Every once in awhile, eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation results in something other than a sideways look from strangers–it’s how one of our editors heard about Makr, a new design app developed by a startup company at The Yard in Williamsburg (that hotbed of indie ingenuity). We’re so glad she was listening in because this app has the potential to change the way makers, startups and creative companies across the board brand and market themselves. Or as its lead designer Ellen Johnston puts it, it has the potential to democratize design.
“We’re a small team of designers and engineers and writers, and we really wanted a creativity tool that we could use to make things, whether it’s stuff that we wanted to make for ourselves or to give as gifts,” Johnston says. “As a designer myself, I use professional creativity tools, and it’s just not easy. I’ve been using Photoshop, InDesign and [Adobe] Illustrator for over 15 years and to do something quickly and easily, and then to get it printed, is hard.”
Makr is the best of both worlds when it comes to building your own customized card stock or labels–it is organized by templates (most of which are named after Brooklyn streets) that offer endless possibilities for individual improvements to your projects (so even though you’re not starting from scratch, your design could be completely different from anyone else’s in the end–you can change color, texture, font, transparency, size, spacing and even patterns. You can use the symbols and illustrations Makr’s design team as developed or upload your own to create unique business cards, postcards, labels, stickers, menus, invitations, tags or thank-you cards–essentially every type of paper product you could need for yourself or your small business.
“Originally, we were thinking about doing a blank canvas tool,” Johnston says. “It was something like Adobe Photoshop where you open it up and it’s a blank canvas, and it’s like ‘OK, I’m starting from scratch,’ and what we found as part of our experience, as well as part of talking with others, is that’s a really hard thing–to open something up and see a blank page and be like, ‘Where do I begin?'”
I decided to test drive Makr, which is a free app for iPads, by trying to make a holiday greeting card. I found it so engrossing that I almost didn’t get around to writing this article–but I did get my holiday card shopping taken care of, so that’s something.
To start I picked a template from the holiday category, though because you can change so much of the look of any of the templates, you could really select a starting point from pretty much anywhere. Mine was the Madison group, which came with formats for everything from holiday invitations to address labels.
I decided to make a post card and was navigated into the workspace where I could begin taking advantage of all the tools Makr’s team puts easily at your disposal–no matter how much time I spend with my creative suite and watching instructional videos on Youtube, I’ve never been able to master more than a novice understanding of Adobe’s software, so I was a little intimidated at first to try making major adjustments on my own, but as Johnston explained, the app is intended to be user friendly, and I found it to be so.
Johnston says, “one of my personal favorite features is patterns. We have a pattern library in the app, and this has always been a sore spot for me, in using professional software–having to develop my own patterns. We wanted to give people the ability to swap out patterns easily and make them bigger or smaller. Textures is another great feature. You can make something appear like it’s stamped or it has a wood texture. Those are some of the smaller details that we added that we think contributes to really the maker that we’re trying to attract. Hopefully is gives some tools that are easy to use but also fun.”
I took Johnston’s tips to heart and started working on my post card, replacing the red chevron pattern with hunter-green dots, then enlarging them. Each element on the page is an individual object and layer allowing you to make adjustments to one thing without impacting everything else. Swapping symbols and adjusting color levels to create new hues, which I could then save and apply to other areas of my card for continuity, my final product looked nothing like the original save for the font.
Customized projects can be downloaded as PDF files or printed directly through the app. Johnston says they’re working with a small printer in Idaho and use paper from Wisconsin on all their orders, which take between two to four days to print and can be shipped at various speeds, so essentially, she says, you could have an order turned around in five days. Price’s vary based on the item you’re creating, but my postcards, for example, cost $20 for 10 cards, though the price is reduced significantly per card the more you purchase (80 cards would have cost me $80, and I could have purchased as many as 250 for $135 had I known that many people).
Aside from seasons greetings, Makr has the potential to impact small business and creative types all year round–you can even make beer labels from your home brews.
“It’s truly made for the maker,” Johnston says. “I think we’re inspired, being located in Brooklyn, which we feel is like the epicenter for this movement where people are returning to the artisanal and the handmade. This generation is really finding a way to make it relevant and to make really beautiful stuff that has meaning. That’s who we developed this app for.”