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Q&A with Gareth Branwyn, Editor of the Maker's Notebook

By Sara Peyton
May 28, 2008

Ask some DIY-ers what they want in a notebook (as the folks over at Make magazine did recently) and you’ll get a truckload of opinions. The Make staffers boiled down the input and came up with an electric blue notebook. In true maker style, this notebook is born/designed to be hacked. Recently I got a chance to chat about the new Maker’s Notebook with Make contributing editor, Gareth Branwyn.

Q: Tell us what made you all decide to create a notebook for the do-it-yourself crowd?

We’ve been kicking around the idea of doing a Maker’s Notebook for a while. We figured the MAKE audience was likely big on blank journals and thought it’d be fun to do a project notebook optimized for the readers of Make and Craft. There seems to be a significant spike of interest in analog notebooks, journaling, Moleskines, and the like. People seem nostalgic for “analog” writing technologies, such as fountain pens, mechanical pencils, high-quality journals, and vintage stationary supplies. And, of course, the DIY/Maker Movement only seems to be getting bigger, perhaps in part to the state of the economy - people are looking to do-it-themselves. These two interests converge in the Maker’s Notebook

Q: What distinguishes the Maker’s Notebook from others on the market?


Folks can use it to help plan, design, and execute their next big (or not-so-big) DIY project. The Notebook contains 150 pages of 1/10” engineering graph paper on a 60# Lynx Smooth Opaque recycled paper. It is designed to handle everything from mechanical pencils and fountain pens and sharpies. There’s also over 20 pages of reference material optimized for DIY projects, with everything from instructions on basic circuit testing with a digital multimeter, to how to chose LEDs, to what size needles to use in different sewing projects.

Besides the DIYers of Make and Craft magazines, we also designed the Maker’s Notebook to conform to the basic standards of laboratory and inventors/engineers notebooks. All pages are pre-numbered and non-removable. There’s a field on each page for project label, date, and designer and witness signatures. There are also “From Page___” and “To Page____” fields for threading project pages together.

Q: What I really want to know is how to hack it.

The front and back covers of the Maker’s Notebook are a debossed white grid on a cyan blue background. We intentionally left the covers “blank.” We wanted them to beg to be customized, “hacked,” It’s a storyboard beginning for a story. As part of the web support for the book, we’ll be posting how-tos on all sorts of other hacks, such as adding pockets to the front and back inside covers, adding pen holders, button and string closures, inverted tabs, and other useful and fun improvements. We’ll also be showing off users’ customized Notebooks and running contests to choose our favorite user-submitted hacks and mods.

Q: What else is special about the Maker’s Notebook?

When we started work on the book, we sent out email to a dozen or so makers who we thought would have good input on the book. Every one of them wrote back with enthusiastic and well thought out suggestions, and nearly every one started off their email with: “I’ve done a lot of thinking about this” (or something similar). Clearly, lots of DIYers dream of designing their own project notebooks. We incorporated as many ideas from this Notebook Braintrust as possible. Several people said we should design “socialability” into the book, believing that the distinctive design of the popular Moleskine journal (which can be discerned from a distance) is probably the opening to a lot of discussions in coffee houses, on the subway, etc. This was one of our inspirations for the distinctive blue blank storyboard design for our cover. We also peppered the Reference section with what we called whimsical geekery, such as variations on Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, the caffeine dosages of various beverages, how to say “Hello, World” in popular programming languages - things that might surprise people and get them talking to each other–for example, “Did you see the Kenny Rogers Rule of Robot Building?”

FYI: The Kenny Rogers Rule is on page 154. And, now, here’s how you can get a FREE copy of the Maker’s Notebook. Comment here by June 4 about how you’d use/hack/customize the Maker’s Notebook. I will select the winner and send him or her a free copy of the Maker’s Notebook!

In other news, Mike is our arbitrarily selected of the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments for his winning comment. Congratulations!

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