Lora Oehlberg on Logbooks, Journals, Sketchbooks, and Idea Notebooks

Today at UC Berkeley’s Grouptalk brownbag seminar, Lora Oehlberg from the Berkeley Institute of Design discussed her research on logbooks, how they are used by designers and other creative folk, and the personal meaning we attach to them.

To me, notebooks (or logbooks or sketchbooks or journals…) are a key part of living a creative – and believe it or not spiritual life. My morning pages-inspired “semi-ritual” of going to a favorite local cafe and writing, listing, or just visually concepting the stuff of my mind both slows me down and gets me going. Reflection and generation become simultaneous. Awareness is peaked while the chatter of hipsters and hippie/yuppie part time working moms fades into the buzzing caffeine-y background.

For me, logbooks also have a social acceptability aspect. My notebook is a nice toy to carry around, just in case I am seated too long or have to listen to something that I can’t keep my mind on without active note-taking and elaborating my own connected ideas on paper. If I ever get bored – or more likely, restless – I can just open it up and write or draw. People usually don’t get insulted by this, as they would another other hyperactive fidget I develop if forced to sit still. It gets my brain engaged and enables me to take in auditory information while staying in my seat (or at least standing somewhere in the same room!).

But that’s just me. Oehlberg points out that both the value and mystery of logbooking is its idiosyncrasy. Each person has a unique way of keeping (and sometimes not keeping) a journal or sketchbook. Their meaning is at least as important as their apparent content. The meaning of logbooks is private, dynamic, and heavily linked to the cognitive, temporal, social, and personal context in which they are created.

Books on Logbooks
The diversity of logbooking practices is the subject of several interesting books. Drawing from Life is a rich and fascinating peek into all kinds of personal sketchbooks and idea journals (and my favorite inspiring bedtime reading!)…

Inspired is all about the spaces and tools used by creatives of all kinds, and includes many pictures of sketchbooks, desks, and workrooms…

Famous Notebooks
The Visual Thinking Curator’s Choice publishes the sketchbooks of several famous artists online….

Six Degrees of Logbook
Relevant to Oehlberg’s interest in the sharing of logbooks, the 1000 journals project is a fascinating experiment; the modern equivalent of letters sent to see in bottles and notes tied to the ends of ribbons on helium balloons.

I also find a lot of inspiration, fixation, anal retention, organization, idea generation, and procrastination on Flickr’s photo groups, like Notebookism, and Flickr’s clusters, like this one, which semantically clusters public photos of all things tagged with ‘moleskine’. Several like this are annotated which gives interesting glimpses into people’s logbooking styles, habits, theories, and processes.

There’s just something about paper: Logbooking Tools and Ideas

I’m always interested in different formats for generating, capturing, and organizing ideas on paper. Recently a designer friend showed me the Action Pad series by Behance, which has a lot of thought behind it
and is getting lots of attention lately, e.g. over at Wishful Thinking.

I love my
Circa Notebooks by Levenger
and am interested by, but haven’t been able to justify purchasing their Viz Notepads, which provide more structure than a blank-paper-lover like myself usually wants, but might be a nice tool to have lying around. Levenger’s luxuriously big Concept Pads are oh so tempting. If only I had the desk space!

Of course, 43folders is always a nice place to see what people are thinking about their personal notebooks and capture tools of all kinds.

Academic Work on Logbooks
Lora Oehlberg is one of the few researchers looking at logbooking practices and tools. She did refer us to an academic paper on the topic though:
“An investigation into the use and content of the engineer’s logbook” H. McAlpine, B. J. Hicks, G. Huet and S. J. Culley, Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY, UK

Tensions in Choice of Logbooking Tools and Format
The tensions I can’t stop myself from obsessing about:
– small, light, and inconspicuous vs. big, generous, and ergonomically graceful for writing in
– blank and flexible vs. lined, graphed, dotted, storyboarded, or otherwise structured
– three-, six-, seven-, or circa- ringed (and dynamically arrangeable by category, date, etc) vs. bound (and reliably more or less chronological)
– all paper vs all electronic vs somewhere in between

There are a few unresolved questions too:
– how in the world to remember what I put in there???
– how many logbooks is it useful to have???
– how to scan in and archive my paper notes quickly and often so that I can search and tag them???

What are your personal logbooking bugs? How do you try to resolve them?

One Reply to “Lora Oehlberg on Logbooks, Journals, Sketchbooks, and Idea Notebooks”

  1. Cheers Roland, glad you enejyod reading it.I agree – pristine white fancy books can be too off putting (but they are so tempting)I used to just use old paperback novels when I was at college ( many moons ago) because they were cheap portable size and no scary white paper.Let’s get those sketchbooks out Roland

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