Watch: ToBe, An App That’s A Freeform Canvas For Creativity

Cofounder Nick Dangerfield talks about how the app lets users compose with “all the senses of the Internet.”

The Internet is a very, very large place. But with the constant barrage of ads, pop-ups, and notifications, not to mention the hundreds of tabs you have open right now, the web can also seem incredibly cramped. Social media channels and microblogs offer more “personalized” spaces, with greater control over one’s virtual experiences and interactions, but these have their limitations–namely, sharing features are still fairly primitive and, short of coding, the interface remains clunky across the board.


If self-expression is one of the founding tenets of the Internet, why aren’t there more outlets online that give users the space they need to project a fuller (or at least more nuanced) portrait of themselves? ToBe, a new browser-based creative application, aims to fill this gap.

The platform effectively functions as a tabula rasa for the digital age. It’s pure, unadulterated white space–“dauntingly white“–a giant canvas or field on which users can create collages and artworks. A basic set of tools give them a means to navigate the space and deploy their creative energies.

In a video interview with Co.Design, ToBe Co-Founder Nick Dangerfield says the app lets users compose with all of the “senses of the Internet.” By that, Dangerfield refers to every form of media we consume and share online and which can be dropped into a composition at any point. A song or a film clip can coexist alongside GIFs, Flash animations, photos, and hand drawings. You can even paint directly onto the virtual canvas.

In a way, ToBe builds on Dangerfield’s previous project, PlayButton, a fashion button that plays music. Unlike MP3s or online streaming, the PlayButton lets people display their favorite music in a very public way, and thus, divulge a little bit about themselves they normally wouldn’t. Obviously, ToBe takes this much further and literally gives users their own piece of the Internet that they can make all their own.

Dangerfield stresses the process over the finished work, which might not look all that refined or “finished” in any aesthetic sense. “We are underlining the importance of the sense of adventure in the creative process. You begin somewhere, and don’t know where you will end.” Of course, you don’t need to be an artist or have any previous experience with similar media programs: “For those who aren’t artists, like myself, I think there are very beautiful moments…[in the day]…in which you exercise some creativity to do something for someone that you care about.”

For the ToBe team, the making is only the half of it. The project, Dangerfield says, is meant to be shared on a personal level, and not to be soullessly perpetuated through the ether. Rather, the work produced on ToBe should represent a certain facet of the user (or two or three–the files can be shared with friends and turned into a collaborative effort), a distillation of what they are feeling at a certain time for someone else. “Regardless of the end results what you’re appreciating is that someone spent 15 to 20 minutes kind of playing around with a number of different pieces putting them together for you.” And without the safety net or guiding hand of any “automated procedures,” the visual message is “a truer representation of yourself because it’s imperfect.”


About the author

Sammy is a writer, designer, and ice cream maker based in New York. He once lived in China before being an editor at Architizer.