Dymo Plastic Label Embosser


Fantastic for art projects

This is as old school as it gets. I have friends who are crazy into labeling, but I’m quite disorganized. I organize my files once every six months and it piles up with tax stuff and documents. I go nuts because I can’t get any work done and so I organize it. I have very bad handwriting, so I write in my chicken scrawl on all the file folders and I can’t really identify them later.

I went to my friend’s house and he’s one of those nerds who follows David Allens’ Getting Things Done so he’s got labels on everything. He’s got labels on his file folders, his food, his pets, everything! He had one of these three hundred dollar labeling machines, a steam-propelled thing that produces beautiful ink jetted labels. I thought “that seems kind of nice,” but since I was experimenting with labeling I didn’t want to spend a lot of money.

I went to Amazon and I sorted them from cheapest to most expensive and it turns out the cheapest one was like fifteen dollars [It is now $9 on Amazon – MF]. It was one of those old school ones where you turn to the letter you want and clunk it out, then you turn to the next one, and clunk that out. It’s got those black, red, or blue little plastic strips and you’re pushing each letter into it.

I looked at it and I thought “that’s a fifteen dollar experiment . If I end up being lazy and not actually doing any labeling I won’t waste too much money.” So I ordered this thing and it has the advantage of not running on batteries or needing electricity and it turned out to be so delightful to use.

I discovered it’s actually useless as a labeler because if you make a mistake the label and the letters come out wonky and if you push harder they come out whiter and they’re a little uneven. And I thought, “well this is actually a sub-par labeler, but it’s fantastic for art projects!”

I started writing poems on it. One line of a poem was one strip and I would just tape them to things around my desk. This follows one of my dictums, which I’ve discovered over and over again: bad tools make for great art! Tools that were designed to do something utilitarian and fail miserably at the task tend to produce delightful aesthetic experiences, and this is exactly why David Byrne discovered that PowerPoint and Excel were fabulous for creating artistic works. PowerPoint, as Edward Tufte proved, degrades cognition, but what degrades rational cognition can augment aesthetic cognition and you can do beautiful, crazy, stupid things with it. And, over and over again, when I find a tool and realize it’s totally useless I go “Ok what can we do with it that’s nuts?” This is what this thing is. I’ve realized this is not a label making thing because it fails at that. This is a publishing platform for producing the strangest looking type imaginable.

-- Clive Thompson 12/1/16

(This review is from our Cool Tools Show interview with Clive Thompson. — editors)