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.)


About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.