For various reasons during 2009, I found myself reading about a bunch of scientists, engineers and radical politicians of the late 18th Century. They weren’t necessarily the most famous or influential of people, but they were the ones who appealed to me because of my work, my city, and the ideas that interest me.
One day it struck me that all of them were deeply touched by the events of a single year: 1794. I began to dig deeper into the context of war and turmoil in Britain and France, and crammed as much as I could into a 5-minute, 20-slide presentation at the inaugural Ignite London.
Now I had a story on my hands and wanted to do something tangible with it. For a while I’ve been wondering how the printed word could adapt to and be enriched by the digital world. I could have made it into a book, but I wanted something more minimal that the user could play with and build themselves.
The first version was simply based on printing the 20 Ignite slides as Moo cards, with associated pages on my blog.
This website is one half of version two which takes the idea a little further. The other half is a set of cards, stickers and an A3 sheet for you to play with the story.
My objective with this version is to create a small, playful thing that is satisfying in print alone, knowing that the web is there to provide fuller context and source material if needed. WordPress and Wikipedia do the heavy lifting, leaving me to concentrate on the fun part.
The stickers and A3 sheet extend the register of scale, beyond the business card size that constrained version 1. I hope the reader can appreciate the expansive sweep of the narrative in a single page, and then move the Tom Thumb-sized portraits about the board like chess pieces.
One of the things I struggled with in the first version was how to make the bridge between print and pixel with URLs and QR codes. I wanted the links to be obvious and easy without being intrusive. This time round I’m trying a couple of tactics to address that.
First of all, by using stickers I leave the reader the option to add QR code links where they choose, or not at all (because I hear some devices still ship without cameras). The little 22mm-square Moo stickers are perfect for this purpose.
Then for the URLs I used the wp.me links that I get for free by hosting on wordpress.com. I noticed a trick that comics, magazines and papers have known for years: that turning the answers to questions upside down leaves them hidden in plain sight, visible but somehow not so distractingly in the line of the eye as it scans the text. A by-product of this is to emphasise that the cards can be picked up and turned over and re-ordered.
It’s there for you to play with.
What is it made of?
- 1 A3 sheet – printed double-sided
- 10 business cards – can you find the Joker of the pack?
- 18 stickers – for you to stick wherever you want
- Some kind of case – I got this one engraved for the proof of concept
- Instructions – there will be no instructions
- A website – should display with WordPress.com’s built-in mobile theme when viewed from a mobile device. The website also has all you need to make your own copies of 1794.
- Top Trumps
- The Matt Dent coins
- Ivor Cutler stickies
- J L Carr’s pocket books
- Oblique Strategies
- The Papernet
- This question
I’m making 1794 availabile under a [deep breath!] Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike licence.
You can make copies of 1794. All the files are available as PDFs and PNGs on the website.
You are welcome to build on, or further reduce, 1794 so long as you credit me for the original work and link to 1794story.wordpress.com.
I’ve created 1794 as an experiment, and for the pure joy of making something, but if you think you know a way to make money from it, please contact me: mattedgar [at] me63 [dot] com.
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Hello, I just wanted to say this is absolutely fascinating! I’ve been jumping backwards and forwards between your other blog, Flickr and here working out the back story, and it’s great! I love the mix of physical and virtual. Can you elaborate any more on the way the cards work with the A3 printout?
Hi Denise, thanks for your interest. The cards have ended up being about the people – my nine 1794 heroes, plus one joker – while the sheet is more specific to the events of the year itself. The user can match up the people on the cards to the events on the sheet or read them independently. There are no instructions. Matt