Paper Mate throws down the gauntlet
A wooden pencil-lover’s rant about bad product design and poor implementation of a concept.
I was browsing through the Back-to-School section of my local Meijer store the other day and ran across this new product from Paper Mate:
The spin on these crappy mechanical facsimiles purport that they help you “make the switch” from wood pencils to mechanical.
Like this cheap plastic number is going to address the many concerns the wood-cases (I made up this term for wooden pencil users just now) will have about going to the Dark Side of cold, mechanized, brittle graphite.
What’s worse is that this isn’t even the best example of this kind of product! I much prefer a Zebra #2 mechanical. Not only does it better accomplish its job of looking like a wooden pencil, but it’s significantly more well-constructed. The plastic isn’t thin and hollow like the Paper Mate. The ferrule (the metal part of a pencil that holds the eraser to the barrel) is actually metal and the size of a real woodcase pencil’s (not some cartoon like this). And it uses a more standard mechanical pencil lead (0.7 mm), so refills are much easier to find. But perhaps the feature I like best about the Zebra is its length — it’s a little over five inches long, so it fits discreetly into my shirt pocket.
The Zebras do something the Paper Mate products don’t do — they identify a problem and they solve it. It’s shorter than a regular mechanical pencil, and doesn’t need sharpening like a wooden pencil. And the design isn’t mocking a wood pencil; it’s paying tribute to it. There is even the rare occasion where I prefer using it over my favorite wood pencil!
Paper Mate’s product solves nothing. It’s just as long as a typical mechanical (maybe even longer), it’s thick and ungainly (I’m sorry: “easy to hold”), and it’s super cheap. That erasers look like it’s going to snap off the moment it’s used.
Worse yet, it adds insult to the user experience injury. “Make the Switch, it says. “Replace Your Woodcase Pencil” it says. It doesn’t just want to serve as an additional product in your arsenal, or be your dominant mechanical pencil, it wants to be your ONLY pencil.
Don’t you think us wood-cases (okay, never mind. That sounds ridiculous) consciously make a decision to use wooden pencils? Don’t you understand we like sharpening? We like the feel of a wood-and-lacquer barrel and graphite encased in it? Who, exactly, do you think you’re winning over?
This is a slap in the face, too, of Paper Mate’s Mirado line of pencils, a venerable competitor in the mainstream market to the classic Dixon Ticonderoga. When Paper Mate bought the line, it was regarded with skepticism and disdain by the pencil community.
Whatever, Paper Mate. I think that David Rees’s short chapter about mechanicals in How to Sharpen Pencils sums up your product quite nicely:
Andy Welfle thinks a lot about pencils. He talks a lot about them, too, at Woodclinched, his blog about wooden pencils and pencilnalia. For more discussions and news about pencils, paper, erasers, sharpeners, and the like, check it out at Woodclinched.com.