I abhor buying stuff, so if I buy something, I like it to be the best. The best isn't the most expensive, nor the cheapest, nor is it the most famous. But I genuinely feel these are all the best of their categories:
When I was growing up I read a lot. Living in Guernsey, I'd visit my Grandparents ancient granite farm house, climb the steep spiral staircase, and explore the dusty spare bedroom that acted as a library.
One of my earliest memories is being given a trunk full of books that my father had read when he was growing up. Biggles, Blyton, Jennings amongst others, but it was Willard Price that has stuck with me. (okay, perhaps Biggles too, given the name of this blog.)
Willard Price was an explorer for the Natural Geographic, and he penned a collection of books called the Adventure Series. It documented two brothers, Hal and Roger Hunt, as they travelled around the world capturing rare, exotic and dangerous animals.
I look at youths today and I see an obsession with certain series of books, and I had that very same with the Adventure series!
When I had finished reading a book, I'd re-read it again, and this time stop at every foreign city, exotic animal and peculiar naturalist phrase, and research it in an encyclopaedia.
I would love to know what books are being written this decade that have a similar aim. I've read and cherished the works of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and other – old and new – fantasy authors, but none had the same impact of wonder that Willard did.
I learnt about ship rigging, survival techniques, knot tying, and all manner of curiosities about our little planet. The books were clearly fantastical but they felt grounded, close to reality. These weren't stories that made you wish you lived in another world, they were stories that made you excited to live in our world.
And this quote from Willard makes my eyes well with delight:
My aim in writing the Adventure series for young people was to lead them to read by making reading exciting and full of adventure. At the same time I want to inspire an interest in wild animals and their behavior. Judging from the letters I have received from boys and girls around the world, I believe I have helped open to them the worlds of books and natural history
I cannot begin to express how important these books were at filling me with wonder and curiosity at the world. Thanks Willard Price. I hope with all my might that perhaps this note might inspire someone to give the gift of these books.
In my pocket I have one of the most sophisticated pieces of technology around, an iPhone. And a wallet.
Inside that wallet resides:
three payment cards
my driving licence
zipcard and oyster card
moma, pokemon, and a few other nonsense cards.
It's unavoidable that I must carry these things, and whilst I could perhaps thin these items down by one or two, ultimately there will still be a sixteenth of an inch of cards that I must carry. I don't thin them down because I know that the day I stop carrying my zipcard will be the day I need a zipcar. Eye rolling will ensue.
Not only this, but everyone carries these. I can appreciate that there are dozens of companies trying to compress these items into my iPhone, but let's be real for a moment and accept that you'll be carrying this burden for another decade or two at least.
What wallet do you carry? I find noticing peoples wallets to be a curious window into their attitudes about product design, it speaks about them. None negative, the adage of judging people by their shoes? Judging them by their wallet – and not even the wealth inside – is far more appropriate.
Those expensive Yves Saint Laurent or COMME des GARÇONS wallets? Spending many hundreds of dollars on a wallet is exactly the same as spending hundreds of dollars on a t-shirt. The designer cared about the wallet, but he knew the you'd buy it regardless. Does anyone do the best work of their life like this?
Is caring about this a monumental ode to materialism? I don't think so. My wallet is with me even more than my dog.
Over the past decade, I have churned through wallets. I know far too much about how to design and construct a lowly wallet. I've lived with, sat on, drunkenly accessed, and eventually become dissatisfied with every single wallet I have seen.
The curious thing about a wallet: the use case is the same for every person in the first world. “I have some stuff and I have to carry it with me at all times. I need to access it in a hurry, in the dark, in the rain, and when my hands are full.”
One card slot is not enough. I have many cards but only two types: cards to pay with, and everything else. When I want to access the former, seeing the latter is redundant. More over, one when I want the other gets in the way.
So put the most frequently used cards at the top or bottom of the stack. That works, but you then reach the second issue with a singular stack of cards: the only way to readily access the cards, is to bend them back on themselves and peel one out. Damaging to the cards and your fingers.
Some wallets – bi and tri fold wallets – have card slots. Now you're constrained. Surplus card slots are wasteful, too few card slots and you're scuppered.
Wallets lack the thing that motivates almost every buying decision I make. They are not built to last. Cotton rips, stitching comes apart, and plastic is plastic. Why does this matter? Because I want to be done. I don't give a shit about my wallet, it doesn't get me paid and it certainly doesn't get me laid. When I am in line for a bar, I momentarily get annoyed at my wallet when it gets in my way, and then I forget entirely about it, until it gets in my way again. The moment passes, it doesn't ruin my night, it's just a moment. I want a wallet, and then I want to never think about it again.
Actually that is a lie, my dream wallet, every time I use it, I'd think “thanks industrial designer, thanks for making this good.”
And then there are iPhone wallets. I have only ever seen one case for the iPhone that is not terrible (this one) and even then – well don't get me started – all iPhone cases are questionable. Babies don't get dropped because you pay attention when you're holding them, why are you not offering the same courtesy to a thousand dollar device?
It's leather. Leather is beautiful. Whereas every other material depreciates with age, leather does the opposite.
This wallet is crafted from a singular piece of leather. There are two seams. Have you ever studied machining, textiles of woodwork? I have: the fewer seams the better. If you want something to last, minimise the seams.
Inside the wallet there are two card slots. You'll comfortably fit half a dozen cards in each, or one card. Moreover: its easy to see and then extract the card you want. I promise.
There is a huge fold for notes. For some reason I have three currencies in my wallet. And this isn't a problem for this wallet.
It's thin enough. You have to break it in, it's leather, but it's about as thin as an Apple desktop mouse. It is not a front pocket wallet, but it is not going to cause you sciatica.
If you're read this far you've crossed the Rubicon. You need a new wallet.
Every week, I receive an e-mail from Kickstarter. My friend has backed a new project—not just any project, but a pen.
I did not really understand the allure of having high-end pens. Don't you just lose them? I own dozens of one specific pen: the 0.38mm Pilot G-2 with black ink.
And what is the deal with Moleskine notebooks? People obsess over pens and seem to entirely ignore paper. Isn't the paper just as mighty as the pen?
I do not understand why you'd want a notebook that was not spiral bound. Moleskine notebooks are thread bound, which always makes it awkward to write on the left side (as a right-handed person) of the notebook. It's tough to write on only 50 percent of the pages.
And still the Kickstarter e-mails persisted.
And these weren't just pens; they were titanium pens. They were titanium pens that told the story of being able to use any ballpoint ink insert you desire. Suddenly, you can have 0.38mm pens in an enclosure that consists of something other than plastic and cheap rubber.
But I've always figured that the problem with pens that cost more than a dollar is that, well, you lose them at the same rate you lose pens that cost less than a dollar.
I had always liked my cheap pens, but I had always cared about the paper. Let me tell you: it's incredibly difficult to find a notebook that fits—a hard backed, spiral bound, squared notebook that was smaller than A4 that held paper that did not bleed and was affordable enough to have three or four of on hand at any given time.
For the past year, I have been using—and every time I used, have appreciated—the Delfonics RollBahn Ring Notebook. The $13 seems insanely expensive, but I have found that with note taking, you primarily just take a page (or fewer) of notes. If you're good at taking notes, as I am—the most important thing is to have different notebooks for different topics, such as product design, sales meetings, sketches, and so on.
The Kickstarter e-mails persisted.
Eventually I relented, and I, too, backed a pen. By this point, my friend had backed a dozen or more pens! I even e-mailed the Kickstarter creator to verify that this pen would indeed work with my precious 0.38mm Pilot G-2 inserts.
In classic Kickstarter fashion, it took two quarters before I actually received it, but at last, I now have a pen.
So now I had my trusted paper and a pen—a pen that was milled from a singular piece of grade 4 titanium, bead blasted to chrome, and then sprayed a matte black.
To call this pen nice is an understatement. Apple might be missing a trick by making its devices lighter. My dear Keats, a heavy thing of beauty is a joy forever!
But why bother? Why bother spending any money or thought on pen and paper? Because, I've found that having a pen and paper that you enjoy actually makes you use them both a lot more.
I've never been able to prototype product on the computer; it always felt too clunky, too slow. Similarly, if you are in a meeting or—as I noticed during Y Combinator at a talk—typing on a laptop seems like a sure way to miss 70 percent of the content. I think typing encourages you to write more, to write for the sake of writing rather than for taking notes.
A pen and paper is beautifully minimalist allowing you to focus on what really matters: the person in front of you.