Our first lay flat notebook, 2015
In 2015, we set out to create a better notebook.
All the details had to be just right. As people who had spent our whole lives fawning over great notebooks (and getting rather cross about the less great ones), we were confident we knew what was required.
But rather than rest on our laurels, we first went out to speak to some other stationery fans about their preferences. It was only then, equipped with a wealth of different viewpoints, that we could begin the really fun part of designing and creating our first lay flat notebook.
As people who really appreciate good stationery, we were sad to see a declining quality in the notebooks we found on the high street. They would look great on the shelf, but after a few days' use you would notice that the paper was poor quality and allowed the ink to bleed through, or the binding was very stiff and it became tedious to have to 'flatten' the book every time you opened a new page to write. It felt like there were too many shortcuts and compromises in the finer details. We wanted something better.
Designs tended to be decorative and feminine, with nothing that really reflected our personal taste. We wanted something more simple, elegant and understated.
We also wanted to know more about where and how our notebooks were being made. And there was little or no information about the paper used, where it came from, whether it was sustainably-produced.
Meanwhile, we were seeing independent, creative brands in other industries like clothing and interiors, which were offering better quality, telling stories about materials and how things are made, and reflecting a more design-led, understated aesthetic, with a considered attention to details.
We started to imagine how this approach could be transposed onto the humble everyday notebook. It felt like the world saw stationery as something trivial and throw-away, but we knew it deserved more attention.
Design principles for our lay flat notebook
Our design principles for the first lay flat notebook were a synthesis of many years worth of observations and ideas. These formed the essence of the Mark+Fold brand, which flows through the whole range, from notebooks to diaries:
— the notebook had to open perfectly flat for a comfortable writing experience
— the cover had to feel tactile and high quality
— the pages should feel wonderful to write on, they should be the best paper for fountain pen and avoid feathering or bleed through
— we would be completely transparent about our materials and making process
— we would have them made in small batches, to keep things human-scale, and avoid waste making the process more sustainable
We spent six months sampling and refining the details. We kept being told "it would be cheaper if you did it like this instead." It was frustrating to keep hearing this theory that price is everything and quality is not important! We also saw samples claiming to be the kind of binding we were after, but on closer inspection they used hotmelt glues resulting in a stiff spine — these were books designed to be read, but not designed to be written in.
Eventually we found our team in Europe, a family-run bindery who have been producing books for art publishers and graphic designers for decades, and were well used to our level of perfectionism. The partnership began in 2015 with our first notebook and has continued ever since.