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What your notebook says about you

I was scrambling to get ready for my morning meeting last Friday and realized that I was out of notebooks. I had just finished my Creativity Explored one,


which is tiny and noncommittal, the equivalent of a hotel notepad with a cute cover.

I flipped through my red moleskine, just in case there were any blank pages left in that one.


There weren’t. In a pinch, I usually use my agenda book, but my new 2013 one has little room for notes.

(I love paper, if you couldn’t tell by now.)

I’m running all over my parents’ house (which is where I crashed last night) looking for anything to write on, loose leaf paper, backs of envelopes, anything! “They don’t even have computer paper, what animals!” I grumbled, checking the time. At this point, I’m pawing through my dad’s office, which is crazy messy, and come upon these beautiful notebooks in his bookcase. I always forget that he is a bit of a writer himself. “These are really nice. Too nice to steal? Hmm. He does have two, though. And they are both blank.” I rationalize. He leaves for work before 6 (and it’s way later than 6 right now), so I text him to see if it’s OK to steal one. I don’t get a reply. It’s too late. I run out the door, notebook in hand.


This notebook is large, bigger than your standard 8.5×11″ anyway. The weight of the pages is heavy. The backs are blank and the fronts are gridded, with space for project titles, page numbers, and extra bookmarking info. The ink is green.


I like this notebook because it feels like I’m doing scientific experiments. It elevates the importance of the notes, without the pressure to come up with grand conclusions. Experiments fail all the time.

I also like the science-y feel of this notebook because it makes me think of Field Notes on Science and Nature.


I love this collection of famous(-ish) scientists’ notebooks. Scratchings and musings. Its purpose is to share observational notes from the field, ones that usually stay hidden in filing cabinets or personal libraries. And each set is as idiosyncratic as its author. Its contents capture seemingly unimportant, fleeting impressions. Only after many seasons, or even decades, of field research do models start to form and the scientist is able to draw patterns and larger theories about the world around us.

Why does any of this matter? Because your notebook says a lot about you.

First, the notes themselves. Notes are in your handwriting and drawing style. They reflect your view of your environment and interactions, how you receive, interpret, and consider your personal experiences. Mine are rambling and messy, and usually have an expiration date. The more time passes, the less likely I’ll be able to read them.


Second, the notebook format says a lot about your design sensibilities. A yellow legal pad is different than a composition book which is different than a tiny spiral bound book which is different than a sketchbook. You get the idea.


Aaron Draplin‘s Field Notes, for example, are hugely popular among designers (although, I admit I didn’t know what they were before I heard Draplin speak at CCA.) Field Notes are simple, beautiful, and functional by design. They are pocketable.


Yet, the moleskine is still the quintessential designer’s notebook. My buddies at Pas de Chocolat and I go into this more in the app we’re making about design. Stay tuned!

Third, the notebook as prop declares your level of engagement. What kind of attention you are going to pay to the situation you are in. You show up to a meeting and lay it on the table. More often than not these days, it’ll be your laptop. But I find this to be disengaging and a barrier to interaction with the people in the room. I bring a laptop if the meeting is not that important and I want to daze out and check my email.  My old manager had a huge notepad (maybe 11×17, maybe bigger) that really made an impression in meetings. “Whoa!” people would inhale sharply as she opened it in front of them. I couldn’t decide if it was the equivalent of driving a big truck or if it really did help her think. Maybe a little of both.

2 thoughts on “What your notebook says about you

  1. I love that notebook that you found at the parents! I always carry a notebook or two in my purse but find it’s a lot of pressure to fill it with awesome sketches. If you wanna feel bad about yourself check out Stephen Heller’s Typography Sketchbooks, all collection of famous typographer’s sketchbooks:

  2. […] in our toolkit for collecting data. And don’t worry about what everyone else thinks – lots of people have caught onto the trend of carrying notebooks around in addition to laptops. Field notes can include contextual […]

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