Squishy Press was born out of a kitchen table conversation. In August of 2009, Allison and I were discussing our one-year old son’s amazing talent for thwarting our best efforts to keep various plastic, wood and paper objects out of his mouth. Both of us are concerned about environmental issues and were sharply aware that toxic chemicals could be lurking in many of the everyday products our little explorer was encountering.
Because we’re both graphic designers, the conversation quickly turned to our son’s many picture board books.
“Kids eat everything, including books! Everyone who’s been around kids knows this!
“. . . I mean, what is in these books? Cast coated papers, glues, UV Laminates (that can’t be good), metallic foils . . .
“You and I could do better. And we could do it right — green printing and paper, testing for toxins . . . ” We decided we would design and produce baby books (and eventually baby toys) that were as safe, sustainable, and as well-designed as we could make them. We would test our books for toxic substances, and be completely transparent about our processes. And they would be american-made.
Deconstruction of a children’s book
Learning about the sustainability and toxicity issues surrounding our product meant there was a lot to do in a short amount of time. When faced with a daunting project like this it’s easy to become overwhelmed, so we organized the launch much like we would a design project — with phases of development and tasks divided according to expertise.
First we tackled the issues of organization and strategy, developing a business plan and marketing strategy. We then created (what we thought at the time was) a reasonable schedule to produce two eight-page board books, get the books tested for toxicity, and unveil the books at a local green family neighborhood festival. As Allison and I continued to map out the production schedule, we turned to our printing partner for help sourcing safe materials and printing processes.
Tackling sustainable production with a firm but flexible process Squishy Press’ books may be about fun for readers, but behind the scenes, we’re all about metrics. If we were going to call our books “safe,” we better know what was in them, and be able to show that our books are as safe as we claim. Such an approach requires a lot of planning, and a lot of research. We decided to tackle the complex process of sustainable print production by breaking it down into several phases:
1. Materials: Research what’s available, and find better alternatives
2. Print production: Choose a printer-partner, and identify best practices
3. Marketing: Develop accurate messaging, and avoid greenwashing
4. Third-party testing: Verify the safety of our products
Meanwhile, we also faced the challenge of designing the content of the book. Luckily, Squishy Press has a secret weapon: co-founder Allison Manley. Allison and I mapped out the content, and developed a photographic shot list early in the project to allow time for photography. I sweated over the development of a logo with critical input (and patience) from Allison. Steven Gross, our photographer, arranged to photograph more than 50 children of varying ages over the course of several months — all of us recruited “models” from our friends and family, who were happy to ham it up for the camera in exchange for family portraits from an award-winning photographer.
By deconstructing the typical children’s book and looking at all its components, we were able to identify the various materials that might pose a safety hazard to young readers, or to the natural world they’ll one day inherit. From there, it would be a matter of finding nontoxic and environmentally responsible alternatives to the conventional components so readily available — a task that would eventually prove to be easier said than done.
Read part two and stay tuned for part three of “Making of a Green Baby Book.”