Khoi Vinh Unveils Mixel, An iPad App For Making Collages And Friends

Khoi Vinh on designing his first iPad app, a collage-making kit, and why art should be social.

Khoi Vinh, former design director of the New York Times, Internet star, and Co.Design stalkee of the month, on Thursday released his hotly anticipated first iPad app, and–hold on to your grids, design geeks–it’s a collage-making kit!!


Oh. So you’re not impressed. Fair enough. After all, the App Store’s already flooded with art tools that act like they can turn regular Joes into the next Rembrandt. But here’s where Mixel sets itself apart: It’s designed to emphasize something that endeared us all to art as kids, but got lost on the imagination-dulling path to adulthood. It’s social.

What that means, exactly, is this: You cobble together a collage. (The app comes with images for you to play around with or you can upload your own.) Then you share it with your friends. They can rework your collage, take it apart to see how you made it, or simply marvel at the enormity of your talent with a proverbial “like.” It turns art into a fun, group activity–and stands as a cheery rebuke to the stereotype of the artist as a tortured genius laboring alone in his studio. Mixel, Vinh says, is “a collage-making tool and a social network rolled into one.”

He got the idea after he sampled a slew of art apps in the App Store and left disappointed. “I asked myself, ‘Why aren’t people using these more?'” he tells Co.Design. “I had downloaded several, but after trying them out a few times they languished on my iPad. And I went to art school, so presumably someone who doesn’t think of themselves [as art-minded] would be even less motivated than I was.”

So Vinh started thinking about what kind of app might encourage him and others to pick up a (figurative) paintbrush again. “I thought back to the kind of work I used to do in art school when I was studying painting and illustration,” he says. “It was all collage work, so I set out to make something that would let me get back to that kind of activity.”

The social element was a no-brainer. “Everyone starts out doing this stuff–expressing themselves visually just for fun,” Vinh says. “A few select people with obvious talent keep doing it, but for most people, they eventually lose the social context that encourages them to keep at it.” The guy has a point. For a lot of us, art ceased to be fun when our parents stopped posting all our stick figures on the refrigerator. Reinstate an aspect of social affirmation, and you might find legions of people, from kids to octagenarians, just dying to release their inner Jean Arp. “We want to make art easy, casual, and conversational, so that anyone can join in,” Vinh says. And truly, anyone can: The app is free. Download it here.

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.