The Anatomy of a Great Journal

John Reeve | October 3rd, 2008 | , ,

The digital realm of the Internet has extended its reach deep into our personal and professional lives. We are drowning in a murky sea of information and require several devices and online tools to stay afloat. From PDAs and smart phones to online task management and productivity tools, we have fought back against the digital surge with our own weapons of mass production. But, perhaps the best tool we have for maintaining a work/life balance, task planning & management, and hashing out new ideas, is a well-worn, time-trusted journal; a remnant of the life analog. Personally, I’ve relied heavily on journals to accommodate for the shortcomings of digital tools. With 28 of them filled cover-to-cover and stowed away for safekeeping, I’ve found the perfect journal requires the following five qualities.

  1. Binding
    The binding may seem trivial, but I learned the hard way that it is not. More specifically, stay away from journals that are spiral bound. The pages are more likely to loosen up and fall out over time. And, if you like to go heavy on the Ticonderoga 2B like I do, you are going to end up with muddied drawings from the pages rubbing together. Choose a glued binding with a loose enough spine that it’s easy to open and lay flat while you write and sketch.
  2. Paper thickness
    Technically, I don’t buy “journals” anymore. The pages are too thin and the ink bleeds through or the pencil scores the pages too deeply. The thicker the paper, the better, and it’s the blank books classified as “sketchbooks” that usually fit this criteria. The thicker pages allow you to write on both sides of each page without one side showing through to the other. And with sketchbooks you have the added bonus of pages without lines (lined pages are the antithesis of creativy).
  3. Cover
    Historically, I leave my journal cover in its plain store-bought state. Some journaled chapters of my life, however, have had the covers completely reworked with acrylic paint, markers, and transferred images. A canvas or heavy cardboard cover was essential for the amount of creative abuse it endured to achieve the look I wanted. Whereas, the only option I have with a leather-bound book is laser etching.
  4. Size
    Too small a sketchbook and your hand will cramp trying to write on such small pages and you will run out of room after penning a few words. Too large and the whole thing wobbles in your lap when you try to write while sitting on the couch, or requires too much space on the desk when you want to sketch out a new idea that pops into your head mid-work-stream. Most journals are 5.25″ x 8.25″ in dimension, an ideal size that fits easily into a bag, on the bookshelf, or in a jacket pocket.
  5. Number of pages
    Each journal we complete is a chapter of our lives archived. It’s good to start new chapters at regular intervals. A book with too many pages can take too long to finish and leave our creative and writing efforts feeling stagnant or unfinished. Filling out the last page and switching it out for a new journal from the bookshelf, cracking open and smelling those fresh new pages, applying pen and pencil for the first time, it’s an invigorating feeling marking a metaphorical new beginning.

What is my favorite journal?

I actually have two favorites and I can’t decide which is better. On the one hand, I love the Moleskine journal for its versatility — the back pocket is a great place to stash scraps — and it’s overall status as a designer’s must-have. But I also find myself wanting the canvas cover of the Cachet sketchbooks, a medium that will accept paint, sandpaper, ink, and anything else you apply to it.

8 Responses to “The Anatomy of a Great Journal”

  1. RaiulBaztepo says:

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

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John Reeve
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John Reeve

John is a co-founder, web designer and developer at Pelago. His blog posts are inspired by everyday encounters with designers, developers, creatives and small businesses in general. John is an avid reader and road cyclist.
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Jennifer Payne
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Jennifer Payne

Jennifer is the Director of Quality and Efficiency at Pelago. Her blog posts are based largely on her experience working with teams to improve harmony and productivity. Jennifer is a cat person.
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Michael Payne
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Michael Payne

Michael is a co-founder and product architect at Pelago. His contributions stem from experiences managing the development process behind web sites and web-based applications such as Intervals. Michael drives a 1990 Volkswagen Carat with a rebuilt 2.4 liter engine from GoWesty.
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