Kate Stone

Making paper magical

​Any printed item can be given a digital soul by adding touch, connectivity and data, says Dr Kate Stone.


​According to Kate Stone, founder of Novalia, a company creating interactive print experiences, the printed medium is far from dead. She sees print as a highly pervasive user interface that has real benefits and values.

“We live in a three-dimensional world with surfaces and objects. Our mind is the space around us, and the way we touch something and interact with surfaces is all part of our minds. If we remove that and go completely digital, we literally lose our minds,” Stone says, adding that print is a democratising manufacturing process, accessible to everyone, and with a level of authenticity that tends to excel that of digital media.

A keynote speaker at the NextM marketing and technology event arranged in Helsinki at the end of March, Kate Stone has a PhD in electronics from Cambridge University, where her work focused on moving electrons. This led her to experiment with printing presses to produce interactive materials that combine printed conductive ink and circuit boards. Novalia’s innovation lies in the integrated and easy manufacturing process. 

“As such, the technology behind our products is conventional and even irrelevant. It’s all about bringing the elements together to create something magical from everyday objects, triggering an emotional reaction,” Stone states.

Connected with all the senses

So far, Novalia has gained visibility by creating playful marketing platforms for several major brands, adding sound and Bluetooth connectivity to paper. These include pizza box DJ decks for Pizza Hut, playable placemats for McDonalds, and interactive musical posters for Disney. The company’s aims, however, to create something on a much larger scale and bring their products into homes. The first example of this is a notebook that folds out to reveal a printed piano keyboard, which can be connected to music apps.

“We’re excited about the possibility of making everything at home interactive and connected. What if you could print out your own light switch or tv remote control? Or touch a photo frame to call up that person? Gesture- and voice-controlled connectivity is already in use, but we could also add the sense of touch to our spaces and places.”

Stone believes that in the future, we want our surroundings to look familiar and even old-fashioned, with digital tools offering a more natural user experience. She points out the development of computers as an example of a backwards trajectory – starting with a room filled with electronics and transforming into a desktop, laptop and a handheld device. Similarly, smartphones only look the way they do because of current manufacturing methods and tools.

“The digital aspect of a smartphone combines touch, connectivity and data. This ‘digital soul’ could also be added to any printed item. In this way, a book or album cover becomes as digital as a smartphone, eventually making smartphones unnecessary. Connectivity is already explored in various wearables, and print will transform the format even further.”

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