If you’ve read my series on building a personal learning environment, this is going to sound a little familiar, but bear with me. We recently discussed setting goals in the new year, but we really only covered creating a schedule to get us started on working toward those goals. While a schedule is nice, it can only do so much. Many people who set goals are looking to learn or make something, and that’s where it’s useful to do things like start building a personal learning environment. But if that seems too overwhelming and structured, a design notebook can do just as nicely.
What is a design notebook? It’s where you keep things – ideas, pictures, journal entries, reminders, etc. – that you like, find inspiring, or think might be useful later. You can start out simple – a spiral notebook and your favorite writing tools if you think better offline, a notetaking app or a content management system if you’re more of a digital soul. I personally use a hybrid system – a grid notebook and mechanical pencil for when I need to think or work something out, and a system of Evernote, a private WordPress blog, and a handful for social media tools to store, organize, and reflect.
Whatever method you choose, develop a system that works for you and then use it consistently. If you’ve gone notebook and pen, be consistent in how you mark up pages, be it by date (always include dates), by page number, by project. If you’ve gone digital, be consistent in how you use categories and tags, even across platforms. It will make retrieving information later so much easier on you. And that’s the point – To make note of thoughts, ideas, and inspirations, and then be able to recall them for later use.
Need some ideas for how to organize a design notebook (or even just a section of your notebook)? Why not try one of these:
- Journaling (personal reflections, thinking through an idea or problem, brainstorming)
- Prompts (little sparks to inspire your work. These can be actual prompts, quotes, images, triggers.)
- Swipe File (ideas, quotes, images, and bookmarks that you’d like to play with)
- Mood Boards (gathering related materials into a single space to create a vibe)
- Project Planning (gathering and organizing materials and notes related to a specific project)
You may find that your design notebook blends a number of these ideas together, and that’s perfectly fine as long as it continues to benefit you and your work. You may also find the nature of your design notebook changes as your work and studies develop, and that’s also fine. The only real limitation on a design notebook is that it must be helpful to you in some way. If it’s not, you might want to go back and see what’s not working and fix it so it does, even if that means getting rid of how you were using the notebook.
The one last requirement for the design notebook is that you need to be able to preserve it for future use. Too often, a physical notebook is discarded when it’s used up, despite the fact it may still have useful information, or it’s discarded for lack of space. This is the one situation where having a digital design notebook is useful. I actually back up my handwritten notes to my digital notebook on a regular basis, both for backup and for easier searching. It doesn’t matter how or why you do it, but you really need to do everything in your power to keep what hasn’t been used up in your design notebook.
Developing a design notebook is not a quick process. It’s something that will grow with you over time as you continue to grow. So, get yours started now, and see where it takes you.