In 2011, Brooklyn-based graphic designer Kelli Anderson created a wedding invitation that became a viral sensation. The booklet-style card came with a working record player made with a sewing needle and a piece of cardboard. It played a garbled version of an original song that the couple composed. The overwhelming response to her initial foray in paper engineering—magazine features, interviews, even a TEDx talk—led Anderson to think about why we still crave clunky analog tools in a universe of near-perfect tech devices.
“Why, as modern people, do we want things that don’t work well?,” mused Anderson.”What I came to is that tech is for its stated purpose, but in the past it was also about connecting us to the physical world in a meaningful way,” she explained.
This notion led Anderson to rabbit hole of experimentation with paper and paper folding. As a designer swimming in tech gadgets— Macs, design software, tablets and smart pens—working intensely with paper made her pay attention to the properties of analog tools. Anderson’s hands on research resulted in several delightful interactive paper engineering projects, including a MoMA-published book featuring a paper version of a 4 x 5″ camera.
This Book is a Planetarium (Chronicle Books) is her most ambitious project yet. Released last month after over two years of technical hiccups, Anderson’s opus presents showcases six functional tech gadgets entirely made of paper. The most spectacular of her paper tricks are activated with a smartphone: a planetarium that projects zodiac signs in a dark room with an iPhone’s flashlight and a paper speaker that amplifies sounds from a mobile phone.
While other beautifully-crafted books make a implicit argument for analog over digital, This Book is a Planetarium is very much a love child of both paper and tech. Anderson’s education involved books and blogs: She scoured used book stores for pop-up books to take apart and study. She watched online videos and used online calculators to figure out the mechanics of construction.
Anderson says her goal is to prove that making something beautiful and functional can be achieved with the simplest tools—and a good dose of patience. “When we think of building things or technology, we think that we need really sophisticated things—multiple degrees and a lot of heavy tools. But you can interact with the world and make things that function with something as simple like a piece of paper.”