Making Custom Notebooks: Initial Thoughts on Users and Domain

October 02, 2019

First thoughts regarding an web application that helps people customize and print out notebook filler paper at home.

Associated project: Notebook Builder

Overall Goal

The goal of this app is to allow people to configure and print out notebooks (or sketchbooks, or journals) on their own browsers and print at home.

Target population: Who would benefit from this?

This solution is aimed for those who

  1. would rather use common or re-use materials (as opposed to high-end materials), perhaps because their volume of use is very high
  2. would rather make than buy a sketchbook
  3. would rather customize than use an off-the-shelf solution

1. Heavy users of notebooks

Perhaps they need it for sketching or visual exploration. The book Drawing Ideas by Mark Baskinger and William Bardel maintains that daily sketching will help designers, visual communicators, and conceptualizers stay sharp in skill.

Maybe they prefer the back-to-paper approach to planning similar to the Bullet Journal system created by Ryder Carroll.

2. Find enjoyment or interest in making notebooks

The users participate in the do-it-yourself stationery movement for notebooks. Rather than finding pleasure in purchasing a notebook (regardless of whether it's cheap or premium), the user would rather make something that can suit their needs exactly, all while engaging in a form of self-expression.

Users want reusable (or cheap) materials to make these notebooks. Pre-made notebooks can range from around $15 USD and up. On the other hand, a ream of 500 sheets of quality paper can cost around the same. Heavy notebook users (using 200+ pages every 2 months, for example) may not find this affordable.

3. Want very high degree of notebook customization

Page Features & Composition

The users want to choose features and layouts for their pages. For example, the Bullet Journal method can be carried out using any notebook, but having certain elements like pre-printed page numbers and indices helps out. (Indeed, as featured in their journal product.) Also, numbering lines by date is a task much more suited for computation, so that could also be a potential feature.

Printed Patterns

The users may want dot-grids (sketching), lines (writing), or even grids (graphing). Or, they may want to change the width of the lines or pitch of the dots. User also may want to change the color or darkness of the grids or lines.


Users are becoming increasingly aware of multiple binding options. One prominent source for information is Sea Lemon's YouTube channel, who has content on many binding options.

As examples, two of my favorites are below:

Coptic stitch - handmade: I learned how to do a Coptic stitch to bind everyday materials into my sketchbooks. The added benefit of the Coptic stitch is that it can lay flat, doesn't require glue, and has a very high binding strength-per-weight ratio.

Disc binding - reusable and economical: I also became aware of disc binding, which seemed like a modern, sleeker approach to ring binding, working especially well with pages that don't need to be permanently bound.

Current Landscape of Solutions

Buying Pre-made

Current sketchbooks typically are pre-built with a set number of pages, set layout, and set patterns. There isn't much room for customizability.

Configuring Digitally

Current implementations either cost money, have a cluttered and complicated user interface, and don't let you print with at-home binding in mind.

Initial thoughts on design

Potential Feature Set

Web application where users can build their own notebook, and print it at home.


  • Customizable the print pattern
    • Blank - for drawing or sketching
    • Grid - for sketching
    • Lines - for writing or listing
  • Make it yourself (easily as possible)
    • Print at home, such that it's ready to bind, straight out of printer
    • Bind at home
      • Disc or ring binding
      • Coptic binding (or any binding method using signatures)
      • Saddle Stitch


  • More customizability:
    • Change margins or gutters
    • Change color of the pattern

Applicable Design Principles

  • User should always maintain sight of the end product. As the user changes settings, a preview should reflect that at all times.
  • Customize the instructions in response to user's output customizations.

I'll be working on a comments section, but for now, you can tweet me @JayLiu50 or email me at

Written by Jay Liu, interaction designer.