Brenda from accounts has had one too many sherries and her quinquagenarian boob pops out on the dancefloor. Buttoned-down bookkeeper Sheila vomits cheap wine and wotsits into the waste paper basket. Clive, an underperforming regional sales executive, sandwiches some tinsel in between his scrotum and the glass and photocopies with wild abandon.
The wonderful people at Wieden & Kennedy London approached me about their Christmas window. We dressed the window as the bleak aftermath of a Christmas Party in the 90s at Wieden and Kennedy Marketing Solutions, a rather drab instantiation of the Advertising powerhouse, elsewhere in the multiverse.
Below's what I proposed and how it ended up.
The main challenge was to provide a photocopier which, when operated, would supply a greetings card to the user which took their scanned image, composited it with some Christmas card graphics and a unique QR code where users could find their image online.
This photocopier had to sit outside their office in the cold, rain and snow for a couple of weeks in the run-up to Christmas.
There was a very short lead time and limited budget for the project but I decided to get involved as it sounded like the photocopier would be fun to use. As someone who reels at the prospect of an awkward festive fiesta I knew that I could channel my distaste into the careful styling of this grey hellhole. It was fun trying to inhabit the mischievous mind of a disgruntled middle-manager at this crappy Marketing Company's Christmas Party.
I suggested that fully protecting a copier from the elements (while still being able to access cards from the print tray), as well as from the drunken revellers of Hanbury Street, may be a little beyond the scope of the project which was to be deployed 2 weeks after initial contact, as there were so many unknowns - but it was agreed that we would give it a go with Wiedens taking responsibility for the use of the device we supplied.
I got on the phone to longtime collaborators and friends Dave Cranmer and Will Gallia to work out how we could bring this to life.
We bought a second-hand photocopier, the Sharp MX-2600, via Ebay. It was conveniently located in Cheltenham, near Will, and it seemed happy to make photocopies of my face and hands.
Our idea was to only allow users to access the photocopy button. We’d reroute this button to a Raspberry Pi. Pressing the button would execute a script on the Pi which would:
I picked the photocopier up and we attempted to get a Raspberry Pi Zero to ingest a scanned image over USB, composite some graphics on top, and print to the laser printer over USB. Both WIll and I thought this would be relatively straightforward. Unfortunately Life’s a Bitch and then you die - so it wasn’t to be. The photocopier and I set off on our next leg of the journey for photocopier encasement in Lincolnshire, the spiritual home of esoteric Engineering, without a software solution in sight.
Unsurprisingly, Dave did an exceptional job of bomb/bum/waterproofing the photocopier. Exceeding the requirements of an impossible brief in the blink of an eye. I’m convinced that Dave has several hundred elves who live underneath his workshop and do his bidding but on each visit they always manage to scurry off down the well just in time. That, or he's an exceptional human. Either way, the grubby old copier arrived at Wieden & Kennedy in a beautiful grey steel-framed acrylic case which didn’t detract from the look of the copier but would allow a shit-faced motorbike display team to drive over it in the pissing rain at -10˙C without fear of damage. Here's Dave's initial sketch.
There were still digital Dragons to slay, though, so I was delighted to have Mister Gallia at my side.
We could remotely access the photocopier’s operating system using VNC but the mode we’d enter to facilitate the circuitous solution we’d found (We’d used the scan-to-usb-stick functionality of the device, setting up a Pi 4 as a usb-on-the-go device) would timeout after a short period and return us to default mode, where pressing the photocopy button would simply report an error to the user which they couldn’t clear because the photocopier was encased in Acrylic to prevent them from accessing the controls. We could also enter a variety of error modes if users mashed the button (as is to be expected).
Will was able to write a script which returned us to the appropriate ready-to-scan mode regardless of which error occurred. This required some elegant dance moves which not everyone is able to perform with the poise and, given my involvement, patience of Mister Gallia. This meant we had a plug-and-play Greetings card maker so you could scan your Dog’s Vagina and send it to your Nan, which was the use case I encountered when I went to check that everything was running as expected.
Trying to make it work felt a bit like this.
Some cards made by the machine.
Please get in touch if you’d like to make something weird and wonderful!