Alice for iPad Co-Creator Chris Stevens on Risk and Rabbit Holes

Londoner Chris Stevens, founder of creative iPad app design firm Atomic Antelope found the idea for Alice for iPad at the bottom of a pitch black rabbit hole.

Alice for iPad Co-Creator Chris Stevens on Risk and Rabbit Holes

Londoner Chris Stevens, founder of creative iPad app design firm Atomic Antelope found the idea for Alice for iPad at the bottom of a pitch black rabbit hole.

It was a little more than a year ago. He and his partner had trotted out a forgettable game called Twitch and Bauble, a Christmas tree “decoration simulator.” The novelty app was “not very successful at all,” Stevens says. “We had all these grand visions and then nothing really happened.”

He jokingly refers to the apps biz as a get-rick-quick scheme, but the idea for Alice finally struck him and his partner when, he says, “we’d given up making any money.” Developing a shakeable, touchable, enhanced version of the 145-year-old surrealist fantasy struck more than a chord with readers young and old. “We finally struck gold,” says Stevens. Alice for iPad has “hundreds of thousands” of downloads to its credit, it landed a spot on Oprah, and it’s still making top 10 bestseller lists in most regions. “It was success beyond what we’d imagined,” Stevens says.

But did the former multimedia journalist (at CNET, Stevens was at the helm of a gadget show set in space called, Space Bubble) ever feel like he was tapping an iPad zeitgeist where literary met tactile pleasures? Stevens says no. Though he’s widely recognized as the discoverer of reflectoporn, Stevens maintains, “I wouldn’t say I had a sense of any trend. I hadn’t seen anything particularly inspiring in this medium, and to be honest, I thought it had died in the late ’90s with CD-ROMs. The medium I looked to for inspiration was the traditional paper pop-up book,” ironic, considering Stevens considers working with traditional publishers “a waste of time.”

chris_stevens_2Determined to work around the establishment, Stevens sees a bright future for enhanced e-books and Atomic Antelope. Much the way Lewis Carroll bent the concept of time for Alice, Stevens blurs the lines between his past influences and upcoming projects. Here’s a look at the inner working of Stevens’ wonderland.

Oh my ears and whiskers – “I think I’ve worked in multimedia since I was about six years old –– I used to make these elaborate 3D geometric shapes using paper and glue. I remember crushing another kid’s attempts to copy my efforts –– the first signs of my staggering, but generally well-concealed narcissism.”

Off with their heads – or not – “It’s important to be aware that if you have ten people in a room, 8 of them have no interest beyond keeping their job secure, one is there to criticize everything they see, and then, there’s you. So, most of the room is going to be against anything that is either A) new B) risky. Since A tends to equal B, you might as well ignore the opinion of everyone in any corporate environment. Ask yourself how your manager got into the position they did? Most likely by not fucking up. But innovators fuck up a lot on the way to success, so most managers are the worst people to lead a company, they’re serial monotonists.” 

One side makes you bigger – “I don’t want to overstate it, you have to make a good product. But it didn’t hurt that I had an understanding about journalists and I worked online, and could get instant feedback on the stuff I wrote. I had to draw in readers into the story and that structure translates into different mediums. The same principles in news stories make good fiction,” and great e-books. 

One side makes you small – “I mostly ignore the market, it’s a distraction from the task at hand. The market is a graveyard for creative thought since you can only ever use it to look at events that have already taken place.”

Eat me – Atomic Antelope is sidestepping the traditional publishers and teaming up directly with authors. “The paper publishers have clearly demonstrated that they have absolutely no acuity in the digital realm, and are stuck in CD ROM land. Working with them is a waste of energy. Imagine if Henry Ford had decided to team up with a horse stables to make the Model T.”

What is the use of books without any pictures or conversations – “Parents, I don’t have an answer to the worry that kids might prefer to watch a screen instead of reading. But kids who would have never read Alice as a traditional book might pick it up on the iPad instead of staring at Grand Theft Auto.”

What a strange dream – Stevens can’t discuss upcoming book projects yet, except to say they are with “authors that have made international bestseller lists.” However, he’s got aspirations. “I’m not religious at all but I’d like to have a shot at the Bible. Also, there are some really amazing old anatomy guides with incredible illustrations. But perhaps someone else will do that.”

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a business journalist writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, commerce, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.