When was the last time you made a physical photo collage? It’s probably been a while. But the idea is familiar to most people, and it’s an easy way to creatively express yourself. That’s what a new iPad app called Mixel from New York City startup Lascaux is trying to tap into.
The app, created by former New York Times digital design director Khoi Vinh and Scott Ostler of dump.fm, invites people to make simple photo collages that can be shared easily among friends and remixed into new creations that form a sort of visual conversation. Lascaux also announced it has raised $600,000 in seed funding from Polaris Venture Partners, Betaworks and Allen & Company, bringing its total to $700,000 raised so far.
Making art fun
The free app tries to build a social environment that encourages creativity, sharing and building off the work of others. It’s meant to lower the bar for dabbling in art by tapping friends to help unleash a lot of pent-up creative energy. (Check out the video demonstration below.)
“We’re trying to get people out of the thinking that art is something they can’t do because it’s intimidating or difficult,” Vinh told me. “We want to make it fun and casual like a conversation.”
Users create their own collage, or mixel, by pulling from their own pictures on their iPad or from Facebook. Or they can search through Bing image search for photos. They can then crop, rotate, expand and duplicate images, all with simple touch gestures.
Other iPad apps like Photo Wall also let people make collages. But Mixel is trying to distinguish itself by being social. So users can find their friends on Facebook, see what’s popular and trending among Mixel users, and follow other Mixel users, commenting and liking their stuff. And they can share their creations on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.
Remix and share
Mixel users can reuse other people’s collages, pulling out single elements or grabbing all the pieces and working them into something new. One of Mixel’s coolest features is that it saves all the elements separately on its servers, so users can pull out one piece that they like and use it to start their own mixel.
Because Mixel saves each element, it also knows where each piece is reused, so it can show users how one element may have been implemented by other people. And it encourages almost a conversation that builds upon images. This kind of reminds me of Chris Poole’s Canvas image board service, which opened to the public recently and encourages people to interact through images. Vinh, who left the New York Times last year, said Canvas is different in that’s it’s used online and it’s good for creating memes while Mixel encourages art with a broad audience. It also has no drawing, paint or text tools to keep it distinct from meme culture.
Vinh said Mixel is looking to build a big audience first before exploring monetization opportunities. Down the line, he said, he might consider in-app purchase, freemium subscriptions or working with brands on brand-safe collages.
I like what Mixel is trying to do. I think the iPad has a great opportunity to spur creativity, but while I have used some apps like Brushes and Sketchbook, I haven’t stuck with it, because I don’t have much desire to keep going. But having a way to easily share stuff within a community of people having fun with art makes it more inviting. And being able to deconstruct and riff off other people’s work helps make the process less intimidating. I can see myself playing with this, and I imagine my nieces and nephews would find this extremely enjoyable too.
It’s interesting to see the way that photos and images are becoming a language unto themselves. Instagram has helped to make photos easily sharable, and now apps like Piictu are trying to get people to communicate through photos. This visual culture is starting to flourish, and I think we’re still early in this trend.