Retr-O-Mat Print Edition – Prototypes

Do you like product development documentations such as “Made by Hand“? I love them! I love to see how something takes form.

That’s why I’d like to share with you how the Retr-O-Mat Print Edition came into being:


First things first: I needed to settle on a format that allowed for viewing 5 different “slots” at the same time and for easy switching between activities. I thought of printing the activities on business cards and putting them in a box with 5 compartments. Given that I had no idea how many units I could sell the upfront costs of 50 different kinds of business cards + custom boxes were too high.

Then I thought of these children’s books with flaps which let you combine heads, bodies and legs into fantastic animals. Naturally it would have to be a longish format with a stable back because it would have to be stable even with most of its pages cut into flaps. I could not find a suitable brochure printer but I did find a – pause for effect – table calendar:

table-calendarThe back of each and every Print Retr-O-Mat out there consists of two paperboards glued together and the overlapping bit cut off.

[Fun(?) fact: The final print job was delayed because there IS the option to print this format as a brochure after all – not that you can find on the printer’s website, mind you. The printer was wondering if I mis-ordered and paused my order. It would have saved a lot of work, but I did not want to order 220 copies with a back I’d never seen before. So I went with the option I had prototyped. But I’ll check out a prototype with the brochure back before ordering the potential 2nd round.]

Color Scheme

I wanted the print version to reflect the digital one, so I spend a lot of time on getting the colors right:

  • It shouldn’t be too many different colors
  • Neighboring flaps must have visibly different colors – not only on screen, but printed
  • One page = one plan = one base color, so that you have some notion of which activities work well together IMO

color-schemeOver the course of 4 weeks and several prototypes I went through at least 5 different color combinations, until I was happy with one.

Elastic Cord

cordTo be usable, there needed to be some way to fix the flaps in place. As there are not that many different cords and colors to pick from, it was easy to choose. Only the light blue cord looked nice with the other colors.

Proof of Concept

pre-alphaThis is an early proof of concept to see how it would feel to flip through the phases. It already contains activities to get a feeling for length. At this point I had already shortened the activities to fit on the flaps.

Editing and correcting

correctionsBut did each activity still make sense? Did all activities on one page form a cohesive plan? How could I shorten the activities so that they none touched the bottom end of their flaps? And then there were typos, typos, typos.

Alpha Version

alpha-cover alpha-inside

This was the first prototype I ordered. Still lots of correction stickies in that one. I also found some significant differences between the printer’s specs and the real thing:

  • There was lots more printable space to the left, towards the ring binding. Good thing, cause I needed that space badly for the activities.
  • The rings of the bindings were not where I thought they would be, so the flap borders did not fall in between rings. I had to rearrange all activities and background colors.

Originally I thought I’d cut the flaps with a box cutter. In my head is was a swift swipe. Not so much. It wasn’t swift and the cuts were frayed. The scapel did even worse. In the end, the good old office scissors (the big version) saved the day – Clean edges in one cut.

Beta Version

beta-cover beta-inside

Pretty close to the final version. Just some colors turned out weird. At this point I send a PDF version to those authors that inspired a significant portion of activities for approval. After that I had to switch around a few activities.

Tadaaa! Final Version

final-cover2 final-inside

This is one of 220 copies. Unexpectedly a lot of them did not meet my quality standards. The prototypes had been great, but not all printed copies were up to par. If you’re interested, here’s a breakdown of the numbers.


When I was nearly done with the actual product, I decided to throw in some merchandise as well. So there were stickers for everyone and mini buttons for Supporters.


From the nice feedback I’ve received it seems that all the prototyping was worth it. If you’ve bought a copy, I hope you’re very happy with it!