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Comments (157) Posted 10.12.08 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Michael Bierut

26 Years, 85 Notebooks


Notebooks 
Photo by Kai Samela

On August 12, 1982, I took a 10 x 7 1/8 inch National Blank Book Company composition book from the supply closet of my then employer, Vignelli Associates. From that moment, I have never been without one. I always have one at my desk. I take one with me to every meeting. I am now in the middle of Notebook #85. It's in front of me right now. Together, these well-worn books create a history of my working life that spans three decades.

Notebooks
Notebook covers, 1982 to 2008

I tend to be obsessive-compulsive, and I am very picky about the notebooks. No fancy Moleskines for me, just standard-issue office supply composition books. 

I use them in order. Tibor Kalman once asked me why I didn't have a different notebook for every project. I have to admit, this would be more useful. But I don't. I fill each one up and then move to the next one, the projects all jumbled together. Starting with the third one, every one of them is numbered. Except for two at the very beginning that used gridded paper, they have blank, unlined pages. I hate gridded paper (but not as much as lined paper.) There have been times when it's been really difficult to get unlined composition books, which I gather are oddly unpopular. One time I found a supplier who would only sell them in bulk and I bought a whole boxful. I thought these would last the rest of my life, but I gave a lot away, which I regret. Now they're gone.

Notebooks 

Covers of Notebook #25 (September 20, 1993 to May 14, 1994) and Notebook #26 (May 18 to August 24, 1994)

At the beginning I used to customize the covers. Those were the days when I used to handmake every birthday card. After a while it started to feel like an affectation. Nowadays I tend to just write the number on the front. The marbled cover, beloved by Ettore Sottsass during his Memphis period, may be iconic enough on its own.

Notebooks
Santa Cruz fashion catalog color studies in Notebook #3 (to November 21, 1983 to December 6, 1984). Note hideous gridded paper

There always seems to be a lot of interest in designers' sketchbooks, but I call these notebooks for a reason. I've seen other designer's sketchbooks and I'm always impressed by how much creativity is on display. Not in mine. Page after page contain nothing but records of phone conversations, notes from meetings, price estimates, specifications. I keep the random doodles to a minimum. Someone looking at those pages would think the book might belong to a lawyer or, more likely, a party planner. Every once in a while, though, there are some drawings that would suggest that the owner was a designer.

Notebooks
Fool for Love poster sketches in Notebook #21 (March 25 to July 12, 1992)

For instance, this looks like a designer's sketchbook, doesn't it? These are ideas for a poster to promote a friend's production of the Sam Shepard play Fool for Love, a contemporary western about a disfunctional relationship. Pages like this, where I seem to be methodically working through a series of options, are actually fairly rare in the notebooks. I must have been stuck somewhere with nothing else to do. The final poster looked nothing like any of these sketches.

Notebooks
Celebration, Florida, town signage sketches in Notebook #23 (January 14 to June 15, 1993)

These are more typical of the kinds of drawings you find in the notebooks. They were done in one of the early planning meetings for Disney's new town of Celebration, Florida. In meetings with lots of people around a table, you can take notes and sketch without attracting much attention. (This is especially true if you're a graphic designer surrounded by a lot of architects.) Unlike the Fool for Love sketches, this one turned out more like the sketch.

Notebooks

Minnesota Children's Museum identity sketches in Notebook #27 (September 10 to November 21, 1994)

The notebooks function like a security blanket for me. I can't go into a meeting unless I have my current notebook in my hand, even if I never open it. Because I carry one everywhere, I tend to misplace them a lot. Losing one makes me frantic. Everyone who works with me gets used to me asking, "Have you seen my notebook anywhere?" which I assume gets irritating after a while: sorry. I've left them behind in clients' offices. On one occasion, I left one on the roof of a cab on the upper west side. I ended up walking ten blocks, retracing the taxi's route, until I found it on Broadway at 63rd Street, intact except for some tire marks. 

Only twice have I lost notebooks and never found them. One was left behind somewhere in the sprawling corporate headquarters of United Airlines in Elk Grove, Illinois. The other, #45, disappeared at Heathrow Airport. That particular loss was extra sad since it contained a drawing my then 13-year-old daughter Liz did that she claims is the original sketch for the Citibank logo. (She changed the t in Citi into an umbrella; of course, Paula Scher may have already had that idea.)

Notebooks
Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival sketches in Notebook #30 (April 15 to July 10, 1995)

Looking back at the books, I'm surprised at how often I got the idea for certain solutions at the very beginning. These are pretty much the first sketches for the identity for the Brooklyn Academy of Music, most of which feature chopped-off sans serif typography. You can see there were pages before and after that are pretty much more of the same. This is pretty much how it all turned out, and not that different from the way it is to this very day

The same is true for the Minnesota Childrens' Museum, above, which ended up using photographs of children's hands, an idea that I wrote down while I was on my first visit there. When I'm feeling smug and self-satisfied, I tell myself that, like Mozart, my ideas emerge fully formed, and I need only transcribe them as they come pouring out. In more common, less secure, moments, I wonder if I I'm lazy, if I settle too soon. How many other, better ideas might be out there if I took the time to look for them?

Notebooks
Cover sketch for "Tibor Kalman, Perverse Optimist" in Notebook #42 (November 24 1997 to March 10 1998)

Like most designers, I get asked a lot about my process. A lot of my ideas are so simple and dumb that a simple dumb drawing is all it takes to describe it. I probably did the drawing for the cover of Tibor Kalman's monograph in a meeting. Picture on the front, stacked type on the spine: what if we did something like this? That's how it came out. If a process is supposed to have steps, to reflect a method, that isn't much of a process. 

Notebooks
Museum of Arts and Design sketches (left) and Libeskind monograph sketches (right) in Notebook #82 (October 22, 2007, to February 2, 2008)

The markings in the notebooks are often a kind of terse shorthand that I don't think would be comprehensible to anyone but me. On one hand, the sketches for the Museum of Arts and Design identity on the left are pretty clear. (I was really infatuated with that alphabet and filled pages with it for weeks, not that different from my binge on bubble letters in the second grade.) 

The other scribbles, however, are the initial sketches for the book that was eventually titled Counterpoint: Daniel Libeskind, done in a meeting with the architect and the publisher. They don't look like anything at all, and I don't think I ever showed them to anyone. But they helped focus an image in my mind that was not that different from the way the book looked when it was published nine months later.

Notebooks
"To do" page and picture of Dorothy in Notebook #82

The last page of my notebook is traditionally the place where I write down things I have to do: proposals to write, phone calls to answer, upcoming presentations. I cross them off as I get them done, as a lot of other people do, which is satisfying. I also shove a lot of stray ephemera into the pages, as well as the occasional treasure, like the 32-year-old snapshot of my wife Dorothy that I carried around for a few months before writing about it here on Design Observer.

Notebooks
Hearts by Drew and Elizabeth Bierut in Notebook #22 (July 13, 1992, to January 11, 1993)

When I look at these notebooks, many of the references bring back memories, some decades old. But other times I frankly can't remember why I was writing these things down. Did I ever call Dilland? Whatever happened to Executive Sign? What was the Lefand Alliance? In many ways, the act of notetaking and sketching is an end in itself for me. Many of these pages, filled with trivia as they are, are destined never to be looked at a second time. 

That makes the occasional encounter with life beyond the office all the sweeter. Growing up, my kids knew they weren't supposed to draw in my notebooks, but that never stopped them. Thank God. I have them to thank for my favorite pages.
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Comments (157)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

Really great post, thanks. I particularly relate to your bit about notes regarding subjects or people you don't have any recollection of althoug sometime i like the fact I can't remember someone or thing - a sort of natural selection. I have to admit I have fallen foul of the ubiquitous Moleskine, although I wish I had carried on my collection of month-to-view desk calendars that printers would ply us with each year. It sat under the phone, computer and coffee mug and with each new month a blank sheet was torn off and it got progressively grottier as the month drew to a close with smattering of split food, stray phone numbers and 'going postal' sketches usually penned with a client/superior on the other end of the phone.
Piers
01.28.09 at 09:37

I am absolutely in love with this post.
Jw
01.28.09 at 09:53

i love these!

i have an obsessive disorder with notebooks too except i can't bring myself to write in them and ruin them. i have TONS of blank notebooks, sketch books, journals, tiny books, big books etc. full of nothing. i will take one off the shelf with full intentions of giving it a purpose but will usually stare at it for a few days until i put it back. if i do write in one i will usually rip out the pages later.
i love your books and it makes me want to conquer my fear of ruining notebooks so that i could have such a wonderful collection of random thoughts and processes over my lifetime! i think i'll grab one of those books off of the shelf tonight!

thanks, lauren
lauren rand
01.28.09 at 09:55

How beautiful.

I myself am in year 3, Moleskin 8.
Looks like I have some catching up to do.
Jon Dascola
01.28.09 at 10:13

Excellent post, Michael. I have something similar in the terms of tons of sketchbooks from my college and professional life. They fall into the "typical designer" category though with numerous skethes, ramblings, and other ideas.

One question though, have you ever looked back at your older books for ideas for a current project?
Randy
01.28.09 at 10:20

Notebooks are great because they allow designers to do what they do best—think visually. Hand-drawing and sketching is becoming a lost discipline as designers turn too fast to technology to foster their own ideation. The notebook is the place to quickly capture seeds of ideas before they get lost in the noise. And overtime, our notes and doodles yield insights into the way we think, organize our world, and respond to others—insights that we can learn from. Nice post.

And, there's nothing wrong with a Moleskin.
Randy Ziegler
01.28.09 at 10:26

This is a great post and solidifies why designers should have notebooks. Sometimes the best ideas are done when you are at the starting point, the floodgates when ideas are pouring out and you worry about nothing. It allows you to think freely, open your mind to anything and for me, it is one of the most inspiring parts of the process. Thank You.
Mark Martini
01.28.09 at 10:42

Neat stuff! I have four boxes of past projects on logotypes and
symbol doodles I have done over many years. Fun to go back
over some of the files. Your work is OUTSTANDING! Keep up the
great work. I hope this article will get the young designers off
the computer and on to pencil and paper. Thanks.
pat Taylor
01.28.09 at 10:54

Blasphemy, Michael – all artists must use design-chic notebooks!

This is a great post – I'm always intrigued by a designer's process.

Oh and nice handwriting.
Jeff
01.28.09 at 11:19

Great Post. One thing I have a hard time parting with are all my newsprint pads from figure drawing. I started when I was in highschool sneaking into those free evening sessions at nearby colleges.
Melissa DePasquale
01.28.09 at 11:32

It's great when giants like Mr. Bierut expose their workflow/process/insight like this. Not to compare, but I'm humbly psyched to have used a similar format for this post by yours truly back in September.
Onur
01.28.09 at 11:32

I've definitely looked back over my notebooks and discovered little trails of thoughts that led to more substantial work or ideation later. I've also learned a ton about how I work as a human being (and that's only in the past five or so years that I've kept notebooks of my own).

You said something so important there too: Let what happens in your books happen. Like your kids drawings. How precious are those drawings?

Now, to find those two lost Bierut notebooks...
Kaci
01.28.09 at 11:39

I've been using Moleskines for a few years now but for some reason I haven't stuck to one kind and change between big ones, small ones, thin ones, thick ones depending on how the mood strikes me when I have to buy a new one. Right now I'm using a diary format one I and find that having a page for a particular day helps me organize my thoughts better. Maybe I've found the perfect one from here on out.

Most of my good ideas are just written down, like Micheal I rarely sketch anything out in it, it's all random words, phrases and to-do lists (and blog writing). Plus lots of scribbles from my daughter too.
LondonLee
01.28.09 at 12:04

SKETCHBOOK. It's the physical manifestation of ideas... not to mention the fact that girls were always curious about the guy the with sketchbook.

I often think to myself that, in a fire, after my fiancée, the next thing I would grab would be my sketchbooks. There's no external hard drive that can salvage those kinds of memories.

Thanks for the post Michael.
Jonathan Caplan
01.28.09 at 12:19

My notebooks are very similar, in the sense that they are organized by day and thought instead of project. I rarely find myself going back to look up meeting notes or sketches. I've put a lot of thought into it. Though it seems unorganized, I think the act of writing everything down helps me stay organized internally.

I save them all, but never considered numerically ordering them. Its interesting to see other designer's organizational methods.
Tanner Woodford
01.28.09 at 12:29

This is wonderful. I should start collecting all my post it's. I have used post it's a my notebook for years. They are the best invention. I find them stuck everywhere and crumpled in my pockets—all scribbled up with tiny little ideas.
ian b shimkoviak
01.28.09 at 12:44

These are great! I'm glad you posted these. It must be so satisfying to look back on them. About a year ago I started posting daily drawings on my blog. I am onto my 6th (moleskine) sketchbook and I already feel like I have an archive that I will really appreciate down the road.
Chris Piascik
01.28.09 at 12:49

Michael, I first read about your notebooks in Debbie Millman's How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer. Thanks so much for showing some of them here!

A few years ago I started my own notebook habit... I mostly use 7" x 10" Cachet sketch books, with plain white paper. I use them for both sketches and writing, and put different type foundry stickers on the covers to tell them apart.
Ricardo Cordoba
01.28.09 at 01:11

Michael, as one of your former students (Cooper, 20 years ago), this was very enjoyable to read. I am now juggling organizing my own own design/business notes, as well as organizing the rapidly increasing drawings created by my young children! If it's not already here somewhere, I would love to hear how other designers have displayed and archived the work of their children.
Dina Radeka Lyons
01.28.09 at 01:15

Wonderful post. You've made me feel a bit more self-conscious of my own note keeping tendencies. I happen to just grab one of the books piled on my desk in no particular order and with no particular reason on any particular day (not very particular am I?).

My notebooks are more confusing than the notes in them are worth these days. I need to be a bit more stringent and stick with one, perhaps this will be the motivation.
Kyle Meyer
01.28.09 at 01:44

This is such an inspiring post. Thank-you for sharing.
Kevin Burr
01.28.09 at 01:53

but the majority of the designs spewed out were no good in the first place, so the thought behind the books is even less valid. when will somebody stand up to most of the rubbish put out by pentagram, in particular to paula scher and the new much younger partners? no offense to abbot miller, he always does good work.
laurence marr
01.28.09 at 02:49

That's real great! There must be other designers, including myself, who have pictures of their notebooks too! But since I am quite new to the game, I only have three...

Nice post!
Paul Rapogna
01.28.09 at 03:12

Years ago I worked in an structural engineering company, the president always had this thing for plain sprial notebooks at first its was odd because I have lived with a sketchbook of one shape or size all my life, then it struck me as I was oding more an more freelance work on the side......the holly grail was the notebook.

I went through all sorts of them, then I made the move from the sprials to the same ones you use, perfect size perfect eveything. I still have sletch books around but they magically last longer and they are not the firs thing I grab anyone.

The plain ole blank composition book is the way of the force!!
Bryan Phillips
01.28.09 at 03:38

Great post. I'm sure that, over the years, these notebooks will be not only a collection of your ideas, but also a commentary on how design has evolved over your career. You should think about submitting them in one of those design magazines that showcases personal notebooks and sketchbooks of designers --- how great would that be?
Trish
01.28.09 at 03:58

amazing!
katherine
01.28.09 at 03:58

I really appreciated your reflection on you process (or sometimes lack of it). I had a moment last year when I had an idea near the start of a project that I noted down. Because it was a school project I was pushed to explore and develop more. It was a big project and after months of development and research I looked back at the start of the project and re-realised the true solution had already been solved. Because I had done all this development it really did prove to me how right my original idea was. So I cut what I was doing and reverted back to my original idea. I failed, but [in my head] it is still one of my greatest solutions yet.
Tim
01.28.09 at 04:12

This is great! I do the same thing!!!
TRBP
01.28.09 at 05:13

Thank you so much for sharing!
Cassie Hester
01.28.09 at 05:16

great inspiring post. at the start of my design odyssey, i yearned to someday have a stack of notebooks like that...or one even bigger that would hold my ceiling up (not that it's all about the stack and/or quantity, but fun to think about when you're young and dumb). i kept up with sketchbooks my first few years as it was easy for me to indeed keep up with them when i was a janitor. but i've fumbled more recently and found that pants and shirt pocket sized scraps of paper do the trick. though, i tend to just throw them in a box on the edge of the kitchen table or dresser, instead of actually looking at them. thanks so much. -djg
DJG
01.28.09 at 05:22

Thank you for this inspiring post.

It is very touching to see someone share so openly the back-end of their personal creative process. I feel better knowing that what I do isn't that strange -- it is similar to your methodology.

Sincerely,

Alice
Alice Barford
01.28.09 at 06:04

Michael, you are a freak. You do great design journals, you play the blues piano, your work speaks for itself... What’s next, ping pong world champion in your college days?, World record holder for one arm push ups? If only I had a consistent vision for my journals. Fantastic post. Andrew
Andrew Ashton
01.28.09 at 06:33

Wow, this is an amazing collection of journals. In this modern age of blogging, it's refreshing to see something so lo-fi. Its beautiful!

On another note there a great opening for an Interactive Producer at my website. Guys do check it out at

A Great Interactive Producer Job
Deo
01.28.09 at 09:33

great post!

I'm only on notebook #3, but I'm hooked ... can't go anywhere without it. Now only if I could put some good research ideas in it!!
BrianR
01.28.09 at 10:45

What does it say if I use a 5-star?

Thanks for sharing, I wish you would have posted one of those really boring pages, so I know i'm not the only one that just makes endless to-do lists....when i feel like i should be sketching instead.

JSM
01.28.09 at 11:29

You know, there's something very comforting about those composition books you use. They're sturdy, but the pages also don't easily tear out, so you don't end up with perforated pieces eventually working themselves out of the book. They're very much more a book than a sketchpad, like you mention. Loved the post.
Geoff
01.29.09 at 01:29

Were you the inspiration for John Doe in SE7EN? Just kidding; thank you for sharing. It must be great to have such a complete and functional record of your work.
Ted Simpson
01.29.09 at 05:52

Thanks for this post and the mention in the "Observed" section of my own collection of drawingbooks. I have been drawing them for over ten years now and am actually up to the 256th one (the 223 and counting mentioned was only because of my failure to update the site with any regularity). I had been wanting to quit doing them since number 100, but my partner keeps urging me on to continue. So I do.

Thanks again for the blog mention, as this is the first time this has happened. Maybe DesignObserver fans can find some more amusement in looking at the other parts of our website as well: in particular at the section of over 70 self published books (two of which won Best of Show at the ACD many years ago and some which earned nominations in the Tokyo Type Directors Club), fashion work which won recognition by Maison Margiela and ShowStudio, collaborative work with the musician Loren Connors and the elusive Jandek, and other smaller things.

Best regards,
Raymond Jow of Masumi Raymond

www.masumiraymond.com

Raymond Jow
01.29.09 at 08:59

Where is the discourse, people? I just read through all these posts and was turned off by more than one case of pandering covering a thinly-guised attempt at self-promotion.
Andrew DeRosa
01.29.09 at 09:26

Not sure it this design blog needs "Discourse" each and every time. Is this the theory class in grad school or can it not be a collection of interesting essays on whatever issues that the bloggers feel they wish to cover? I for one would like to say I was interested in this blog, because it covers an aspect (self promotional as it may be but fascinating nonetheless!) that is often not seen by many in the field. Maybe not everyone wants to see pictures of designer dogs, but if you want circuitous Lacanian critiques, there are places for that as well.
Andrei Lange
01.29.09 at 10:34

A wonderful post. I too am a notebook addict. The problem is remembering what is in each.

What is made clear is the continued archival value of marks on paper. You can always go back to those old notebooks even if you cannot access the old floppy disks or zip drives.
Michael Smith
01.29.09 at 11:09

This was so fun to see. I've got ten years worth (about thirty) of these blank, unlined composition books stacked up, too.

Pro Tip, Michael: I've found that university bookstores are the best place to find the unlined comp books.
Matt Kirkland
01.29.09 at 12:16

Thanks Michael
I've been using the same A4, black covered Daler Rowney note books since 1993, still have eveyone, in order, and get very upset about having to right in anything else. Because they're full of notes and sketches, random thoughts and ideas they always come in handy when I'm stuck for a bit of inspiration.

My kids now get the first page of each fresh new book to fill, as they see fit.
simon
01.29.09 at 12:17

I sincerely wish I could find good unlined notebooks, either unlined composition books like these or spiral-bound notebooks that kids use for school, except unlined. Moleskines are ok, but I find the paper too thick for my taste, and their bindings are not flexible enough for me. I'd prefer an inexpensive, flexible, spiral bound notebook. I wish I could find them!
Katharine Evans
01.29.09 at 12:56

Andrei, by "discourse" I just meant discussion, a back and fourth. I was not criticizing Bierut's post as self-promotional. I meant to direct that to some of the comments. I guess I used the word posts instead of comments in my prior comment. I'm sorry about the mix up.

That said, my comment was a knee-jerk reaction to reading a bunch of solipsistic, congratulatory comments peppered with things like links to job boards. The irony being that I, too, enjoyed the article. href="http://www.designobserver.com/archives/entry.html?id=17485" target="_blank">This is My Process, and this article both seem to validate my own working methodology.

01.29.09 at 01:09

I really appreciate you sharing this here. This post is really wonderful. I really admire the fact that you preserved them. Personally I always have problem with trying to preserve things, especially my notes.

I know this is only vaguely related but I want to share anyway. I had just finished my portfolio earlier and there were some works that I lost that I wished I had taken better care of. But it is my life long belief that there is nothing more frustrating than trying to keep records. May be other people can do it better than i do, but I'm just really bad at it. And when something comes close to ruin the things that I try to preserve, I always become so angry... it's an emotion that I really do not want to feel.

When I was a kid, I had this compulsion to record episodes of the Simpsons and Seinfeld on VHS tapes. I will record them with care, pause during the commercial break and record again without missing a second. It was a sickness and my family think I was crazy. I had over 10 tapes but then they were lost. Some got damaged, some my friend borrowed and never returned. Then it all became moot when DVD of all the episodes were released.

That was not the first time I started to realized preserving things may not be necessary. I moved around a lot and although I have many friends, I try my best to keep in touch with the old ones I parted with. Of course, live goes on and eventually we have to concentrate on the future instead of the past, so we no longer contact. But it always make me feel sad. Now, with Facebook and Myspace, almost everyone I had ever known since elementary school can get in touch with me from another side of the world.

With all these, trying to preserve anything, to me, is not something that I want to struggle to do. I know, being graphic artist, keeping your work and reference in order is important. I guess it is something I have to learn how to do. But it's just something I have never enjoyed.

But that doesn't mean I don't respect those who do know how to salvage things and save things that are important. I think it is necessary to keep records as history is the only tool we have to help us build a better future.
Panasit Ch
01.29.09 at 01:12

This post has made me feel terribly wasteful, I have thrown so much away! Although, there is something very liberating about disposing jottings of completed projects...
thepicklebot
01.29.09 at 03:24

Michael...
seeing SOINTU in the 1983 journal brought back memories. That tiny shop was where I first saw M&Cos watches, back when 'design objects' were rare finds.
Cheers,
Eric
Eric Baker
01.29.09 at 03:55

Thanks, Michael.

I'm definitely not a designer. More an account planner type, but my favorite designer colleague turned me on to notebooks several years ago. It's inspiring to know that there are so many others out there who record their thoughts this way.

Thank you for sharing and inspiring.

Jake
Jake Yarbrough
01.29.09 at 07:31

seeing SOINTU in the 1983 journal brought back memories

Eric, me too. I was baffled by the drawing next to it, but I've finally realized that I must have been getting a price estimate for a diecut Rolodex card that the owner, Kipp Trafton, must have wanted to sent out to his customers, pre-printed with his store's contact information. That was mind-blowingly state-of-the-art for 1983!

Thanks to everybody who have shared their thoughts in the comments.
Michael Bierut
01.29.09 at 07:44

Great!
Michael
01.29.09 at 08:24

I am a teacher (fine art adjunct-land for the past eight years) as well as a new student of design. I mention this because I both participate in and observe the design classroom. While I believe that process and a drawing practice are valuable—it happens to be how I work—it's not the only way. I’ve noticed that a lot of kids find the sketchbook assignment ("Just draw a little every day.") daunting because they think it must be filled with attractive pictures. Clearly there are successful designers (and I know wonderful fine artists as well) whose sketchbooks are filled almost exclusively with writing, to-do lists, and random notes.

I almost sent this post to my design teacher until I realized that he’d ignore the message of the text—“I don’t do things the ‘right’ way”—and just incorporate the images in his sketchbook lecture, further homogenizing the perception of what it means to be a designer.

Interestingly, the representation of 85 notebooks filled almost entirely with writing are the aberrant pictures. I’m glad the writing in the notebooks has been represented in the writing of the post.
Miriam Moleskine Martincic
01.29.09 at 09:25

This is great. I wrote a book about journals, Drawing from Life, which includes some designers' journals but also those of musicians, gardeners, filmmakers, travelers, etc. Much of what you say is mirrored in the interviews I did: the specificity of paper/size/lines or not; the lost journals (one woman's reappeared in Delta's lost and found after THREE years!); the journal read by a prying friend/lover/parent; the notebooks that SHOULD look interesting b/c supposedly you're a creative genius but are rather filled with notes and numbers. Wonderful first-person take on it.
jennifer New
01.30.09 at 12:33

This is a wonderful post!
Laura
01.30.09 at 07:30

a terrific post. I enjoyed reading every bit of it. thanks.
I can relate..
lYDIA v
01.30.09 at 08:47

You had me at the word "notebooks", as notebooks so happen to be a slight bit of an obsession for me. At 18, I probably 50-60 college ruled type books, which I've used all my life. I also have a good 15 or more notebooks of other styles and journals, some of which I've handmade from recycled products. Whenever I see a journal or notebook that is well designed, I buy it. I figure I'll fill them up, soon enough. :)

xoxo,
S-C
Susanna-Cole
01.30.09 at 09:24

It's funny how we keep track of our thoughts. For "projects" a mentor, Bob Vogele, got me into the habit of putting everything into organized plastic sleeves by topic. There are a lot of paper napkins as you might imagine. Mostly sketches, diagrams, things-to-do lists. Still do that.

For the "day-to-day" record keeping it was Day-timer. But for the last 10-years regular 8.5x11 notepads. All numbered and dated. and "everything" goes down in there. I am afraid to take a pad with me for fear of losing it!

Always looking for a paperless solution but to no avail yet.

Thanks for sharing! This post sure to inspire a great many minds!
Ron K
01.30.09 at 11:14

Great post Michael!

I first read about your notebooks and obsessive compulsive behavior (including the one where you HAVE to run!) in How to think like a great graphic designer by Debbie Millman, and it's really great to have a peek inside those notebooks!

You can buy the unruled compositions books here:
http://www.gramcoonline.com/1160/supplies/item.html

Keep posting and happy notebook-filling!

Moeed
01.30.09 at 11:59

Michael, my burning question after reading this nice blog post is: Where do you get unruled composition books? I've been searching for years, without any success, so I use ruled comp books, which are a drag. I would love to know a source for unruled ones.
Dylan Tweney
01.30.09 at 01:01

As much as I love the marks made in a notebook...I can honestly say I'm really tired of

1. Obsessive compulsive behavior. I think people are starting to obsessively become obsessive compulsive on purpose.

2. Seeing people's moleskines, collages, sketches, thought processes. They all blend together now.


Just thought I'd be honest.
Rick Fox
01.30.09 at 01:35

Note to Katharine Evans : look for the classic french Clairefontaine notebooks. Wirebound and flexible, but school supply sturdy, I believe they come in plain sheets and various sizes.

I have a good dozen, going back several years. I switched once when I couldn't find the composition book I had been using. I have to admit to an insistance on gridded paper (sorry michael). But then my notes are rarely visual and the habit started in science classes.
margot jacqz
01.30.09 at 01:42

I was given a notebook by my employer to record idea and information, and use to keep track of the many ongoing projects, during my early years. All staff were asked to keep a notebook since we had lots of projects ongoing. Since the employer gave me the notebook and the work related to what I did at that company - I left the notebooks.

Creative types may want to keep company and personal notebooks separate (including those with outside off company hours
design projects) to avoid legal conflicts about creative development licensing.
Terry Prince
01.30.09 at 03:49

great post - I've been searching for a good consistent (and cheap!) sketch/notebook for years, and this might work for me. I've settled partly on moleskines because they are easy to carry around, but they are too expensive for day-to-day use (I'd use quad-ruled steno pads - but I'm always losing pages). I'd prefer something closer to the size of my 9x12 sketchbooks, but not as cumbersome - and I don't need heavy paper.

I predict a run on unruled composition books in the near future.
Marc
01.30.09 at 04:27

I do exactly the same thing with regards to using up an entire book in chronological order, rather than on a per-project basis. It's easier for me, and allows me to carry just one book at any given moment.

The first sketchbook I have is from when I was about 13, and numbered them all the way through art school, for about ten years. Then I started working, and kept my design notes in un-numbered, but dated, books. Lately, and especially after seeing your book covers here, I am considering going back to numbering, since I've hit about 30 books or so since I left school.
Alan Bucknam
01.30.09 at 04:34

excellent post. Thank you.

i started w/ bristol city council diaries in 2003. now i'm on the small moleskines 27 notebooks later... i usually have 2 notebooks on the go: my everyday one, complete w/ jottings, musings, ideas, to-do's and bits of life. The other is what i call my investment moleskine. i only put things, creations, concepts and ideas that i believe have a value and could turn into spiritual satisfaction or hard cash.

is working so far... keep up the writing
dmk
01.30.09 at 05:31

Wonderful post. This is the kind of thing that drove me to try a Moleskine-turned-custom-planner this year. Hopefully I can look back on mine someday and get the same satisfying reminiscence that you seem to.
Evan Meagher
01.30.09 at 06:34

I think it's funny that your third notebook started on my birthday. Not sure why, just the idea of you opening a fresh book as I came into the world is funny to me.

Really great post, these insider/behind the scenes things are always intriguing.
md
01.30.09 at 06:40

I'm on #35:Cachet black spiral bound. Lately square ones, and the change feels momentous. Moleskin thin stitched model is too floppy to use without a table, and the bound ones are too stiff and the paper feels too precious to put a casual mark on. The spirals in my books often end up integral to the sketch. Never seen BLANK comp books! thanks for the post- it's nice to feel connected to so many by practice. My favorite comment- "visual thinking" - yes!
sks
01.30.09 at 10:41

I thought of throwing away some old notebooks of mine, but now i am DEFINITELY keeping them!! Thanks for a wonderful post.
designscene
01.31.09 at 07:00

Wow. That is A LOT of reading material. I wish I had the patience to read more.
kelvinwins
01.31.09 at 10:40

Nice! Now I feel inspired to spend more time writing in my notebooks, and less time jotting stuff down on the computer. There's little more satisfying that writing down to-do lists by hand.

I'm few years and 4 books into my personal choice of notebook, the 5.5x8.5 spiral bound Canson sketch book. They're quite perfect, if you ask me.
Chelsea Darling
01.31.09 at 05:54

I love your stack of notebooks, the fact that they are records of work rather than whimsical only adds to their beauty. I'm doing 101 things in 1001 days and Goal 010 is to carry a notebook and camera with me everywhere. I think it's a habit that is going to stay with me even after the end of my 1001 days... I'd love to be able to take a picture of my own stack of notebooks someday!
Ms Alex
01.31.09 at 06:16

when i was going through my divorce and moving out of the home, I had to make the travels, not through my notebooks, but through moving boxes full of stuff just like this in the basement. I'm not that organized to keep notebooks as a housewife. I separated the kids' journals and artworks from mine and put them into new waterproof containers on shelves.
(funny, they had a sump pump overflow in the house just a few months after that).

Then i took all the looseleaf pages, things that looked like exact replicas of your "i love you daddy pages" and put them in a separate old cardboard box, eventually placing them on my estranged husband's massive mahogany desk two floors above. Had the estranged been a design major he probably would have recognized the patterns, but alas he is a business engineer and must have seen something else than my eye. I think the last time (two years later) that I looked they were still in the box in the corner of a closet without any mention to me of my saving them after all those years. I'm just glad that you are writing about yours. Maybe as a guy it's not as easy to write about these graphic tchotchke (?) scribblings. Graphic tchotchke isn't the right word, is it? :: a trinket that is decorative rather than functional. No, it is not. It just takes good looking and time to see that the function(role) of parenting evident on those last pages trumps the decorative titles every time.
Nancy
02.01.09 at 07:07

Michael, after seeing "Fool for Love," I thought it was a shame that you never worked for Herb Lubalin, even for a little while. But maybe you didn't need to. Your sketches are so elegant and perfectly translatable into "real" type -- just like Herb's were.

Here's a recipe for "Fool for Love," for Valentine's day. Puree strawberries and raspberries. Add a little superfine sugar. Fold into whipped cream. Serve to your loved one in a stemmed glass with a few pretty whole berries for garnish.
Ellen Shapiro
02.01.09 at 08:20

I think I might have you beat for obsessive-compulsiveness. I use 8.5 X 5 blank sketchbooks from jerrysartarama.com because they have an elastic loop for a pen. But that's not the obsessive part. Here it comes: in the front of each book, I have a page-by-page index of what's in that particular book, info I jot down as I use the pages...and in the back of the book is an index by subject. Then (and this is the best/worst part), I keep an ongoing record on my computer of the entire mess -- sort of like a meta-index showing me which book (they're numbered) and which pages contain the information for, say, my work in Rwanda (fairly meaningful) or staff meetings (almost always useless). Truthfully, this method has saved my ass many a time since I can't remember what day it is much less where I've jotted down the specifics for the new studio equipment or my kids' FAFSA info.
Jan Arnow
02.01.09 at 04:23

Great work Michael. I've used standard lined 84 page project planners for close to 10 years now. I'm on book #32. I write/draw/configure/conceptulize everything that happens as it happens. To-dos, To-dont's, project ideas, c-logs(conversation logs) inspirations, goals. I date each day with the city I'm in, the time and day of the week. And although I sometimes write between the lines. Often I don't see the lines. It's a constant stream of life to pass-on. As Jim Rohn says, "keep your books, your pictures and your notebooks(journals). These are the things that matter.
Larry Scot Little
02.01.09 at 07:37

Great post, Michael. I am as well always carrying around some sort of blank book with to-do lists, doodles, schedules, and notes but my selection of books to encase them in is a bit more random. I love the composition books you use and also the other readers suggestion as well. To do item for today: find my signature notebook.
Melissa Wehrman
02.02.09 at 12:12

You remind me of how much I like the plain old composition notebook!

Loved the views of your inner pages.
Kenshin
02.02.09 at 03:55

The to-do list on the last page. Genius.

Thank you for this post.
Heather Marold Thomason
02.03.09 at 12:12

Thank you for the post! Very inspiring!! (: Keep on!
ieva laurina
02.03.09 at 02:16

Mis respetos, Sr. Bierut. Ya quisiera yo tener la constancia que tiene usted. Impresionante.
Chalo
02.03.09 at 10:13

"At the beginning I used to customize the covers. Those were the days when I used to handmake every birthday card."

Something tells me that you still handmake birthday cards!

Thanks for the very cool and humbling post.

HMK
H. Michael Karshis
02.03.09 at 11:42

I am a big fan of this article. I have always loved to have something to write all of my random thoughts and notes in, so that they don't get lost. There is no worse feeling to me than not being able to remember an idea that struck me as great when I thought of it. I do not always have my notebook with me, but I am going to start carrying it with me all the time because of this article. I started my collection when I was in high school. I was quite often very bored in class and I would do my drawings and doodles in them. I look back at them now and I realize that some of my ideas were quite good, others not so much, but they can't all be winners now can they. My notebook of choice is unlined Moleskin, they are sturdy and I have always thought they just looked perfect for the job of containing my thoughts and ideas. When I pull back the elastic strap holding one of my old notebooks shut I get excited to see what it contains and what I can learn from it. Thanks for the great post, and motivating me to get back to keeping my notebooks on me at all times.
Adam
02.03.09 at 01:26

Notebook: The difference between real designers and this.

(Ideas, communication, notes from talking to the client, strategy).

Fantastic post Michael.
After 7 years I'm up to #22.
(not counting the A3 one under my bed!)
Judd Madden
02.03.09 at 07:22

I am up to notebook 15 after 4 years:
http://floheiss.wordpress.com/2009/02/04/04022009211/
Flo Heiss
02.04.09 at 11:49

I found these online... http://www.gramcoonline.com/1160/supplies/item.html Some people still carry them... What a wonderful and inspiring post, I generally have kept a pile of post-it notes that just get thrown away, this is much better :)
Laura
02.04.09 at 12:14

Beautiful post. You inspired me to think more about how we use notebooks, and write about it on my own blog. Thanks!
Alice Bachini-Smith
02.04.09 at 02:16

Great post. Almost makes me want to take up the habit, even if it probably wouldn't work (if it isn't a keyboard, I can't write very well with it -- and don't even think about drawing).
Michael G.R.
02.04.09 at 08:34

Fantastic article - I'm just about to start my first year of Visual Communication at uni and I would love to do something similar - but I think mine would also not look very artistic - random notes and ideas scribbled that only I would be able to decipher lol!
Eden
02.05.09 at 04:24

Wow, I think this perfectly describes how I feel about my sketchbooks, but unlike you I can't ever seem to full fill one without starting a new one for a "fresh start" I suppose. These sketchbooks are a visual representation of your thoughts in your own language that only you can understand, which makes them completely useless to someone else but so meaningful and important to you. I just might have to keep better track of mine so that I can look back at all my design endeavors and everything else in between. Thanks for such a wonderful post!
Amy
02.05.09 at 09:38

I've always used notebooks to sketch design ideas, write endless to-do lists, scraps of poetry, books I really must read, musica I have to search out, ideas for unwritten novels and even permanent records of favourite text messages from people who matter to me. I was starting to change my attitude about keeping hold of these books when I began to cohabit with my minimalist fiance, who keeps everything on computer and thinks notebooks are cluttersome and outmoded.

Thank you, then, for this post and to all those kindred spirits who commented. It has encouraged me to continue to save these collections of my thoughts and experiences, and to continue to write, write, doodle, write.
Katy
02.06.09 at 11:22

This is a great post who would thought there would be more like me enjoying the benefits of notebook.

I cant go without it never every idea thought concept drawing it go's all there I started with it in 1997 on to this day, I have to admit some barely survived the years past but still in a good enough shape to see what I've been doing.

Really can recommend a notebook to anyone walking with idea's and such you'll never regret jolting down anything it also helps prevent repetition of what is though of before reinventing the wheel again and again and again sorry for that but notebooks are my not electronic battery hungry devices.
WulfCry
02.06.09 at 01:19

Great post,
I program and have always kept notebooks. It's great to look back once.

Greg Gurevich
Greg Gurevich
02.06.09 at 01:26

Michael,

Amazing. I, along with many here, also share the notebook frenzy. Mine are 5x7 leather, and the first thing I hear when I use it for the first time becomes the title, which I carve on the cover. Unfortunately, many have obscenities (oh the days of art school).

Although, I've noticed that since writing down everything, my memory has gotten increasingly poor. I start to rely on it as if it were a part of my brain. This concerns me on numerous levels...

Thanks again for sharing your books!
-Michelle
Michelle Brook
02.06.09 at 01:31

Wonderful post. As a design student I have been “required” to keep sketch/notebooks for years, but I feel as it’s more forced, not something that I ever kept up beyond the required. Seeing your use of notebooks and the opportunity to have a type of time capsule of your work is incredible and very inspiring. I was wondering if you have thought about creating a large book of all your different notebooks? I think it would be incredible at book #100 to have a “reference” of all the past notebooks, something like that would be extremely helpful for design students like myself.
Murray
02.06.09 at 02:55

Michael,

This is a great post. It is good to see the process which is often neglected by tech savvy young designers. I recently became aware that some design programs have eliminated graphic design history. For some reason they want nothing to do with the growth of design. Your notebooks are records that design starts way before technology is even considered for production.

Not long ago a friend email me info about a former graphic designer who left the field to work on his art. One thing that caught my attention was what this artist calls, his "red book." In it he stores visual elements (that inspire him). I was told that he will make compositions (mainly collages) with all the items in the red book, photographs it and then takes it apart and puts the items back in the red book. This is so different from having multiple sketchbooks or notebooks. Would love to see this book years from now along with his compositions. I was told that he rarely shares his art with the public.

Here's a short slide show showing part of his red book:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MfUZr8U-EA
Erick
02.06.09 at 07:03

thanks for sharing this! definitely going to try this to keep all my ideas in one place instead of scattered everywhere else.
ecomonster
02.06.09 at 08:28

Im sitting here smiling. You began keeping your notebooks the day I was born. =)
Albert Balbutin Jr.
02.07.09 at 01:18

I enjoyed this post because I LOVE notebooks. I find I love decorating the covers more than writing or drawing at times though. I have a passion for notebooks. Oh the possibilities, lol which is the problem. I don't want to write in some of most favorite ones! Though when I do class projects I buy more spiral notebooks and keep each class in its own book. And at the beginning of each project I do come up with fully formed ideas and sketches. I also love coming back years later and getting ideas or reuse some of my old ideas. I love the composition books the best. I love to decorate those thick covers. Thanks for this awesome post. :)
Jessica Craig
02.08.09 at 11:58

Yay! I'm on track to beat you in..... 21 years time *sigh* :-P.

Admittedly my notebooks aren't near as thick or beautifully filled as yours tho :-P. They look amazing! GJ on keeping all those! I LOVE NOTEBOOKS!
theoxygenthief
02.09.09 at 05:27

Mr. Beirut,

Notebooks are to our selves as the dish rags and towels in the sink are to the kitchen. Look ragged and used in the end, but contain lots of stuff that will go down the drain.
nm
02.09.09 at 09:29

will NOT go down the drain.

Sorry, mr. rogers, I missed a spot.

(kinda reminds me when the dryer caught a piece of dirt on a dish and got to give it back to the washer)
nm-correction
02.09.09 at 09:33

This is amazing! I wish that I could be this organized. I have tried a number of times to create this kind of work log... but unfortunately all attempts fail when I have to actually do it. I think that I just like the idea....
Daniel
02.09.09 at 04:14


I wouldn't worry about not keeping notebooks. I only start to and fail because of ingrained Catholic school behavior modification guilt and subsequent flashbacks.

Now on average I move about every two years in my life and i constantly find envelopes that are written with doodles and poetry on the backs. I can accurately place the date 90% of the time from what i've created by just looking at it. Usually test myself by turning it over and checking a postmark. Mental workout for the notebook impaired. And I've been recycling all those unrecyclable envelopes even when it wasn't fashionable to be green.
nancy
02.10.09 at 01:00

A comment from an Industrial Designer, if you don't mind...I prefer coil ring notebooks for functional reasons: they fold neatly onto themselves, easier to use without a desk in front of you - or on a plane, etc...

I'm only on #15 however.
Geoffrey Lilge
02.10.09 at 06:51

Michael

Great notebooks!

A friend asked me last year to do a show of my letterform design and other work for her students at Clarke College in Dubuque. As I've been in the middle of trying to build a new business, I told her I'd only have time to show sketchbooks!

I scanned pages from my small 3x5 Strathmore wirebound pads, enlarged them and printed a series of 13x19 broadsheets. Photo archive is here, if anyone's interested!

http://picasaweb.google.com/pfraterdeus/WordsInProgressClarkeCollegeDubuque

Cheers, Peter Fraterdeus
slowprint.com
02.15.09 at 11:27

Thanks for this inspirational posting on notebooks. It's an area I'm researching towards helping people who work in museums and libraries to further develop creative projects. http://knowledgespacelibrary.blogspot.com/
angela dove
02.16.09 at 08:39

Michael,

What a wonderful post! I also share your obsession for notebooks, although I was never lucky enough to find the unlined composition books. I use the 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 bound blank sketchbooks for the same purpose. I can't seem to pass by a display of them without buying one, so I have a few empty ones on hand. My one rule is that I can't go on to a new one until I've filled up the current one, which sometimes takes a while. The discipline of keeping it around is a reminder to draw, sketch, record ideas and favorite quotes, write, keep track of music I like and so on. This whole process is doubly valuable to me as I have been loving every minute of practicing those basic (boring, perhaps) drawing skills that I let fall by the wayside in the busyness of life.

Thanks so much for this inspiring post!
Liz
02.17.09 at 01:33

I like that story a lot. Especially because I was born on the 12th of August in 1982, just when he started his habbit. :)
Muzi
02.17.09 at 05:41

My notebook addiction is to A4 Challenge Double Cash - ruled.
I am on volume 6 and they started out of a running log tracking daily mileage and subjective assessment of effort, conditioning, weather, footwear. As I got older and fatter this transformed into an art journal and book review/commonplace book. Including quotes, postcards, ideas, venting, prayer, and every so often, even now, a little run.
Chris Everest
02.18.09 at 07:11

Great post, Bierut, and magnificent that you have kept them all (well, almost !). The image of you scouring ten blocks of the Upper West Side would fit well into a movie, don't you think ?

As for obsessive-compulsive, I can't say whether YOU are or not, obviously. Nor is it my business. Nor can I judge how many notebook-keepers/journalers are obsessive-compulsive as a psychiatrist would understand that term.

BUT

I must say I have sympathy with Rick Fox. It seems to be an increasing trend, in real life as well as in cyberspace, to frame any kind of passion as obsessive-compulsive or as an addiction. Addictions ruin lives, the lives of the addicts and often the lives of those around them. I don't think my husband is about to move out because I am passionate about notebooks, journals and scrapbooks ! I haven't had to break the law in order to support this activity. Nor have I got into bazillions of debt trying to do so. THAT is addiction.

And I'm not saying obsessive-compulsive behavior isn't real because I know it is, and I know how difficult it can be for anyone with that condition. But to use those words loosely (I don't mean YOU, Bierut, i don't think you are doing this) is to trivialize a serious and often disabling problem. It's like someone saying they're depressed because they've missed the bus. As someone who has been in the pits of clinical depression more than once, I find that use of the word depressed offensive but also, frankly, laughable.

I think most of the people here LOVE notebooks. Great ! We get a lot of satisfaction from them, and it can be fun (as with all passions) sharing that satisfaction with like-minded folks. WE ARE NOT SICK. . . Or are we ? ;)
Panther
02.20.09 at 06:17

I workout at a university pool, and I use their old, old locker room as my spa therapy. It's kinda funny about the OCD comments here because I just came out of the shower/sauna and the two gals taking a shower next to me were discussing their term papers and patients on this OCD. I get free classroom discussions for this $4 a day workout, too. I am beginning to get paranoid again that the internet is following me!

But i certainly agree that everyone wants to own a disorder lately, and with all the research going on... well... unless you've had life changing events happen to you from obsessive compulsive diagnosing over these types of theories, assumptions and ownings, well, whoever cares, just bewares.

The doctor gave me two wishes and mom just told me to wash the dishes. from the song: everything is spinning out of control.

mom
02.20.09 at 09:25

i used these notebooks exclusively in grad school (architecture) and don't know why i stopped. must pick up a new one or three. being an architect, i do love the grid lines, but blank pages are better in the end! i personally love the thin-ness of the paper in these books too -- you can see thru vaguely to other drawings and words, which i simply love.
carole
02.20.09 at 09:37

I've been using notebooks to keep my life organized lately. Before this it was anything and everything- the back of an envelope for a brief phone conversation, five post-its during a day's work all stuck in my planner which contained to-do list upon to-do list.

The book "Getting Things Done" has been helping me turn over new leaves. The first step is properly collecting "stuff," regardless of what it is. Collecting it in one place- a trusted place and then using a trusted system to organize, process, act on, and deal with the "stuff" later. I can't imagine a PDA or voice recorder ever offering the flexibility and versatility that a notebook offers, be it a pocket-size pad of paper, a slightly larger moleskin, or something larger. As far as I'm concerned, if it has a cover and pages beneath it, it is a notebook- far superior to the notepad or post-it any day.

I too have been numbering and dating my notebooks. I have been getting in the habit of reviewing them.

One difference with my notebooks is that half of what I write down gets crossed off as it is organized into a more useful system. At work I use text files associated with projects to log phone calls, events, actions, and open issues. I use a wiki to store anything that I think I had to learn or look up which I think I might look for again someday when working on another project. Wherever the information may end up it all starts in the notebook.

techs
03.03.09 at 01:30

I love the fact that you use one at a time. I do that. One journal has lectures, lists, and short stories all in one. I am also glad to see another composition enthusiast. I have been hooked on the Lisa Frank comps at WalMart with their hyper-rainbow colors. Your blog title was what grabbed me. Fun stuff, thanks for sharing your humanness.
Tracy Yvonne
03.04.09 at 04:48

You started on the exact day I was born. Interesting to know that for as long as I've been around (and not a day more) you kept notebooks.
jackburnt
03.06.09 at 05:10

I haven't had a notebook in about 6 weeks. My last one is all filled up and i haven't gone to the book store at school since. After I read this I bought my moleskin notebook before lunch that day. That had been the longest time frame going without one. I always have mine on me just like this article. In class, at my internship, on the subway, in front of the t.v. and its usually the last thing I see before I go to bed at night. Before the day is over and I am lying in bed with my christmas tree pajama pants on just holding a pencil and see what comes out. Sometimes they are to do lists, sometimes they are last minute sketches for my morning class or sometimes it is my scrumptious grocery list for Gristedes. But I believe just like this author that notebooks are great best friends. They carry all my hopes, dreams, tasks and talents. Even if I dont sketch a Picasso drawing in it, the end product is still a masterpiece to me.
Marie C
03.10.09 at 06:52

I have found this post really interesting. My present notebook is like a valuable treasure that I cannot live without. I could relate to author's comment about how it’s not just pages filed with drawings and doodles it becomes a book filled with thoughts, reminders, and sometimes-fascinating ideas. My notebook is like my second brain, everything that pops into my head must be scribled inside with any sort of writable device in order to safe and later perhaps utilize an idea before it gets lost with the traffic of my thoughts. From phone numbers to first thumbnails: my notebook is simply part of me.
sasha.y
03.10.09 at 07:40

Nice to know I'm not alone in my habits. I keep a comp book handy at all times -- to exorcise thoughts that might otherwise keep me from doing my job, sleeping, or whatever else I should be doing at the moment. Generally, I allocate 5 pages to an idea.

I keep a couple of other comp books where I allocate 20 pages for ideas that merit further exploration -- such as my spec comedy script about the Canadian Mafia, working title "Maple-leaf Mobsters".

My only tweaks have been to switch to Quad Rule 5 squares / inch because I can't draw very well, and to use Post-It tape flags to mark pages because I hate having to search through an entire collection looking for an idea I had previously exorcised to paper.
Ken Parmalee
03.18.09 at 12:03

I am not a designer, but an artist, and Education and Outreach Curator with Veith Street Gallery Studio Association.
Instead of a notebook or sketchbook I use what I call my idea books (4" x 6" hard cover artists sketch books).
In my present position I use these idea books for planning educational programs and communty based art projects. Very seldom will you find and sketches or drawings in these books there are a few. In the past I used these idea books for planning photo projects and exhibitions. I have a seperate studio journal for these projects.

I have been using these idea books for the past fifteen years, prior to this I used lined and unlined note pads. I still have a number of the old notes from photo and art projects that I worked with some twenty years.

I never leave the house or office without my idea books. In fact I carry two with me, the one I am presently using and the last idea book I was working with because there is always overlap of ideas and projects from one idea book to the next.
Gerard McNeil
08.17.09 at 02:50

Super Tareeeeeee!!!!!!! :))))
netten.ro
08.20.09 at 01:43

It's a great post! I always wondered whether designers save their old sketchbooks and notebooks - atleast some of them do! :)
I've been keeping my old sketchbooks as well, although they rarely get looked through, most remind me of how much worse I was.
Maria
08.21.09 at 03:46

your not so eco friendly! just kidding
Adam Lans
08.25.09 at 10:15

I came across your site while googling my late uncle, Kipp Trafton. I have hazy, but fond memories of playing on the floor of Sointu as a child. It is so interesting how saving an old notebook can archive the past and keep one's memory alive.
Sarah Rondeau
09.20.09 at 11:20

You mention that your notebooks are from National Blank Book, but the photo captioned "Covers of Notebook #25 (September 20, 1993 to May 14, 1994) and Notebook #26 (May 18 to August 24, 1994)" show at least one is made by "Boorum and Pease," a company owned by Esselte. The National brand is licensed to Rediform. I only notice this because I have been in the employ of an old-time stationer for the last twenty-five years and am a office supply wonk.

Thanks,
Jim Barbaro

Jim Barbaro
10.20.09 at 05:26

Jim, the first notebook was from National; I've used a bunch of different brands since. My current one is from Gramco School Supplies Inc., Brooklyn. Odd that no one has an exclusive copyright on that peculiar black and white "composition book" pattern.
Michael Bierut
10.24.09 at 04:08

I'm also very picky about the composition notebook I have at all times. (design ones only going back to '03) So picky that not only do I need them to be composition notebooks from Mead (hometown company), but also prefer those with the '94 copyright...in 2000 they switched to a vinyl binding tape that is not as durable/ages poorly, and then in 2004 also changed the marble pattern, deal breaker.

Thankfully around '05 I found a stash of ©94's in Target and bought all of them...I now have a stack of maybe 15 in a holding pattern.

Anyways, never thought about numbering them properly so thanks for that inspiration, this article clipped and taped into #7.
Jak
11.13.09 at 11:46

Jim, the first notebook was from National; I've used a bunch of different brands since. My current one is from Gramco School Supplies Inc., Brooklyn. Odd that no one has an exclusive copyright on that peculiar black and white "composition book" pattern.
librarytables
11.14.09 at 03:04

hi mate thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic.I was looking for this data for a long time, bit I was not able to find the trusted source you all do such a great job at such Concepts... can't tell you how much I, for one appreciate all you do!thanks for you sharing.
regards,
jason.
Link building
11.18.09 at 01:09

There are no words to describe the heart breaking sadness of my late, brother's passing 26 years ago On Sept. 26,'88 : KIPP TRAFTON. Kipp was dedicated to his Design Philosophy, and had respect for his family, friends and his staff at SOINTU. His nieces, Sarah Rondeau, who had written above, and Terri Summer Williams, were a special joy in his life.

Kipp will always be loved and I know he is so near .
Sandy Trafton Williams
11.18.09 at 04:42

well,this is a great art When I'm feeling smug and self-satisfied, I tell myself that, like Mozart, my ideas emerge fully formed, and I need only transcribe them as they come pouring out. In more common, less secure, moments, I wonder if I I'm lazy, if I settle too soon. How many other, better ideas might be out there if I took the time to look for them
tower defense
11.24.09 at 05:09

Great Post. One thing I have a hard time parting with are all my newsprint pads from figure drawing. I started when I was in highschool sneaking into those free evening sessions at nearby colleges.
Free Online games
11.30.09 at 07:22

Excellent post, Michael. I have something similar in the terms of tons of sketchbooks from my college and professional life.but my favorite designer colleague turned me on to notebooks several years ago. It's inspiring to know that there are so many others out there who record their thoughts this way.
car audio
11.30.09 at 07:23

It's pretty interesting how one can keep all of his notebooks.:)
SEO Link Company
12.17.09 at 02:21

I have been drawing and designing for my business for a couple of years and keeping my notebooks has allowed my designing and drawing for web to elvolve dramatically.

Great post
Web Design Cornwall
12.24.09 at 04:35

A great post about getting back to basics. It has made me rethink how I organise. Thank you...
Todd H
12.27.09 at 03:59

Fantastic post. I think I just became a regular reader. :-)
Safe Hands Transfers
12.29.09 at 03:57

I love this place. I too have been drawing for my business for a while now, and keeping your old equipment and supplies really goes a long way. Back to basics is good too. Reminds me of my younger days, i kept dozens and dozens of journals. So therapeutic to keep all your feelings in books, and you can visit anytime.
Great info here, thanks!

Karen
lice treatment
12.29.09 at 04:56

Super post! I love the photos too. Stacks of books, great stuff. Love it. I also used to customize the covers, like we did in high school, so you can differentiate them quickly from each other, but honestly, took too long in the end. Simple rules!

Jack
pictures of head lice
12.29.09 at 04:58

I enjoyed all your collections of notebooks. I specially love that "celebration in Florida Town". Thanks for sharing such a nice post.
Business Broadband
12.31.09 at 03:01

Very good stuff. Thanks for inspiring me to get organized again.
Truck Rims
12.31.09 at 01:41

I could definitely use some organization tips! Nice article!
Japanese Review
01.03.10 at 01:49

Wonderful post, this is an amazing collection of journals. It must be great to have such a complete record of your work.
Racing games
01.03.10 at 12:01

Very good stuff. Thanks for inspiring me to get organized again.
seo
01.03.10 at 03:47

Truly amazing... I am so glad I have converted everything to a flash drive..
cheap tires
01.07.10 at 07:06

Kindle put that too bed, who has books anymore?
scary games
01.14.10 at 10:38

Have you ever considered adding more videos to your blog posts to keep the readers more entertained? I mean I just read through the entire article of yours and it was quite good but since I'm more of a visual learner,I found that to be more helpful.
licitatii
01.22.10 at 07:16

Where do you find unlined composition notebooks??? I love them, and I'm writing in my last one right now. I can't seem to find them any more. Do you have any advice???

Thank you,
Faith
Faith
02.11.10 at 02:00

Color me impressed, Mr. Awesome, sir.
Key Wii
03.15.10 at 01:30

Thanks for sharing your great work with all of us. It is very inspiring. It is strange that I received a mail from my sister today asking me to read the book 'How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum’ by Keri Smith. I hope I am inspired enough to actually start writing on the note books I keep collecting!
Vinita Pugal
06.09.10 at 05:44

Nice collection! I only have a dozen or so in mine. Most are comp books, and a couple are Moleskines.

I picked up eight Norcom's at Wal-Mart last week for 25 cents each. By my reckoning, for the price of another Moleskine, I could have bought enough composition books at that price to last me for the remainder of my life.
Richard
07.19.10 at 06:23

cool.. i have about 10 note books. I started when I was bout 16-17 im 28 now..none of the books are finished though i always leave a couple pages blank i dont know why I do that..lol
16 fingers
07.30.10 at 04:13

Totally inspirational, very moving, started a couple myself years ago. They somehow have more significance today after reading your article, sent address to my son, Luke, second year design school. I know he will enjoy and be moved as I was.
Keith
08.11.10 at 12:24

Inspirational. Great post! It's great getting to hear a bit about the process and history of one of the big names in the industry. Makes me wish I had hung onto some of my old notebooks that I've thrown out over the years. I used to keep trashy spiral-bound notebooks, but have been using more archival-friendly notebooks lately, since I recognize the value of hanging onto them as a "library" of experience and history.
Gareth Botha
08.16.10 at 11:25

Interesting to look at the range of dates on the comments. Clearly you've hit a note with the people who've left them, and I'm thinking that the clustering of the dates has something to do with other blogs citing this one.

While I love my computers and smaller electronic devices, I love my notebooks too. I've used many, but rarely fill them, switching to new ones for various reasons, none of them rational.
Iris
08.23.10 at 09:39

Hi - you can get blank page composition notebooks from OfficeDepot.com at this link http://www.officedepot.com/a/products/837905/Office-Depot-Primary-Composition-Book-9/?cm_cat=2000000351 - They have 100 and 200 pages ...

I have a webpage for composition notebooks for kids -
http://www.squidoo.com/cool-composition-notebook-for-kids-not-those-plain-marble-ones-

Hope it was helpful !
Kathy Bechand
08.25.10 at 08:39

I stopped numbering my journals at some point but I believe I'm close to 50. My first one was given to me in sophomore English class in 1977. My journals have evolved from only writing to writing/scrapbook, writing/sketchbook to attempting visual journaling and back to writing with an occasional sketch. I've tried different types and sizes of journals but have settled on composition notebooks as well. Love them! Whatever purse I buy has to be big enough to carry my composition book otherwise, forget it.
I love your books. Thanks for sharing them. Inspiring!
Marissa
09.04.10 at 12:29



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Michael Bierut studied graphic design at the University of Cincinnati, and has been a partner in the New York office of Pentagram since 1990. Michael is a Senior Critic in Graphic Design at the Yale School of Art.
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DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









BOOKS BY Michael Bierut

Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design
Princeton Architectural Press, 2007

Forty Posters for the Yale School of Architecture
Winterhouse Editions, 2007

Looking Closer 5
Allworth Press, 2006

Looking Closer 4
Allworth Press, 2002

Looking Closer 3
Allworth Press, 1999

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