A graduate student at the Pratt Institute won a design competition to sell his notebooks in Barnes & Noble
When Ben Tuber, now a graduate student at the Pratt Institute, was an undergrad at the University of Chicago, he wasn’t exactly planning a future in design. Immersed in the relatively esoteric world of ancient Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphics, Tuber revealed in an interview that he had other lofty ideas, including one fantasy of becoming the next Indiana Jones.
After taking a beat, Tuber added, “I realized I wasn’t going to be the next Indiana Jones.”
Hieroglyphics — something that had captivated Tuber since childhood for “more purely visual reasons” — remained a lingering inspiration, however, eventually following him to Pratt. Though he had been drawing since he was a little kid, Tuber described his light-bulb moment when he realized “there was a career for this thing — it’s called design.”
Today, Tuber has experienced something of an upward trajectory at Pratt; in keeping with the school’s ongoing partnership with Barnes & Noble, some of Tuber’s designs — along with those of a small group of other graduate students at Pratt — are now on sale at more than 400 Barnes & Noble stores nationwide as part of the “For Students By Students” collection. The participating, selected students were challenged to create unique designs for a target age group; other than those minimal instructions, though, the project was completely up to them to execute.
Keeping a younger demographic in mind, Tuber began thinking about products — sketchbooks, pencil cases, and journals — that would actually appeal to college-age students. Noting that “everyone is plugged in,” he turned to texting symbols themselves — “a kind of second language.” Soon, emojis, smiley icons, and “TTYL” shorthand found their way onto the sketchbooks — an attempt, in some small way, to breach the digital divide.
Describing his designs, Tuber is at once equal parts philosophical and straightforward; recognizing that texting lingo has “infiltrated our normal speech,” he also realizes that digitization is rampant, and here to stay. Rather than rebuff computers and iPhones, Tuber has tried to straddle creativity with the digital age; the two need not be mutually exclusive.
Tuber’s line of sketchbooks, he believes, will appeal to anyone who has a “longing to sketch something by hand.” It is an old-school approach, perhaps, but stands as evidence that you can “have fun outside of the computer.”
Barnes & Noble has several partnerships with schools, not all of which end up benefitting the students whose designs go into production. Last week, a former student at the Fashion Institute of Technology claimed in a federal lawsuit that she hasn’t made any money off a top-selling backpack she created for the store in 2010. Diana Rubio designed the “everything backpack” when she was assigned to enter Barnes & Noble’s “Back to Campus” contest. Her bag won, and it continues to be a top seller for Barnes & Noble, which sells it for $39.95 and credits Rubio as the designer.
But Rubio says in the lawsuit that she never received any money from FIT or Barnes & Noble. Barnes & Noble says it pays royalties to FIT and that the matter was between Rubio and the school.
Tuber, however, has enjoyed seeing his work out in the real world; an Upper West Side native, he remains particularly devoted to the 82nd Street Barnes & Noble. Pratt’s partnership with the bookstore has been a “great opportunity,” he said. He described the thrill of seeing his work materialize in his hometown bookstore as an honor — one that might even trump the Indiana Jones fantasy.