is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
You wouldn’t think that there a lot of new products to be dreamed up in the notebooks/sketchbooks category, but people keep trying — presumably because other people are still very fond of the tactility of real paper. In just the past few weeks, I’ve become aware of three new lines of notebooks.
Mod Notebooks offers a series of notebooks that “syncs with the cloud.” At first I thought that might mean that the books were specially printed with marks that make it easier to scan and upload images, but their solution is a bit more straightforward: once you’ve finished filling up a Mod with your writings or drawings, you mail it to the company where they scan its entire contents. They then provide the pages to you as images within a web app (the service is also compatible with Evernote, Dropbox and OneNote). The web site has a demo of the end result, which looks pretty, though I didn’t see any searching, indexing, bookmarking or export features.
Plumb Goods’ products are less technologically integrated, but probably more successful as re-imaginings of what a notebook can be. Once a season, the company collaborates with three different contemporary artists to produce unique notebook editions. These aren’t off-the-shelf paper products that have been superficially decorated by the artists, but rather individually customized notebooks that have been designed from scratch. Their lack of uniformity is surprising, actually, and makes for a far more interesting product slate than most of what we typically see in this category.
Baron Fig eschews these high concept twists for something more straightforward and, arguably, more difficult: making fundamentally better notebooks. They began life as a Kickstarter project and have since transitioned to a self-sustaining company. Their approach is to design and manufacture notebooks based on interviews with “hundreds of thinkers worldwide,” and to produce exquisitely crafted notebooks that match that criteria. In an email exchange, I asked one of the company’s founders how Baron Fig’s notebooks were different from others, and he said simply, “Better materials, better function, better price, to name a few.” So there you have it.
I have yet to take to any of these new brands, though I wouldn’t rule anything out. Most people I know use the versatile, surprisingly popular Field Notes series, which I’ve tried here and there. But I always come back to Moleskine’s Cahier journals, which are unassuming, highly portable and inexpensive (they come in packs of three!).
After several months of use, their sturdy, lightweight cardboard covers attain a very satisfying patina. Despite not being hardbound, in the seven years or so that I’ve been using Cahier journals—bending them absent-mindedly, stuffing them into my back pocket, and tossing them in my bag on a daily basis—not one of them has fallen apart on me, which counts for a lot.+