Have you ever heard a story about how some great invention, technological breakthrough or business started out on the back of a cocktail napkin? There are a bunch of them. Try searching the net for “Famous Napkin Sketches” and see what pops up. You know why it started out on the back of a napkin? The romantic storyteller will tell you that its because inspiration can strike anytime, and the napkin was the only thing available. However, the real reason is because they had a great idea that they didn’t want to lose and they didn’t have a sketchbook or notebook handy.
Its true. If they’d had a sketchbook or notebook, they would have written the idea down in it and it would have been safe in amongst all other other great ideas that came before and would come after. No wondering how to file it. No accidentally tossing it later. And more importantly, its easier to find, because it will be where you ALWAYS put your ideas. Ever lost an idea because you couldn’t find a notebook (or napkin)? I have. Its a bummer.
If you haven’t tried keeping a notebook with you constantly, I recommend it. Try it for a couple of weeks and see what happens.
Some folks use their iPads or iPhone for this purpose. I think those can work OK, and if you find they work great for you, go for it. I use my iPhone at least for lists and written notes, but personally, nothing helps me capture ideas and designs better than a pencil and paper.
I tend to do a lot of sketching in my notes, so I prefer blank-page notebooks. For work, I am currently using a spiral-bound 5.5in x 12in sketchpad (to the right). It folds all the way around and lays flat, so it sits unobtrusively on any conference table. And it goes with me to all of my meetings. I also have found that I like smaller moleskin sketchbooks for personal projects.
If you prefer writing, and unlike me, actually care if your lines are straight, you can always go with a simple composition notebook, journal or something similar.
If you like both (or can’t decide), I have a colleague that uses a notebook that has dots laid out in a grid on the pages. Then, he can use them to line up writing, or ignore them and draw. Another colleague of mine has a journal that has blank pages on one site, and ruled lines on the other.
Whichever style you like, give it a shot. Make it compact enough for you to have with you wherever you go, but large enough to actually be useful. Because remember, as the old chinese proverb goes, “The faintest ink is more powerful than the strongest memory”, and you’re not guaranteed to find a napkin.