Dieter Rams, a legendary industrial designer, compiled a list of principles that he followed in his work. Being fans of his, we've kept them in mind while going through the process of designing our first book. Here's how they relate.
1. Good Design is Innovative
From the very beginning we've had to ask ourselves to define and redefine what a notebook is. Is it a luxury piece? An item for leisure? For entertainment? We eventually came to the conclusion that a notebook is a tool—one that can be used for leisure, entertainment, and work. Essentially, it's a means to something greater than itself. Using this understanding as a guide we began to break down the individual subtleties that comprise the whole and improve the design in small ways. There are no gimmicks, no unnecessary parts—just intelligent improvement of a simple tool.
2. Good Design Makes a Product Useful
As a tool, a notebook is inherently a useful item. However, some are more useful than others. Usability is important, and we want it to feel natural when you use this book at your desk, on your couch, in the train—anywhere. To do this we had to account for several different user cases, including laying the book flat on a desk, holding it with one hand and writing with the other, carrying it in a backpack or purse, using it all day or just in spurts. We worked through each of these cases with a lot of testing, questioning, and care to bring you a more refined book.
3. Good Design is Aesthetic
Essentially, good design is beautiful. Not flashy or sexy beauty—because aesthetics like that only have a temporary lifespan—but timeless and elegant beauty. We strove to design a book that is neither loud nor quiet, but just right; one that is attractive in it's simplicity.
Prototypes. We're currently working on the sixth prototype. The first two were Frankenstein composites of several other books, the third was made from scratch in-house, the fourth was made by an artisan book binder here in NYC, and the fifth was the first iteration of manufacturing.
The hardest part about jumping from the artisan's hand made book (4th) to a factory made book (5th) is tweaking all the fine points that we had designed in person. It's a slow process, but we're getting there little by little. We're happy to say the end goal is in sight.
Release. The first Baron Fig book is going to be made available to order next month via Kickstarter. We chose to go the Kickstarter route because manufacturing requires that we order large amounts—literally thousands—to get a price that will allow us to sell it for a fair price. We'll be able to aggregate the initial group of sales all at once and make a shipment based on that. If you like this project, please share it—if we don't hit our mark we can't launch it all.
More soon! Thanks again to everyone who has shown support thus far!
At this very moment our homepage banner says "Time to shake things up." In the background image there's a bear that somehow got loose during whatever show was going on and is rebelling against the spectacle of which he is the unwilling star. Some dogs are fruitlessly trying to stop him, people are shouting (at least in our heads), and, in general, all hell is breaking loose.
And that's how we like it. We're making Baron Fig books because we see all those people in the stands as the big notebook companies and we're the bear in the center that exists to serve and entertain. Except now we're escaping—we're going to do things our way.
These notebooks are designed by us bears, for us bears.
In our experience, how creative we feel is directly linked to how free we feel.
It's not uncommon to sit down to brainstorm and go through ten pages in a single session. When a sketchbook or notebook has too few pages it's difficult to explore ideas without feeling like we're wasting space or money.
So we made sure to have plenty of pages. 192 pages to be exact—comprised of 8 signatures with 12 sheets (24 pages) in each. On top of that, each page has a slight texture that makes the interaction of pen/pencil to paper an enjoyable experience.
We're not sure where it started, but so many sketchbooks these days are tall and thin.
Out of all the things we discussed with thinkers around the world, this was one of the major gripes about today's premium sketchbooks and notebooks. Unless you're using the full spread, the tall proportions make the pages difficult to work with, especially when holding the book with one hand.
So we took some of the extra vertical space and moved it over the the side. Now you can hold the book with one hand while on the train, park bench, or couch and have more breathable and usable space on a single page than ever before.
Add to this the fact that our books open flat and you can understand just how fully each page is available to you.
This may be obvious but it has to be said: a notebook or sketchbook is 95% paper. (We said it was obvious.)
This means that the quality of the paper in the book is of utmost importance. Somehow many books out there seem to ignore this fact, they use cheaper paper to cut corners. For those of us that use notebooks on a daily basis, quality paper is important.
When we started our search for the right paper we had three things in mind:
It had to have a slight texture, nothing perfectly smooth.
It had to be just barely off white, which makes the paper easier to stare at for long periods.
It had to be acid-free so that we could store our books for decades without the paper degrading into a yellow block of uselessness.
We explored paper options on the east and west coasts, felt all sorts of thicknesses and textures, and tested several mini booklets to see how they held up in action. After a lot of deliberation and discussion, we're happy to say we found what we were looking for.
We've spoken with thinkers around the world and they all agree: the books need to open flat.
We took special care to make sure that when you open a Baron Fig book on a flat surface, it really opens. This was achieved by binding the book in signatures instead of using the cheaper "perfect bound" method. A signature is basically a small booklet of pages, with multiple signatures combined to make the whole book.
Using signatures alone doesn't ensure that the book opens flat. We also removed the conventional stiff board in the spine to give it maximum flexibility. When you open the book the cloth-only spine allows the signatures to truly spread.
The end result of all this technical stuff is that you get to fully use every single page to its fullest. No more books that curve up in the center and cheat you out of space.
When it comes to simple everyday things like notebooks, the subtleties make all the difference. Every book is comprised of the same simple elements—cover, paper, end paper, bookmark, binding, size—so crafting a stellar product occurs in optimizing the small variances of each.
We've been taking a hard look at these elements as they pertain to idea generation. Over the last few months we've opened dialogs with dozens of thinkers around the globe and asked them one simple question: What do you like in a sketchbook/notebook?
The response has been tremendous. So far we've honed in on four important subtleties that we think will make all the difference:
Quality Lasting Paper
Plenty O' Pages
Over the next few days we're going to explain each subtlety. We'll be posting all of our updates to @baronfig—stay tuned!
There are a lot of notebooks and sketchbooks out there. Before we began this project we had to make sure we weren't just adding to the noise. We asked ourselves a hard question: What makes us different from the rest?
We came up with one simple answer: We're making books for ideas.
Every day creative professionals (as well as hobbyists) spend vital time in their notebooks, so it's important that they're comfortable with it and it fits their needs. Most of the books we've found are either poorly made and flimsy or cater towards visual artists making finished work.
The poorly made books have a whole host of nagging issues, mainly due to the fact that the designs aren't well thought out. We've seen books that don't open flat or close evenly, books that lose pages on a whim, proportions that are unusable, too many or too few pages for the price and use—just to name a few.
Books for visual artists are aplenty, and most of them are pretty good. They're usually packed with 60 to 80 pages of high quality paper where an illustrator can spend hours working on a single page. The problem with this is that many of us don't need such high quality paper to generate ideas—what we need is a lot of space.
And that's where Baron Fig comes in.
We're dedicated to putting together high quality notebooks—blank, ruled, and dot grid—that cater to those of us who want to let our minds meander through the gardens of our thoughts. At 192 pages and small enough to carry with you wherever you go, we're right on track.
The creation of this blog and the writing of this post are two more baby steps towards making Baron Fig notebooks a reality.
Our goal is to create a book that is your best friend, your right hand man (or woman), the yin to your yang. It's a book that’s small enough to go everywhere you do and big enough to work with all day long, whether at home, work, school, or in a spaceship.
Everything we do is shaped by three rules:
Less is more. We want the book to be simple. It shouldn't be covered with branding, design, or anything else. We want this to feel like it's your book, not ours.
Reflect the process. Idea-generation is iterative, it's an ebb and flow of torment and elation, of order and chaos, discipline and impulse. The way we design, present, and develop the book should respect that.
Listen to the people.Our decisions have been informed by our own experience and from talking to creative professionals from around the world. Every aspect of the book has been highly considered, including the dimensions, materials, paper thickness, and color.
Support for our project in just these last few weeks has been tremendous. We thank all of you for your kind words, suggestions, and inspiring ideas. You're motivating us to keep taking those baby steps every day.