Spaces for Ideas: The Beginning

This product has officially launched! Get your sketchbook at the Spaces for Ideas Store now!

Spaces for Ideas: Expandable Sketchbook

After using my Moleskine for almost a year, I realized what I thought was the world’s best sketchbook was not even close.

The cover often bends out of shape, the spine makes my pages shift like a deck of cards, and it contains pages so incredibly thin that pretty much everything goes through it. While no sketchbook is perfect, I believe my fairly harsh critique was influenced by price and marketing/branding of a Moleskine. In other words, I expected something better considering how much I paid for it!

This got me thinking; while no sketchbook is perfect, just what did I not like about the Moleskine or even sketchbooks in general? I thought about all the problems I had with sketchbooks, and after that made a list of key points of what I thought my dream sketchbook would be like. And like any typical designer, I knew from that moment I could design one that was better. I hope!

1. A sketchbook that highlights the work and not itself
2. Well constructed and affordable
3. No spines getting in the way of cross page sketching
4. Just the right size but with enough space or room to play with
5. “Boundary-less” pages
6. Flexible enough to do what you will
7. Decent quality paper that takes all non-wet mediums like ink, pencil or markers.
8. Appeals to everyone, not just designers

I started, like I do with all design problems, sketching out my ideas and possible solutions.
Spaces for Ideas: Expandable Sketchbook
Spaces for Ideas: Expandable Sketchbook

At the same time I worked my sketches, I went out to do research as well as contacted a Printer/Bookbinder. I also knew I had a new “language” I needed to learn, and the Printer was a great help! I also went out to bookstores and art shops (even Muji) and bought a number of sketchbooks that had elements of the look or construction I wanted in my design.

Spaces for Ideas Sketchbook - Research Material and Mockup
I finally settled on a couple of directions, and practicing what I preach, I quickly built a mockup (top left in the picture above) over a weekend. I actually took a video of it, but I’m not sure if showing it will give you the right impression of the design as it was really rough. But for personal consumption, any quick and rough mockup the better as it got me going and better understanding the problem.

Spaces for Ideas Sketchbook - Mockup Study 01
Spaces for Ideas Sketchbook - Mockup Study 02
Spaces for Ideas Sketchbook - Mockup Study 03
Spaces for Ideas Sketchbook - Mockup Study 04
Spaces for Ideas Sketchbook - Mockup Study 05
Spaces for Ideas Sketchbook - Mockup Study 06
Spaces for Ideas Sketchbook - Mockup Study 07

Frequent visits to the Printer/Bookbinder really helped, as she showed me the ropes, taught me the “language” they used and the in’s and out’s of bookbinding. I’ve only scratched the surface, but I’ve learnt a lot. In design it is always good to be really close to where the product is made. I’ve changed the design so many times after learning about the manufacturing constraints and seeing so many other options I could use (see a samples above). In fact many things I thought I knew about printing and bookbinding were actually myths.

Finally, after a lot of exploration, testing, discussion and brainstorming with fellow designers, friends and family: “Spaces for Ideas” was born! While we are talking about sketchbooks here, “thinking big” pushed me to envisioned Spaces for Ideas far beyond just sketchbooks. I won’t share everything here today, but I like to say that I’m really inspired by this brand name as it’s very apt don’t you think? I’ve even bought!

Well do stay tuned, as I’ll be in touch with a blog post of the actual prototype of the design I’ve decided to develop in the next week or so. I’m sure you can pick up clues in this post, but I would like to keep it as a surprise for you for next time. Meanwhile, do leave me your thoughts and feedback, as I love to hear what you think?

Edit 1: The next installment of Spaces for Ideas: The First Prototype is up!
Edit 2: Check out the third installment of this project, Spaces for Ideas: The Brand.
Edit 3: Check out the final installment of this project, Spaces for Ideas: The Final Prototype.

This product has launched! Get your sketchbook at the Spaces for Ideas Store now!

  • Famke

    May 22, 2010 at 12:39 am Reply

    Thank you for sharing….wish you best of luck:),Lacee

  • jeffery B.

    March 20, 2010 at 5:39 pm Reply

    …or, try the 80 page sketch moleskine instead of the regular 192 normal flimsy page one

  • DT

    March 15, 2010 at 12:25 am Reply

    pc: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yes, a table is required for sure. But you are right, keeping it as small as possible wins in portability.
    Mohd Hisham: Nobody wants me there! Kidding, and thanks.

  • Mohd Hisham

    March 13, 2010 at 12:03 pm Reply

    I think you make a perfect candidate for HackerspaceSg – just to show hacking does not necessarily mean tech. 🙂
    good luck with your book (re)design. 🙂

  • pc

    March 1, 2010 at 5:45 pm Reply

    hi, it’s interesting on embarking on this project.
    My 2 cents worth comments. I think on using a sketch book, whether its a Moleskine or any other brand, it’s of no importance,it’s the idea that put onto the pages that counts. Though some might feel that with a Moleskine, the ideas generated will be better because I’m drawing on a ‘branded’ sketch book. ha..
    I hv some queries with regards to your final proposal. With a fold-out extra space, it is definitely good and helpful if I’m sitting on a table (if I can find one when outside). Sometimes idea can just come and you need to sketch it and record down immediately. A decent size sketch book with thick cover or backing will serve just right to write on. With your proposed fold-out, the backing is lost and unless you can find a proper surface to work on.
    I think regardless of brand, a sketch book of a user-friendly size exist because it’s a good size to carry, work on and write on, and sometime it’s not necessary whether you need an extra space.

  • iHanna

    January 7, 2010 at 5:18 pm Reply

    Designing your own ultimate notebook is The Project I wish I could do, reading about your process is interesting and inspiring! Hope all goes well with the making of it!

  • DT

    December 28, 2009 at 7:17 pm Reply

    WOW! Some great feedback, suggestions and comments. I try my best to answer each one.
    @chetan: The real world prototypes and mock-ups were useful, I’m a big supporter of getting real quick. Thanks for your comments.
    @AS and @Charles: Thanks both for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! (@AS Don’t worry about the off topic!) In principle my business model is not to make more than necessary, I will need to make that initial investment, and it also does not make financial sense as well to make more than I can sell. Hopefully this open design critique process will allow me great feedback as well as understand what it takes to create a successful product. Also environmental concerns is central to this product, as it uses paper. I will need to balance recycled paper with the experience of writing. Tree-free paper is a good idea but not the best as a writing surface. I will continue to search for a surface that works.
    @abhinav: Thanks for your enthusiastic support! I’m really excited and I hope you guys will be too when you see the prototype.
    @Persyn: Great suggestion and thanks. I think this problem should be fixed with a good quality heavier weight paper! However I will be creating a back plate for another sketchbook product that will be launched after this first one. Oops…I’ll not share too much more!

  • Persyn

    December 28, 2009 at 3:45 am Reply

    Love your problem solving ideas and I wanted to share one I had.
    When sketching on my Moleskine I almost always put to much pressure on my pencil/ ballpoint, which changes the plane texture of the next pages and eventually screws up the quality of your sketches you will draw in the future.
    You know that drawing on a marker pad has the same problem and that it can easily be avoided by putting a cardboard back of an old pad underneath it. I do this for my Moleskine as well (I just cut out an old pad back which matches the size of my Moleskine and carry it in there all the time, I lost it a few times though).
    So what if you could integrate this? Like making the front & back cover twice the size so you can fold it underneath the pages your sketching on.
    Cheers, P

  • Charles B

    December 28, 2009 at 3:01 am Reply

    Great ideas! I hope you continue to follow your muse, and see the results of this great brainstorming.
    I would encourage you to speak with some print designers. As a long-time graphic designer, I’ve learned a lot about bindery tech, including some esoteric alternatives. Graphic designers would be not only potential resources, but potential customers as well.
    Would love to see you look at some of the “tree-free” papers available. The quality can be excellent. The cost may be a bit more, but I’d be willing to pay for it to support such forest-friendly alternatives.
    Along the lines of what AS mentions above, I’d like to see “on-demand” solutions. In other words, if 1000 customers sign up for a notebook that is 9 x 9 inches, then one is produced and shipped. That way there is more choice, and less waste. I would, for example, sign up for a notebook that matches the size of my MacBook Pro, because all my bags are sized for the laptop. Or a large-Moleskin-sized notebook with twice the number of pages.
    Good luck!

  • abhinav

    December 27, 2009 at 8:19 pm Reply

    I love your project. I personally feel its high time we stop ‘re-designing’ objects and start re-inventing them. And having some personal experience in “trying” to re-invent an everyday object, i know how difficult it is to look beyond , what seems like, lines etched in stone.
    Way to go, bro! Eagerly looking forward to it.

  • AS

    December 27, 2009 at 12:23 am Reply

    Interesting ideas and thoughts… all the best with the project, I admire your critical thinking and refinement, good on you!
    I personally see mass production as one of major problems of the modern design world. Too often great design is sacrificed due to primarily cost and manufacturing process (ie it must be mass production friendly). Principally you shouldn’t manufacture 1 million sketchbooks and then have to persuade people to buy them. Designers should be like poets use to be, free people. You should be able to come up with the best design, then the best way to make it with available technology or invent new technology then use the best materials and then just simply calculate the cost plus your profit and don’t be stingy 😉 today it more like first find the market and then the cost people are willing to pay then use that as your criteria to design and make it work, sacrificing what is best or better for what is profitable and marketable.
    See this is the thing, take the environmental issue. We as designers must realise our responsibility. We decide what materials we use in our products. We decide how they will look like and etc. so than for the past 100 years designers have failed in designing responsibly so that the end result/the product is in balance and cohesion with the surroundings. What is the environmental impact? the social impact? etc. There was a time believe it or not when designers and inventors withheld some very impressive and ‘cool’ ideas and designs because of probable impact that design will have on people long term. I mean today we obviously fail to even consider the life span of the product which is very short in most cases, let alone the impact that product will have on the environment both social and ecological…
    anyway sorry for going on a tangent but I really like to see critical thinkers and engage in a discussion on a bit broader perspective. hope you don’t mind and I hope I have not said anything wrong.
    all the best

  • Chetan

    December 26, 2009 at 12:54 pm Reply

    Loved the process and issues catered to, I am sure the prototypes really made a difference in taking the right direction. Great stuff…..

  • DT

    December 26, 2009 at 12:27 pm Reply

    Hi Lindsay,
    Great idea! I have explored a similar direction, where the sketchbook comes apart, but not in the way you have mentioned. Thanks for your suggestion and please keep in touch?

  • Lindsay

    December 26, 2009 at 12:02 pm Reply

    I often draw on pages and then have to glue or tape them into my sketchbook later, maybe you could make your sketchbook somewhat or fully buildable.

  • DT

    December 26, 2009 at 9:48 am Reply

    @Carl: I totally relate to your problem. I have a whole pile of A4 paper stacked in the corner. It’s also great for scanning, however in recent years I went back to a sketch book for practical purposes. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
    @Valine: Thanks for your feedback, I’m also as concern with the points you have highlighted, and looking forward to the prototype to really test it out and weed out the bits. I hope to show it to you soon. Please keep in touch?

  • Valina

    December 25, 2009 at 9:06 pm Reply

    Love the name and even more the fact that you re-design the sketchbooks. I recognize the problem you have with sketchbooks. The fold-out idea is a nice one and when/ if you use it, then I am curious how it will work without making it a nuisance to fold it, tearing the page and to close the sketchbook easily. Can’t wait to see it on the shelf.

  • Carl

    December 25, 2009 at 12:06 pm Reply

    as a designer, i have to say, i avoid sketchbooks like the plague. mainly because of the points you brought up. any sketchbooks i’ve seen never met the needs i have, so i just end up sketching on loose paper…then of course, have organization issues. i’m very anxious to see where you go with this…good job!

  • Nick

    December 24, 2009 at 5:38 pm Reply

    @DT thanks! Can’t wait.

  • DT

    December 24, 2009 at 4:55 pm Reply

    Hi Nick,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I noticed the link on your site and will put if up for you. Stay tuned for the prototype, it will be posted sometime next week.

  • Nick

    December 23, 2009 at 3:23 pm Reply

    It’s great that you’re coming up with a new idea for a sketchbook! As much as I would like to own a moleskine, I think it’s too expensive for what it really is. $23 for about 100 or so pages is really a rip-off sometimes. I’ve had a few goes at making up a sketchbook and have finally come up with a DIY moleskine replica costing about a dollar each. DT if you’ll permit me to put up a link showing how it’s made, that would be great. Good work and I can’t wait to see your prototype!

    Edit: Here is the link to Nick’s sketchbook mash-up if you are interested.

  • DT

    December 21, 2009 at 6:25 pm Reply

    @Jamie, Thanks for your interest in this product, I’ll let you know when we get it launched!
    @gwen, thanks for much for sharing your thoughts and what you used to do. That band-sawing idea sounds fun! I’ll definitely consider your square format as well as the grid paper as part of my other notebook propositions for sure. And if it happens, I’ll see if I can send you one to enjoy!

  • Jamie Hamilton

    December 19, 2009 at 8:47 pm Reply

    I am not a designer, but I have a general interest in the design process. I think this looks potentially excellent, and I would definitely buy one if they were commercially released.

  • gwen

    December 19, 2009 at 12:57 am Reply

    Hmmmm, yeah completely restructuring the existence of sketchbooks is awesome what you are tempting.
    For myself i have always made my own sketchbooks (not so much anymore), one senario I have done in my school days was to buy a very big sketch pad, then i taped into different dimensions, – squares, long rectangles, 2 by 3 size rectangles, etc – Then i cut with a band saw. If you do it right with taping down the sketchpad and a fresh blade the bandsaw will not burn the paper and gives a clean cut.
    So after that experiment the shape that works perfectly for me was the square, even though i prefer the visual look of a rectangle, the square allow me to be diverse – story boards, quick sketches, better for drawing and cleaning the images later on the computer, because this was no side longer, so orientation was out the window when you started a sketch.
    but i like what you are thinking so far…
    have you check out the ecosystem books? similar in look to the moleskin but their paper is thicker and they have a tag on the back of the book that you can log online to see where your sketchbook came from, how to return/recycle if needs be, or to register your book in case you lost it. pretty neat thinking about the lifecycle of a sketchbook, calendar, etc.
    their website is
    The only thing that bugs me about their one product of theirs is the graphic grid paper. I have a personal love for grid paper but the ink is too strong. I wonder if designing with paper that has an ink overlay that is invisible to computer scans or camera shots (blue ink, but even still i can see them on the computer).

  • DT

    December 19, 2009 at 12:34 am Reply

    Hi Licheng, Daniel, George and Marine,
    Thanks so much for the support and kind words of encouragement. I will try to get pictures of the prototype posted ASAP!
    Please keep in touch?

  • Marine Boudeau

    December 19, 2009 at 12:09 am Reply

    Nice!! Looking forward to see the prototype… 🙂

  • George I

    December 18, 2009 at 11:29 pm Reply

    Dude, GO FOR IT!! Your obviously thorough efforts should pay off, in every sense. Good design gets born out of dissatisfaction with what’s currently available. Can’t wait to see the product on the shelf.

  • Daniel Christadoss

    December 18, 2009 at 10:31 am Reply

    That a a very nice introduction to a Design Thinking project
    Wishing you all the best.

  • Licheng

    December 18, 2009 at 10:22 am Reply

    I like that you set out to make your own ‘ideal’ when the commercial ones don’t work. Really looking forward to see the prototype and end product! Sounds like a LOT of thought went into it. Keep it up!

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