Paper is something that I think about fairly often, but surprisingly I had never given much thought as to how the notebooks that are sitting on my desk get designed. As far as I knew, they were designed by elves. Well, I don’t know any elves, but I do know Rachel, and she designed a notebook! Specifically, she is the person responsible for bringing the Profolio Oasis Summit into existence.
Rachel works for Itoya ProFolio (or Itoya of America), which is based in the Los Angeles area. I was lucky enough to have met Rachel at the 2018 San Francisco Pen Show, where we chatted for a bit, and then again later that year at the 2018 Colorado Pen Show. It turned out that she was moving to Colorado, which is where I live. She was also getting married and I’m a wedding photographer! Long story short, I ended up photographing her wedding and also got to know her over the past few years since we also have pens and paper in common.
When I found out that she was designing her very own notebook, I couldn’t have been more excited. It kind of felt like I was suddenly hanging out with a rockstar. I know that gives you a pretty good idea of just how nerdy I am, but I can’t help it. That’s just who I am. Anyway, I asked Rachel if she’d be willing to give me an interview with an insiders perspective of designing a notebook and she said she was happy to! So, here’s a glimpse of what might have gone into making the notebook that’s sitting next to you right now.
The following text is taken directly from an email conversation between Rachel and myself and has only been slightly edited for clarification.
How did you find yourself in the position of creating and designing a notebook?
Luck 😊 Honestly I have always wanted to design one. When I started worked at Itoya I mentioned to Don (the President of Itoya of America) that I loved our Original Oasis Notebook, but that I felt it would be improved by a few key additions such as page numbers and an index. I really wanted to use it for bullet journaling, but found myself frustrated without the features needed to do this type of journaling.
I felt there was a hole in the market for a premium journal with Japanese paper that bullet journalers could use, but that was affordable. Of course there are many stunning journals with Tomoe River paper, but I found that they often took quite some time to dry and were fairly expensive. I wanted something I could use on a day to day basis with faster drying paper so I could take it from meeting to meeting without concern of ink smudging.
I was able to make this a reality because I am fortunate enough to work with Don, who both understood my vision and is an advocate of innovation. When I presented my idea, he told me to make it happen and proceeded to put me in touch with our manufacturers.
How long did the whole process take? Were there any challenges that came up that you hadn’t anticipated?
It depends on how you define “start”. In many ways, it started with the first time I picked up a journal. I’ve been making my own journals at home for years because nothing I found in the market really satisfied my needs.
With Itoya, the idea was born when I started at the company nearly three years ago. I spent my first few months thinking through how I would present it to Don. Once he gave me the green light it still took another year and a half from idea to production. I was working with Japan, so the time difference was a challenge as well as the occasional language barrier. There were also production issues I had not anticipated. One example was wanting to have the ribbons on the inside of the cover. Because of how journals are produced in the factory we work with, it was not a possibility. It took me longer than I would like to admit to make the choice to attach the ribbons on the outside of the cover. I was so concerned about the design aesthetic that I strongly considered leaving them out alltogether. This is just one of several design challenges we faced.
What was your favorite part of the process?
Receiving my first set of prototypes, hands down. It is hard to explain the feeling of seeing something you’ve only ever seen in your mind come to life in your hands. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity Don gave me to make this happen, as well as for the hard work everyone involved put into making it.
Can you tell me about where the name and mountain theme came from?
Two places really. A big part of the size of my journal was travel. I travel extensively, and often find that A5 is a little bit too big for my liking. B6 journals fit more comfortably on airplane table trays and the small café tables I usually visit when in other places. In designing something for a traveler, I wanted a journal that was thick enough that you didn’t need to bring more than one, and flexible enough that it could be used for many different purposes.
The Summit idea came from my husband. He is a big mountain climber, and was the reason I summited my first mountain (and several more since.) The feeling of accomplishment was different than anything else I had felt until that point. I started to use the word “summit” to describe accomplishing other challenges in my life. It felt like the perfect word to describe a journal you take with you everywhere to work through everything life throws at you. Reach your summit at work, reach your summit in overcoming personal fears, climb the summit of accomplishing life goals. It all fit.
Inevitably, the mountain logo encompassed all of those emotions and the word itself. I spent weeks honing it. I had colorful mountain scenes, paintings, drawings. We ended up choosing the simply stamped mountain logo design because I felt it applied to more people and would allow for journal customization. A small logo means there is more room to make the cover uniquely your own.
Does the final Summit notebook meet your initial vision?
Yes and no. There were other features I wanted, such as a pocked in the back. I already mentioned the ribbon location. Also – I originally had considered having it be hard cover. In the end, it came down to cost of production and how that would effect retail price. To add every feature I wanted to and have the entire journal produced in Japan, we would have ended up with something that retails for $70-$100. My desire for this product to reach more people and be affordable was more important to me than meeting every feature in my vision, so I made some sacrifices.
While it’s not exactly what I pictured. I couldn’t be happier with the result. I learned a lot, and there are some things I will do differently next time I design a journal, but I still love it and always have one in my rotation of journals. (As a journal lover, I will never give up using many different kinds!).
How does it feel to sit down and use a notebook that you created?
Unreal. I don’t know that it will ever feel normal. I still feel giddy every time I use one, or whenever friends and family show me they’ve used it. Don says that feeling never goes away, and I believe him.
One more closing anecdote.
The Summit is offered in four colors, but two of them are limited edition because of the coverstock. The two that have a bit of a glimmer or sparkle to them have covers that were sourced from Italy (this is the blue one in my review, and the brown one). To give you a bit of background, Rachel met the head of an Italian papermill at a trade show In Germany a few years ago. He handed her his business card and it was made out of the same cardstock that the brown journal is made from. She fell in love with it, and it’s actually what got the ball rolling on the journals. She knew she wanted at least one of them to have a cover made from that paper. Ultimately, they sent over several samples and she chose two of them to source from Italy and import into Japan for production.
Where You Can Find It
Here are the online shops where you can pick up your very own Summit!
If you missed it the first time around, head over and check out my review of the Profolio Oasis Summit notebook.