‘Losing my diary would be worse than crashing the car’

How we developed the first Mark+Fold Diary for 2017

At Mark+Fold we like to talk to people about a shared passion for stationery, and this informs our designs. This year we have decided to develop our first ‘diary.’ So, with some valuable tips from our friends at IDEO (Matt Cooper-Wright and Kate Burn), we spoke to people about how they use theirs, and found that diary users feel passionately attached to, and dependent upon, this organisational tool. In one case, we were told that losing it would be “worse than crashing the car.”

This article explains our design process: from our initial hunches and preconceptions, through what diary users actually told us, some observations about existing layouts, and finally our Principles for the Mark+Fold Diary. This all started as an email conversation with Catherine Nippe, who is collaborating with us on the design. Then we decided it would be fun to share our process here.

“The elephant in the room: nobody uses diaries anymore, 
because everyone has iCal.”

Anecdotal assumptions

We have to admit that we had some assumptions before we began. These are some of the things we were concerned about:

— The elephant in the room: nobody uses diaries anymore, because everyone has iCal (or something along those lines)

— We assumed that people use diaries less than they used to

— Given we know that a lot of people use paper notebooks, we thought that a diary would normally act as a secondary tool to back up the notebook and / or digital devices

— We thought people would like something slim and lightweight, so they didn’t have to lug a big book around with them

There is a little bit of truth in all of these points, but what we found when we spoke to people was far more enlightening and exciting.

“I don’t use a diary because I am an organised person, I use it because I am disorganised and couldn’t cope without it.”

What we learned from diary-users

— People that use diaries, love their diaries. One person went as far as to say “If I were to lose my diary it would be worse than crashing the car”

— Several of the keen diary users use it instead of a notebook, and it is the basis of all of their ‘action’ lists or ‘to do’ lists as well as telling them where they need to be and when

— People tend to see a diary as an investment, as they use it so much; and they often keep them years afterwards

— Often used in conjunction with a digital diary, the paper diary is the “master copy” and only the diary owner is “allowed” to write in (or read) it. One person described the diary as “protecting” them in contrast to a laptop where people can bombard you with things that are beyond your control. The diary, in contract, is a private space.

— Several people said that they use a diary not because they are an organised person, but because they are disorganised and could not manage without it; some talked about it “training” them to remember things and to structure priorities or actions for the day / week

— Diary users are aware of the value of the diary, both in terms of money spent and of the environmental impact of using up pages. So there is an awareness of space not to be wasted (perhaps implicitly the time that this space represents, too).

Some observations about other products on the market

— Many do not use space efficiently, with awkward areas of white space which are too small to be useful

— Some info is taking up space but of little use (eg. ‘Week 27’)

— Some info is repeated (eg. saying ‘September’ more than once on a spread)

— Sometimes what works graphically or numerically (eg. dividing the page into 8 even squares) does not work in terms of planning your days, or reinforcing a mental picture of the week

Principles for a Mark+Fold Diary

  1. Less Ink
    We should put less ink on the page than the person using the diary! And what we do put down should feel “light”
  2. No ‘gumph’
    At the start or end of the diary we omit all the world time zones, religious holidays, etc.
  3. No wasted space
    White space should be beautiful and / or useful. We should value the diary, the pages, the space (and respect the time it represents), as much as the person using it
  4. Compartmentalise!
    It’s fun to write in different boxes: long tall ones for lists, short fat ones for reminders etc. Combinations of lines / grids / dots / blank — all up for grabs
  5. Reinforce the visual picture
    People store a visual image of the week in their minds. We can help reinforce this in their memory, eg. by pulling out the ‘am’ and ‘pm’ or distinguishing the weekends from weekdays
  6. Play with typography
    This is our own objective: to have fun and create something simple and beautiful. We can play with emphasising the date (19) / or the day (Monday) and the interplay between the two
  7. No repetition
    It is not necessary to repeat, for example, the month (September) more than once on a spread
  8. No “pointers”
    We want to leave it upto the diary user to decide what to write and where, so we avoid anything like ‘to do’ or ‘notes’
  9. Beauty is on the inside
    Diaries are functional things and for some people an essential tool, so the inside pages deserve our primary attention (the cover will follow)

So what next?

During the summer, we put out a call to notebook and diary users to tell us about how they use them. This gave us a great overview and sparked our interest in a few specific people that we wanted to talk to in more detail. Later we set up discussions with a handful of people who represented different “types” of diary user. These conversations have led us to the Principles listed here.

We are now very excited to be working with Swiss-German typographer and graphic designer, Catherine Nippe, building on everything we’ve talked about so far. We are aiming to have these on sale in November, in time for the New Year 2017. Watch this space!

If you have any questions, or would like to get in touch, please drop us a line!