We had an intention, to give a friend a children's book as a gift for her baby's first birthday.

We had a hobby, posting pictures of our cat hiding amongst household items.

We had an idea, to combine the picture of the hidden cat into a children's book.

Then we had a plan, to begin creating our own one-of-a-kind story book, customised to a child who may never know its value, and for a set of parents who has become a dear friend~

Note: Scroll down to the end for a video version of this blog.

Ideation: It all started on a presentation slide deck

Don't underestimate the power of a simple slide deck.  We started off drafting ideas, putting in sample pictures, and crafting a story, all on slides.

Interestingly and coincidentally, between us friends who wanted to make this, both sets of couples have the right set of skills and talent to realise this, and we were somehow confident in our plan.

Discussions were done through video calls, hangouts at cafes, and even morning walks! You know collaboration is at its peak when goals and outcomes are the focus and locations of meetings doesn't matter.

We make a great team, Rach!

All the things we took for granted when reading a book now has to be considered.  What should be the size of the pages, how wide of a margin do we want to use, what type of paper should we use, do we want to go to a proper printer?

Prototyping: It took a few tries to come close to perfect

We started off by writing out the story, imagining it in pages already.  Then to visualise what the activities and illustrations can be, we did our very first prototype. From here, the illustrator was able to have a rough idea of what to draw for each page. The crafter (aka me) will also able to list out the materials needed and imagine the activities on the relevant pages.

First prototype with story and activities sketching.

With the due date looming, locking down the milestones and timelines was definitely helpful to backwards plan what is needed by when.

Backwards planning FTW!

The tricky parts were crafting the activities in the book, as it requires arrangement of the illustrations and text, while balancing the thickness of the pages as well.  So we did a few couple rounds of prototyping, to ensure we are aligned on the implementation of the activities, and to also figure out the materials to use.  With that, also comes a few rounds of shopping for paper of the right weight, fabric of the right texture, and even the appropriate glue!  And of course, also a couple of go at the illustrations, the tracings, and the colourings.  Don't miss out on the need to choose the suitable typography as well!

We learnt the hard way that book-making is such a laborious process!

But what was helpful from the prototypes was knowing that this gift can be simply homemade with our own laptops, printers, and just simple DIY arts and crafts.  And cos it is DIY, boy, did we have to be resourceful and creative~  Best bit for me, couldn't find a faux fur cat's tail, so I sewed one instead!

Can you spot which is the fake tail?
This house is full of innovations. ~Zhi
Third prototype with a round of illustrations and first pass of materials. To be prototyped as closest as possible to the real thing.

Implementation: It is a priceless labour of love

Assembly day was us meeting up to start piecing it together. By us, I mean the writer (Rach), illustrator (Zhi), technical editor (Craig), crafter (me).

For this last mile, we had to piece the coloured illustrations into the slides, arrange the text and adjust the font sizes, recolour the illustrations to fit the pages, print and reprint pages, and begin working on the activities.  And with no time or materials to spare, boy, did the book creation pushed our creativity and critical thinking skills! Any last minute iterations were done with whatever resource we had left.  For anything that could not be done, expectations had to be lowered. Oops.

Finally, we hand-stitched the pages together, crafted the book cover and spine from scratch, and held everything together with an immense amount of glue and tape!  (This book binding guide for beginners video helped me alot!). Check out the completed book below!!

The one and only completed Can You Spot Bella book. 

My reflections from the book-making experience

Across the few months from empathising with ourselves on what we wanted for our friend, to ideating, prototyping, iterating, and implementing, I came to realise that we followed the "trendy" process of Design Thinking! (Typing additional life experience into CV).  The whole process actually requires logical and critical thinking, not just squeezing creative juice out of our brains! To ensure optimum efficiency, we needed to know that story comes before illustrations (duh!), and illustrations before adjustment of typography, printing before crafting, do up the cover page before wrapping the cover and spine.  Any wrong move may have caused us time and effort to redo different parts of the book.

Do you think we can mass produce this? LOL

To be able to handcraft something from scratch was a liberating feeling! (I think the last time I handcrafted something was me redesigning my prom dress back in high school!) Also, this mini project reignited my believe that dreams and ideas can be turned into reality with the right people, at the right time, and most importantly, with the same vision.

p/s: We hope the recipients of this unique and bespoke storybook will love it (albeit it probably not built to last).

The vlog version of this blog post. Watch below:

Bespoke book making process. Enjoy!