New Year, New Notes: The Best Notebooks for Designers & Creatives

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I get myself something special at the start of every year: a new notebook. Because there are more choices than ever before, this may be one of the more challenging notebook shopping seasons for me. And since I feel like I deserve more than just one, it’ll be even more challenging.

Notebook Personality

If you’re routinely taking notes, you want lined paper. Artist? Illustrator? More about drawing and doing thumbnails? You need a sketchbook with plain sheets. There’s also grid and dot-grid paper. For the work I do and the vast amount of notes I take, a lined notebook is my tool of choice. My brand of choice? That’s the funny thing, I don’t have one.

Some designers and illustrators are loyal to a specific brand. I’ve met those who love Field Notes®. Others swear by Moleskine®. Even Michael Bierut came clean about his notebook of choice: the 10 × 7⅛ inch National Blank Book Company composition book. But I’m neither a loyalist nor a purist, and one look at my notebook collection proves it.

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My Primary Arsenal

Sometimes I dedicate specific notebooks to specific things. My Moleskine notebooks are for teaching notes. The Mead notebooks house a smorgasbord of writing and design all in one place. Both have held up well over the years.

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My Mead notebooks are the perfect size; I like the patterned plus-sign cover (even though it gets covered in stickers); and I found them for a low price. Part of me wants to go all in and only get Mead from now on, but I can’t. I’m not a one-notebook kind of guy.moleskin-cvr

In addition to Mead, I also use Moleskine because they make a wide variety of notebooks in all shapes and sizes with a range of papers. Moleskine notebooks are durable and reliable, and I like the way they feel in my hands.
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I also have an assortment of small notebooks that are portable enough to fit in a coat or pants pocket, ideal for times when I need to travel light. My Scout Books notebook, with an inspirational quote on the cover, is in my current rotation. It’s the second one I’ve used in a year.scout-open

Made in Portland, OR, but available around the world through their website, I received my mini Scout Books notebook for being an AIGA member. The small size and light weight has been perfect for field work such as interviews or quickly jotting an idea that comes to mind.

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I’m impressed by how well it’s held up given the wear and tear I’ve put it through. Looking to have your own cover design? They’re easy to customize through their site.

What’s Next for Me

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I’ve had my eyes on Baron Fig notebooks for a while, but I haven’t been able to find them locally. I prefer to see the notebook in person before making a purchase, and have been hesitant about taking the plunge and ordering one online which is one of the rules I go by. But I may finally give in this year because what I’ve seen looks fantastic. Great paper. Lays flat. What’s not to like? Need a new writing instrument? Also check out their Squire pen.

Another notebook that got my attention? It’s called comp. It’s got the perfect name, a classic marble cover, and lots of functionality. This is another one that’s tempting me to break my not online first purchase rule.

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When I learned about Aron Fay’s comp project, I was immediately curious, especially since it tied back Michael Bierut and composition books he and his Pentagram team use. A self-proclaimed notebook “made for the 21st century,” comp looks wonderful. The first Kickstarter campaign was extremely successful, and that bodes well for everyone, including people like me excited about getting their hands on one.

Moo, a company many people know for business cards, has gotten into the notebook business, and from what I’ve seen they’re making a stellar product.

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Hard-bound, feature-rich, and in a stunning package, the Moo Notebook strikes me as the MacBook of notebooks. The paper, the binding, the slipcase (yes, slipcase), everything about it looks impressive. Downside? Moo is presently out of stock.

[Related: HOW’s 2016 Designer Gift Guide]

Shopping Notes

Having bought and used, as well as having made a lot of notebooks by hand over the years, I have a few rules I live by when it comes to notebook shopping. For starters, get feedback. You may have strong intuition about what makes a good notebook. You yourself may have experience in book arts or publishing, and know a thing or two about binding methods, as well as paper holdout. But get outside opinions when possible. Whether you’re asking friends on Facebook, reading reviews, or casually getting input from consumers in the store where you shop for notebooks, feedback matters.

Also, buy in bulk, but only after you field test one of the notebooks. Buying in bulk without having tested a notebook is risky because if you get a dozen and one falls apart, chances are the entire lot will. I had this happen a few years ago when I bought a bunch of notebooks on clearance for $6 each. The $18 regular price, expensive compared to most, suggested that they would be a quality product. I was wrong. Halfway into the notebook, the binding came apart. The cover quickly became distressed. This happened with the first one, and each one thereafter. I swore I’d never make the same mistake.

But then I found Mead composition books on sale for 70¢ each at the end of one back-to-school shopping season. I bought all seven I found on the shelf. I told myself that the $4.90 total purchase (before tax) was low risk since it was low cost. The risk paid off, and those notebooks have held up well. I’ve thought about going all in with Mead and have looked for them in bulk online, but I haven’t found anything close to the 70¢ per unit price.

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Go Forth and Take Notes

There are plenty of options out there when it comes to notebooks. You could be a loyalist like Bierut, and have a unified collection. Or if you’re like me, and you believe that “variety is the spice of life,” then you may enjoy different notebooks for different needs. No matter what you decide to get, go ahead and treat yourself this year. You deserve it.


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One thought on “New Year, New Notes: The Best Notebooks for Designers & Creatives

  1. Darxstarr

    A neat notebook that I recently discovered for designers is called Sketchy Notebook. It comes with a variety of different templates that you can place under your pages to help guide you with whichever project you’re working on instead of having to rely on using various different gridded and non gridded notebooks. It has templates for graphic design, fashion design, web design, and calligraphy or writing. Their kickstarter campaign recently ended but it is still available for presale on their site. I should be receiving mine next month and am super excited about it. https://sketchynotebookpro.backerkit.com/hosted_preorders/64639

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