Graphic Design Student Out to Impact Lives Through Customizable Toy and App
The Frankenstory Labs app. Courtesy of Aaron-Harper Lee.
Aaron-Harper Lee, Academy of Art University graphic design student, has only one regret: not pursuing her true passion in design earlier.
“It took a near-fatal car accident and beating the odds of survival to finally put my foot down and chase what I knew was my dream,” said Lee. “A career that impacts people.”
A graduate of UC Berkeley’s School of Economics, Lee heard about the Academy through a good high school friend and alumnus. After hearing about his glowing experience, she immediately enrolled so she could start right away.
“Design has always been an itch I had been meaning to scratch,” said Lee. “Ever since I was little, it was natural for me to collect things I thought were beautiful, strange and eclectic. I saved packages, business cards and matchbooks, and always made beelines to the design section at bookstores and bookmarked websites with interfaces that I had admired.”
Lee is now in the final stages of her thesis, Frankenstory Labs, a unique customizable toy and app that she has been able to advance through crowdfunding. She is well on her way to accomplishing her dream of changing lives through her groundbreaking project.
Frankenstory Labs’ original franken-friend, Franco. Courtesy of Aaron-Harper Lee.
Aaron-Harper Lee. Courtesy of Aaron-Harper Lee.
“My thesis is about how I can help facilitate quality time between parents and children in our increasingly fast-paced and digital world,” said Lee, who prior to coming to the Academy knew that she wanted to become a better storyteller. “Something I found that always brings people closer together is storytelling. The idea is to leverage creativity between parent and child and keep the conversation going to strengthen relationships.”
In the last few years with the advancements in technology, being able to customize something and make it yours has become even more appealing.
“That thrill sticks, especially if that experience is shared,” said Lee, who has done research and interviews with different families and discovered that parents found it difficult to remain involved with the apps and toys they buy their children. She found that most products out there are either for the child or the adult and don’t usually engage both parties. She is out to change that.
Her thesis has two parts: the toy that is a kit of parts (i.e., appendages and accessories) with a companion app on the iPad that creates different stories based on the interaction with the toy. The storytelling platform is inspired by a “Mad Libs”-like concept where depending on age, users can choose or enter in words to customize a story.
“More often than not, it will induce serious giggles,” she said.
A bonus feature she’s working on is the option for parents to instantaneously send their creations to be 3-D printed.
“Essentially, what is imagined can by experienced in both the digital and analogue world with Frankenstory Labs,” said Lee. “I hope to ease that controversial disconnect that is felt with purely digital entertainment by encouraging the importance of a physical component to associate and play with.”
Her tagline is: “Build a Story. Bring it to Life.”
Facing the challenges that many students have, mainly a lack of funding and crossing into disciplinary territories outside of graphic design, Lee brought her thesis to life through crowdfunding.
“Turning to crowdfunding was an eye-opening experience,” she said. “When there is a chance to expand your horizons, I seize it. I had no idea how far I would get, and I am certainly much further than I thought I would be.”
Lee found that by crowdfunding, she talked about her thesis to more people and it made those around her excited. “It wasn’t just funding that was beneficial, it was also the act of spreading my idea out and getting more feedback,” said Lee. “This brought a lot of positive energy into the picture and more than ever, I am convinced I could make the wildest of my dreams happen for Frankenstory Labs.”