox for short.
Open the box, tip out the pieces and assemble then to change the mood and character of your robot. A dice inside its head adds to the playful element, a game of Beetle for the modern age perhaps. It works, engaging children of all ages. Which, for Smith, is precisely the point. “It’s about introducing the tactile nature of print to a new audience that is unused to print,” he says.
Ironically the robot is not printed at all, at least not in this version. The greyboard is cut out on a Crossland and Heidelberg windmill platens. The elements are assembled and covered in a Fedrigoni paper that has been foil blocked with the stylised symbols designed by Sutherland. The precision of the finished arms, legs, head, neck and torso adds to the appeal.
Even before the recent launch, the character had its own Instagram page showing Robox in different locations. For Smith this social media element is part of the message, how print can be relevant in the digital age. A video has been created and set to the obvious pop tune.
There have been other thoughts about commercialising the Robox, but more likely would be versions branded in corporate colours for clients that appreciate the design led concept.
Now a small population of Robox has been let loose and Smith and others in the Boss Print team will continue to use him as a sales tool.
At the launch, there were selfie opportunities, a giant scale version and the story of the toy’s travels.
The next chapter of that particular story is about to begin. It is not the only move by Boss Print. Earlier this year it launched Vivid Colour, using a violet ink and ultra fine FM screening to extend the colour gamut of litho and deliver colour printing that few, if any, can match.
There is a new book to tie in with the Cartographic Colour exhibition by photographer Giles Revell at Foyles Book Shop. The complexity of the colour tones, especially the smoothness of vignettes is a staggering example of what litho print can do.
It is a second book for an art photographer that Boss Print has handled, and another is in progress. It has led to the creation of website under the Concentric Editions brand which will market this type of book directly to collectors without needing to work with publishers or agencies or other middlemen. If sales take place it affirms that there is a demand for this type of art book and that Boss Print is the printer to produce them.
“These photographers can have 100,000 followers on Instagram, there will be some prepared to buy a book, which is both a limited edition and an investment,” Smith says. “It’s all about promoting the creativity and innovation that printing is capable of.”
Robox is a showpiece to demonstrate that print can engage like no other medium. It is instinctively interactive and raises instant smiles. And it is something that easily bought.