I'm equal parts excited and overwhelmed by the process of shopping for a new sketchbook.
I study the spine closely, run my fingers over the pages and will perform a carefully selected charade of scenarios in the notebook aisle testing its ability to fit in with the other objects I carry to and from the office.
As the owner of a branding studio, I tear through two or more sketchbooks a month but the process of selection is always this ceremonious.
There's a lot of imaginary pressure I put on my sketchbooks. They might carry an idea that wins over a big, scary client's affection. Or, one could help me uncover the magic concept that helps me solve a problem after nights riddled with indecisive anxiety.
Among designers, there's an entire subculture formed around this obsession for finding the very best sketchbook. For them, it's more than a collection of paper - it's one of the singular most important tools in their process. Of course, designers aren't the first to get weird and obsessive about their tools; mathematicians are rumored to have their very own magic chalk to hoard.
Dots or nothing.
There's a common consensus that a dot grid notebook with a flexible spine is the ultimate choice in design sketchbooks. I hate to fall in line, but I have to agree that when it comes to laying out logo or format designs - this type of notebook is king. The dot sequence is flexible and can be used for art, design, formatting, copywriting, etc. My favorite is from a company called Lila and is surprisingly only five bucks, which leads me to my next point.
You don't need an $80 notebook to create killer designs.
This seems obvious but there seems to be an undercurrent in the design world that focuses on design tools that are inherently expensive, while fully functional counterparts exist. Anything that adds that imaginary pressure I mentioned above can hinder your creative exploration. It's better to sketch out incredible ideas on a napkin than it is to be too scared to ruin your fancy notebook with your process. Even with my cheap favorite, I have a ritual of ruining the first page with an inappropriate doodle or to-do list to take the pressure off.
Is the sketchbook a dying tool for designers?
There's a small debate about the future of physical sketching for design work. Our quickly evolving arsenal of digital sketching tools such as Procreate is changing the industry and our daily processes but I think this conversation mirrors the one about digital readers that popped up a few years ago. While we may expand and incorporate new tools, there's a certain visceral creation that arises from the use of sketchbooks.
The sketchbook as art.
Outside of practical design use, a handful of extremely talented artists are using the modern sketchbook as an artistic portfolio in itself. There's a great project called, wait for it.....
The Sketchbook Project that is collecting artist sketchbooks from all over the world to catalog in a massive library. I have to admit, I've been tempted more than once to participate. Simply browsing the digital catalog is incredibly inspiring.
A fascinating history of the sketchbook here