Baron Fig's new notebook is all about the details.

Sure, most designer notebooks are all about the details...

...but this is billed as an "idea notebook."

Practically, that means it has less room up top than a Moleskine and more space around the edges.

The dimensions are a bit wider, too.

Is it design fussiness? Maybe. But would you challenge a craftsman for liking the feel of a saw or a hammer? Then why question a very nice notebook?

Co.Design

Can This Arty Notebook Out-Moleskine Moleskine?

Baron Fig distinguishes its design with obsessive attention to hair-splitting details. Do they matter?

Does the world need another line of "creative" notebooks? Designers, artists, writers, and other creative types have come to consider the small chapbook as a necessary part of their "personal brand"--by carrying one, you aim to signify yourself as someone with certain attitudes, practices, and socio-cultural-economic means--and there are well-known labels, like Moleskine and Field Notes, that are happy to cater to this desire. Now, designer Joey Cofone is launching another: Baron Fig. The pitch? This notebook is obsessively designed to be slightly different than all the others.

Okay, that's not being nice. But it's hard not to snark just a little bit when Baron Fig makes such a big deal about distinguishing features that you'd probably miss if you blinked, like the fact that its notebooks open flat, have a lot of pages, and sport slightly wider dimensions than a Moleskine. Sure, creative people are picky. But are they this picky?

"As a designer I've never been satisfied with Moleskines or Field Notes, among others, for everyday use," Cofone tells Co.Design. "Physically, Moleskines are a little too precious (and pricey), and their tall dimensions feel cramped when I'm on the subway holding the book in one hand and working on a single page with the other. Field Notes are great for what they do--'writing it down to remember it'--but they're too small to spend a few hours working in."

It all sounds like so much hair-splitting, but I'll be honest: I've searched up and down the racks for a notebook that had a near-perfect "fit" for my own particular patterns of use, and when I latch onto one that works, I come to need it. I also know how distracting it can feel to have tools that don't quite "fit," somehow. Sure, you use them. You do your work. But the distraction can always be there, like a tiny pebble in your shoe. Who wants that?

The subtle design details of Baron Fig's notebooks spring from Cofone's desire to address his own similar, and unapologetically personal, peccadilloes with other products. His notebooks have 192 pages so that he can feel unabashed about "go[ing] through five or more spreads in a single brainstorm session" without including so many that the book becomes too bulky. "The smarter dimensions--taking some of space from the top (think Moleskine) and moving it to the side--allow you to use just one page without feeling cramped, which comes in use when riding on the subway or sitting on the couch while working," he continues.

So is this just fussiness or useful attention to detail? The distinction may not matter when it comes to a product like Baron Fig. One person's "who gives a $*^#" is another person's "gotta have it." And the key attribute of an "idea notebook"--which is what Baron Fig positions itself as, in contrast to a visual sketchbook like Moleskine or a reminder-jotter like Field Notes--is fluid, pleasurable ease of use. If the fact that other notebooks are a half-centimeter too skinny makes them unpleasant for you to use, then you're not going to find yourself wanting to using them. In a way, this "fussiness" is no different than that of a professional contractor who chooses the make and model of his hand tools with obsessive care. It has to do with more than work. If you're going to be using it every single day, it has to feel right.

Whether you think Baron Fig is "well-designed" will come down to personal taste. Is it all that different from what's already out there? Does it need to exist? To Joey Cofone and his partners ("We're just three friends who started this project with no special funding," he says), the answers are yes. It's all too easy to sneer at designs that "don't solve real problems"--but if this particular design makes even just one other person say "A-ha! This is exactly what I need," then that design is successful, regardless of what we armchair critics think. (Baron Fig's first production run will be funded by a Kickstarter campaign, so Cofone will get unambiguous feedback about the viability of his product.)

Learn more at Baron Fig | B&F Kickstarter campaign

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5 Comments

  • Jp Stallard

    Always found Muji Notebooks to work amazingly well

    - Lay flat 
    - Lots of pages
    - subtle dots to provide minimal structuring  
    - card sketchable covers
    - cheap 

  • gohlkusmaximus

    Opening flat -- that is a *huge* plus. In a lot of contexts, it is impossible to use notebooks that snap closed without breaking the binding -- one of the main reasons I usually just use my phone to take notes. Best of luck to Joey -- clearly a designer with very refined skills. The self-described snarky tone of the article belies a less-refined viewpoint on the part of the author who despite undermining the product couldn't obscure its superior features. (I'm just another designer with no connection to anyone involved in this article, by the way -- I saw the link on sfgate.com.)

  • Morningtoast

    Another over-priced notebook, just what we needed. I find it amazing that so many people seem to fret over what notebook they use. Your creativity and greatness of your idea is not be determined by the notebook you use. I wonder how many good ideas escape while you worry about which notebook tells others that you're a designer. At this point, using a good old fashioned comp book or 50-cent spiral notebook speaks louder than something fancy like this. But hey, if you can sell a notebook for $20 then more power to you.

  • Stephen Lee

    Amen to everything you just wrote....I just can't seem to dish out the $$ for things like this. They look and feel great but in the end who really cares....?

  • Baron Fig

    Thanks for the article! Below is the whole interview for those that want to hear more!
    ~1. What inspired this product? What was so unacceptable about Moleskins, Field Notes, or any number of other "designery" notebooks and sketchbooks already on the market?
    Great question! I've been carrying around a notebook since I stumbled on a collection of DaVinci's sketchbooks as a kid. I never dreamed that carrying one around would be a part of my profession, but it makes sense thinking back on it. Generating ideas and making things is all I want to do, all the time. For this, I need a great and simple tool.

    As a designer I've never been satisfied with Moleskines or Field Notes, among others, for everyday use. Physically, Moleskines are a little too precious (and pricey), and their tall dimensions feel cramped when I'm on the subway holding the book in one hand and working on a single page with the other. Field Notes are great for what they do—"writing it down to remember it"—but they're too small to spend a few hours working in.

    Brand-wise, neither of them speak to the thinker. Moleskine's brand is all about making visual artwork (take a look at the imagery on their homepage and you'll see what I mean) and Field Notes' brand is very product centric, mainly focusing on the books themselves and their various limited editions. We want to address something totally different with Baron Fig.

    Our focus is pre- and post-product—the people who are generating ideas and the ideas that are being made into fantastic and exciting things. If you look at our site you'll see people in all of our shots (besides the obligatory product standalone shots) and in the next couple of weeks we'll be launching the Idea Series, which is a set of interviews with different types of thinkers, each discussing a particular aspect of their craft and process.

    In short, it's not about what you do with the books, but about what you do with your ideas. 
    2. Intent behind the design: What differentiation or value is being delivered by some of these details, such as a slightly different dimension to the book, or more pages in the book? Creative people are picky, but are they THIS picky? 
    If we're going to make something new we wanted to make sure we also made it better. From the very beginning we've had to ask ourselves to define and redefine what a notebook is. We eventually came to the conclusion that a notebook is a tool—one that can be used for leisure, entertainment, and work. Essentially, it's a means to something greater than itself. Using this understanding as a guide we began to break down the individual subtleties that comprise the whole and improve the design in small ways. There are no gimmicks, no unnecessary parts—just intelligent improvement of a simple tool.

    It's important that we kept things clean and simple. Our first requirement was that the books had to open flat, and we've worked hard to get out of your way. The books aren't covered in branding (the cover is completely blank) and inside we've included the absolute minimum necessary tools: a bookmark for keeping your page and a box on the inside endpaper where you can write your name, subject, date, or anything else you desire. As we worked on the book we had a little anthem going: "This is your book, not ours." 

    The smarter dimensions—taking some of space from the top (think Moleskine) and moving it to the side—allow you to use just one page without feeling cramped, which comes in use when riding on the subway or sitting on the couch while working. 

    Having plenty of pages is a must; I can go through five or more spreads in a single brainstorm session, and the more pages available the less likely it feels like we're wasting space (and money). At 192 pages we're right where we need to be while keeping the book thin and easy to carry.

    In the end, there's about half a dozen little improvements. As Dieter Rams has said, "Good design is unobtrusive." We're hoping you won't even notice the little nuances that make your experience better (until you try to use another book)!

    On top of all of these little changes we're also going to keep the lines of communication wide open with the people using Baron Fig books. In the process of designing these books we asked hundreds of thinkers around the world one simple question: "What do you like in a sketchbook or notebook?" It was with their feedback that we refined the books—and with the community's continued feedback that we will make them better and better.
    3. When do they go on sale, where can they be bought, and for how much? Is this a limited run, or an open ended/ongoing product offering?
    We're just three friends who started this project with no special funding (I'm sitting in my kitchen as I type this) and we're doing our best to make this a project by thinkers, for thinkers. Kickstarter is the perfect platform to keep it out of the hands of investors whose primary interest is the almighty dollar and in the hands of those that care about it. Our Kickstarter campaign launches this Tuesday, September 3rd, where we'll be raising $15k to place our first large manufacturing order.

    Supporters will be able to pledge $20 for one book (Blank, Ruled, or Dot Grid), $50 for a full set of all three, or as little as $1 to as much they like—every little bit helps. If we hit our goal we'll be able to place our order and get the first series of Baron Fig books into the hands of thinkers around the world. 

    From there we'll actively listen to what they're saying, respond accordingly, and continue forward. It's our ultimate goal to create a brand of sketchbooks and notebooks that speaks to the people—the thinkers—and their ideas.

    —Joey Cofone, Founder & Raconteur at Baron Fig