• Jay Liu
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A Notebook Builder
Initial Thoughts
  1. Overall Goal
  2. Target Population
  3. Current Landscape of Solutions
  4. Potential Feature Set
  5. Design Principles

A Notebook Builder

Initial Thoughts

Associated project: Folio Forge
Initial thoughts regarding a web application that helps people customize and print out notebook filler paper at home.

October 02, 2019

Overall Goal

This app aims to allow people to configure and print out notebooks (or sketchbooks or journals) on their own browsers and print at home.

Target Population

Who would benefit from this?

  1. Heavy Users of Notebooks

    This is aimed at those who would rather use common or re-use materials (as opposed to high-end materials), perhaps because their usage volume is very high.

    Perhaps they need notebooks for sketching or visual exploration. The book Drawing Ideas [Amazon affiliate link ] by Mark Baskinger and William Bardel maintains that daily sketching will help designers, visual communicators, and conceptualizers stay sharp in skill.

    Maybe they prefer the back-to-paper approach to planning similar to the Bullet Journal  system created by Ryder Carroll.

  2. DIY-Ers: Those Who Find Enjoyment or Interest in Making Notebooks

    This solution is aimed at those who would rather make than buy a sketchbook, even if it will take time. They participate in the do-it-yourself stationery movement for notebooks. Rather than finding convenience in purchasing a notebook (regardless of whether it’s cheap or premium), the user would rather make something that can suit their needs exactly, all while engaging in the form of self-expression.

    This may be appealing to the budget-conscious. Manufactured notebooks can range from around $15 and up. On the other hand, a ream of 500 sheets of quality paper can cost around the same. Heavy notebook users (100+ pages per month) may not find this affordable.

  3. Customizers With Specific Requirements and Willingness to Tweak Settings

    Finally, this solution is aimed at those who would rather customize than use an off-the-shelf solution.

    Below are some examples of customizability:

    Page Features & Composition

    Some want to choose features and layouts for their pages. For example, the Bullet Journal method can be carried out using any notebook but having certain elements like pre-printed page numbers and indices helps out. (Indeed, as featured in Bullet Journal’s own notebook product.) Also, numbering lines by day of week and day of the month is much more suited for computation, so that could also be a potential feature.

    Printed Patterns

    The users may want dot-grids (sketching), lines (writing), or even grids (graphing). Or, they may want to change the width of the lines or the pitch of the dots. The user also may want to change the color or darkness of the grids or lines.


    Users are becoming increasingly aware of multiple binding options. One prominent source for information is Sea Lemon’s YouTube channel, where you will find many other binding options.

    As examples, two of my favorites are below:

    Coptic stitch - handmade: I learned how to do a Coptic stitch  to bind everyday materials into my sketchbooks. The Coptic stitch’s added benefit is that it can lay flat, doesn’t require glue, and has a very high binding strength-per-weight ratio.

    Disc binding - reusable and economical: I also became aware of disc binding , which seemed like a modern, sleeker approach to ring binding, working especially well with pages that don’t need to be permanently bound.

Current Landscape of Solutions

Buying Pre-made

Current sketchbooks typically are pre-built with a set number of pages, set layout, and set patterns. There isn’t much room for customizability.

Configuring Digitally

Current implementations either cost money, have a cluttered and complicated user interface, and don’t let you print with at-home binding in mind.

Potential Feature Set

Initial thoughts on design

Key Value-add: This will be a web application where users can build their own notebook and print it at home.

Basic Features to Implement First

  • Customizable the print pattern
    • Blank - for drawing or sketching
    • Grid - for sketching
    • Lines - for writing or listing
  • Make it yourself (and as easily as possible)
    • Print at home: Take it straight out of the printer and begin binding. Page numbering is handled for you, depending on your binding type.
    • Bind at home: Choose from disc or ring binding, Coptic binding (or any binding method using signatures), or saddle stitch.

Advanced Features Perhaps to Implement Later

  • More customizability than the status quo:
    • Change margins or gutters
    • Change dot pitch
    • Change the color of the pattern
  • More structure:
    • Calendars
    • Templates

Design Principles

  • Users should always maintain sight of the end product. As the user changes settings, a preview should reflect that at all times.
  • Customize the instructions in response to the user’s output customizations.

I would eventually continue to evolve the design principles in light of further research. Check it out here.

Design Principles

A deeper dive into the design principles derived from the latest aggregation of user research.

Jay Liu
Written by Jay Liu, experience designer.
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