September 29, 2008
Start with the simplest thing imaginable: a blank sheet of paper. Add a rows of lines and it becomes a notebook. Add a grid instead and it becomes an drawing pad for architects. Add a few tiny boxes and it turns into a to-do list. Put in dates and you’ve got a calendar.
But as they teach you in your high-school econ class, everything has a cost. For each function or feature you add, you lose a purpose. A blank sheet that could’ve been used in a million different ways can now only be used for a few. Artists aren’t going to buy a calendar if they’re looking for something to sketch on. Writers aren’t going to pick up to-do lists to use as a journal. This isn’t a bad thing per se—by narrowing down on a purpose, a blank sheet of paper can become more useful and relevant to certain people.
The Status Quo
But there is such a thing as too narrow. Take the typical day planner. You have a day and date printed at the top, timestamped lines for each hour, a section of little boxes for your to-dos and more lines underneath for notes. In theory it’s everything you need to go about your day. In reality, the various functions have whittled the audience for these planners down to people who have 8 to-dos, a full calendar every day, need exactly 6 square inches of space to take notes and who like buying a planner at the beginning of each year.
You get one of these things and you realize that you always write outside the boxes. There’s never enough space and every day needs a different allocation of it. Feature-creep, as it turns out, happens to paper too.
Enter the Chronotebook
The chronotebook was a judges’ prize winner in last year’s Muji Award International Design Competition and is available in Muji stores across the globe. The notebook chucks out the gridularity of the typical day planner and puts an analog clock in the middle of the page.
It’s the simplest manifestation of what a day planner is all about: time on paper. The clocks occupy a small amount of space on the page and rest is completely flexible. You can write in your own dates at the top of each page, and you can treat the rest of the space like a blank page. Here’s are some words from the designer, Wong Kok Kiong:
Because of the numerous hours in a day (and various other constraints), the lines in a diary are typically very narrow. They are also usually equally distributed (somewhat). But our information is a hierarchy. Some are more important to us. Some we feel happier about. We want to highlight stuff that’s important to us. We want to write things that are more important in BIGGER sizes. Our lives cannot be so easily and clearly divided into equal parcels.
I use the clocks in my chronotebook to keep track of appointments, how much time I spend working on things, and when I wake and sleep each day. The free space is great for daily to-dos and interesting quotes or ideas I come across. It’s small enough to fit in my back pocket and it’s the first day planner I’ve consistently used for over a week (going on 2 months now).
The chronotebook teaches us that multifunction is not the same as multipurpose. That there’s a logical, hypothetical way to do something and a simple, flexible way to do the same. When given the choice, I choose the latter. I absolutely swear by my chronotebook and recommend it without reservation (I’ve already bought three more of them).
Update 4/17/09: You can now order Chronotebooks from MUJI’s new online store.