5 Fantastic Notebooks and Sketchbooks for Designers

by on 25th May 2010 with 40 Comments

This article will briefly examine 5 physical notebooks that are perfectly suited for a number of designer workflows.

Before we get started, let’s take a brief look at some reasons you should be using a notebook as an integral part of your design process.

Why Do I Need a Notebook?

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Those readers not particularly strong in the area of sketching are no doubt wondering what benefit a good notebook could possibly bring. After all, haven’t we reached a point in history where pencil and paper is an outdated and dying method of producing commercial art? We purchase (or pirate) $1,000 application suites for this very purpose so why should we then run out and spend more money on a good notebook?

To answer this question for you particularly, consider how and when you come up with design ideas. Is it merely while hashing out a site in Photoshop or reading an Abduzeedo daily inspiration post? If it is, then I submit that you’re not fully embracing your talents.

Inspiration is everywhere, whether you’re at Denny’s eating breakfast or sitting on the couch watching TV before bed. Constantly thinking of work can lead to a stress overload but that doesn’t mean that you can’t simply enjoy good design in all its forms. Once you learn the art of design it has a way of latching onto the way you think and screaming out its input whenever possible.

Carrying a notebook, or simply keeping one beside your mousepad if you prefer, can help you immediately capture those fleeting bits of inspiration or unique thought processes. If you’re not much of an artist, don’t worry about it. This process need not lead to detailed drawings. Your notes can be words, doodles, and scribbles of any kind. The point is to have something handy for capturing these ideas as they come and nothing can touch the simplicity and convenience of ye olde pen and paper.

Finally, beyond capturing inspiration, a notebook is an excellent “step 1″ in the design process. When it’s just you and some paper, the flow of ideas has a tendency to be more unique and fluid. Try making yourself come up with at least three to five completely different wireframe sketches (also known as thumbnails) for each design you tackle. If you really apply yourself, I can almost guarantee that you’ll be surprised at the diversity and quality of your ideas.

Now that I’ve hopefully convinced you to consider picking up a notebook, let’s take a look at a few that really shine in getting the job done.

Moleskine

Moleskine makes some of the best notebooks around for a variety of uses. They’re compact, stylish, well-made and quite useful. Moleskine has notebooks for everything from journaling to music notation, but the one that I think can really be useful for designers is the Storyboard Notebook.

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This notebook comes in two varieties: large and pocket. Obviously the principal difference is size, the larger having much more room for notes. Both versions feature a hard black cover and pages with rounded corner boxes for sketching out ideas.

The boxes can help you keep ideas separate and easier to find when you go back to search and encourage you to think visually as if you’re laying out a storyboard.

You can easily find a wide variety of moleskine notebooks at major bookstores like Barnes and Noble for anywhere from $12-$20 depending on which size you go with.

Piccadilly

A good alternative to Moleskine, Piccadilly notebooks come in three sizes: 3.5 x 5.5 in, 5 x 8.25 in, and 7.5 x 10 in. They also come in ruled, plain, graph and soft cover varieties (the default is hard).

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All versions contain 192 pages and are very affordable. The small version is $6.95, the medium is $9.95 and the large is $12.95.

Field Notes

Field notes are little 3.5″ by 5.5″ tall soft cover, three staple booklets that come in graph paper, ruled paper, plain or mixed packs. They’re cheap, stylish and can easily fit in your back pocket or laptop case.

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You can snag a three pack of any notebook (or a mix) for $9.95, a one-year supply (24 notebooks) of limited editions colored books for $129, or just grab the excellent starter kit above for $34.95.

As you can see, this kit gives you six notebooks, six pens, six pencils, and an 18 month calendar; definitely enough to show some serious patronage for the Field Notes brand!

Web Design Sketchbook

The Web Design Sketchbook features multiple tools for getting you started on a design project. There are several sections including empty browser templates with gridlines, content planning questions, and sitemap pages.

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You can choose between a Single Project Book for $12 or a Full Sketchbook for $19.88. The single project book is “30 pages of 8.5 x 11″ high quality paper” and the full sketchbook is “104 pages, of 8.5″ x 11″, coil binding, on 60# weight paper.”

As a bonus, there’s a complete and free downloadable version that you can print yourself!

UI Stencils Browser Sketch Pad

This pad features 50 8.5″ by 11, tear-off pages of of graph paper with browser chrome and a chip board back. You can pick one up on the UI Stencils site for just $9.95.

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The pad is designed to work with the website stencil kit, which makes it super easy to sketch out quick UI elements for a mockup.

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Print Your Own!

Don’t want to bother with paying for notebooks when you’ve got a stack of perfectly good printer paper? No problem. In addition to the Designer Sketchbook template mentioned above, here are a couple of printable web design templates.

Paper Browser

“The goal was simple — To create a wireframe tool that would enable designers to have that perspective. Providing you an actual viewing resolution of your potential user. Looking your site on what the user sees. Paper Browser doesn’t only provide you with that perspective but adapt on how you work. Enabling you to focus on what you do best – Design.”

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Keep an eye on the site because Paper Browser will also soon be available as two purchasable notebooks!

Sketchbook for web designers

A simple webpage template with browser frame available in four versions: blank, lines, web 10px, and grid 100px.

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iPad Template

A simple two-up iPad template with dotted grid lines.

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Web sketching template – 6 pages

A nice six-up view of browser windows perfect for quickly hashing out multiple ideas.

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More Resources

For further reading on this topic, check out the articles below:

Closing Thoughts

By now you should have plenty of reasons and resources to get started with your own notebook system. Experiment around, try different brands and find what works best for you.

Let us know in the comments which methods you prefer for jotting down ideas and sketching out wireframes. Leave some links to your favorite brands or templates!

Comments & Discussion

40 Comments

Comments & Discussion

40 Comments

  1. Excellent recommendations. It’s always a great idea to keep notebooks nearby to jott down fresh ideas.

  2. Ray says:

    Some good choices here, and a few are already on our hit list for adding to our select choice for designers here in the UK.

    Its essential for all flashes of inspiration to be able to get them down in seconds, no time for firing up a laptop or similar device get it down in ink.

  3. Joshua Johnson says:

    Ray, cool site! Everyone be sure to check out http://sketchbookandpen.com/ for some neat products

  4. Crafu says:

    I’ve been using the NoteLetts notebooks recently. Slightly larger than the standard Moleskine, makes for a good sized webpage layout. You can check them out here:
    http://www.noteletts.co.uk
    Also used the FieldNotes which are just a little on the small size for my design needs but just so damn cool to use!

  5. Brow says:

    Or…get an ipad or tablet with sketchbook pro. :) Go paperless people!

  6. Love the action method pad!

  7. Tracy says:

    Just wanted to send a shout out for Rhodia notebooks (http://www.rhodiapads.com/). They’re simple, quality notebooks in various sizes. I prefer them to Moleskines for jotting down ideas because all the Rhodia pages are perforated, so you don’t wind up with either a bunch of X’d-out pages or a handful of jagged-edged sheets.

  8. hyoori says:

    they’re lovely!

    considering for printing out the gridded one.

  9. I use the moleskin version of the field notes as my budget needed trimming 9.95 for field notes 6.95 for moleskin cahier thats a great savings and the there is little difference in the quality.

    heres a like if you are interested.
    http://www.moleskineus.com/moleskine-cahier-notebooks.html

  10. Matt Braun says:

    I agree with Robert and Joshua, Behance’s Dot Grid Book is a great notebook for sketching and brainstorming.

    http://www.creativesoutfitter.com/Products/Dot-Grid-Book/9

  11. joel says:

    I’m not too fussy about my notebook’s brand but I prefer an a5 size.

    I’m also concerned about wasting so much paper and have a collection of many notebooks, has anyone had any experience with recycling and reusing a notebook?

  12. Al says:

    Great assortment here. I use all different sizes, papers, and shapes. Switching stimulates creative thinking. Currently on Moleskine 5×8 softcover two-packs. Also ALWAYS have a Moleskine mini softcover with me.

  13. Cesare says:

    I understand that a paper scratch is one of the easiest way, but going digital (a note/scratch on the iphone) is more or less the same and saves paper … go green if you can.

  14. Crafu says:

    Forgot to mention, along with the Noteletts notebook, I use Evernote to keep an online record of everything. Once a page has been written, I take a snapshot of it and sync it to Evernote.
    http://www.evernote.com/ It allows me to tag and organize the snaps anyway I like. Best of both worlds!

  15. Rafael Braga says:

    It’s something that everyone know, but rarely do. Great post and great tips. Thanks.

  16. Dennis says:

    I am looking for a paper portfolio book. (i know its not a sketch book but kinda the same idea right? Right? (-:) I would like it to be something that I can put samples of my work in and take to job interviews and maybe even leave behind. It cant just be something I could buy from Office Depot or something, I’m hoping for something a little nicer. More ‘designed’.
    Any ideas from the users?
    Maybe Design Shack could do a post about?
    Thanks!

  17. Cynthia says:

    Great post. You have a nice selection here, but there are a lot of other choices, too that will do the job including Leuchtturm, Ciak, Fiorentina, Cavallini, etc.

    Dennis, Moleskine does offer portfolios in both A3 and A4 sizes that would work for your job interviews. You can check them out on Moleskine’s website here: http://i7.photobucket.com/albums/y296/Beautiful_Living/f1418061.jpg

  18. @Thinkstock says:

    Really great list! Around our office, we’ve got a pretty wide range of Moleskines, webpage templates, and torn up recycled print-outs. The Behance Action Pad is also pretty popular with a few folks around here.

  19. Excellent list of sketchbooks. The moleskin has been popular amongst designers for awhile now. It seems like a nice simple book to carry around.

  20. Erin Cheyne says:

    I lucked out and found a sale on Piccadilly notebooks at my local Borders store – wasn’t sure how the paper quality would be since I’m in love with Moleskine and the price difference was huge. Wound up being completely delighted, and honestly, Moleskine notebooks are so expensive that I tend to avoid writing in them when I buy them. Loving the Piccadilly books, don’t feel guilty using them, and they are just as nice:) Thanks for a great post!

  21. JuLi says:

    I gotta say that I don’t really understand why Moleskines get hyped so much. Sketchbooks with spiral binding and a sturdy cardboard cover are much more practical because you can easily open them up to an even and stable work surface and they actually stay open! Great invention! ;)
    I like these: http://bit.ly/9ZMP59
    Simple design, inexpensive and a good variety of sizes.
    For use at home I prefer just a big stack of glue bound paper from which I can easily rip sheets off to throw away the rubbish and really work with the rest by picking the one I need or laying them all out on my sofa to combine and compare and put away old ones I don’t need anymore.

  22. I’ve always used a notebook, for sketches and ideas. It’s been a catchall for all of the little bits of inspiration and information I can’t afford to forget about but can’t quite bring myself to categorize into Evernote. I wanted to let you know about the Bookfactory line of notebooks. They can be hard bound, soft bound, ruled, squared, customized with templates, titles, colours and materials. If you’re looking at creating something really unique for your consultancy or development group this is a great place to start.

    http://www.bookfactory.com/

  23. Joe Dolan says:

    Thought you might enjoy what I do. All of my sketchbooks are available through my website at http://www.layflatsketchbooks.com and are also available on Amazon. Purchasing through the website is the same as Amazon, it takes you to Amazon’s purchase links.

    Thanks for posting great links for designers and creative artists. the community is more amazing now than ever before!

  24. Richard Bland says:

    Hello! Great article and very useful. I figured I would mention that I am selling some Behance Dot Grid Notebooks here in the UK on eBay. You can check out the link if you are interested. Hopefully your readers will be too. http://bit.ly/UJlMUZ

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