Admit it, you probably already do. It’s OK, so do I. I have a favourite make of pen. I have a favourite notebook. I have a particularly favourite make of pencil.
There is an academic myth that, upon realising that his favourite Moleskine notebook was no longer being manufactured, a reasonably famous academic was so upset that he was no longer able to think (see Chatwin (n.d.) for a further example). Although this might or might not be true, we do develop emotional attachments to the tools we use – in many ways they become part of us, our thinking, or our processes. At their best, they become embodied, visceral artefacts – the deepest of ontological elements.
This may seem a gratuitous and frivolous recipe but there are some serious underlying ideas. We often underestimate just how much emotional and sensory attachment we make with the objects we use – a fact that designers make use of regularly. Steve Jobs famously said that one of the design goals of the look of Apple’s new operating system (OSX) was that “…when you saw it, you wanted to lick it” (Jobs, 2000).
If you want to get philosophical about it, consider Heidegger “…the less we just stare at the hammer-Thing, and the more we seize hold of it and use it, the more primordial does our relationship to it become” (Heidegger, 1962, p. 98). Or if you prefer the embodied phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty: “The properties of the object and the intentions of the subject… are not only intermingled; they constitute a new whole” (Merleau-Ponty, 1962).
In design, the link between people and object/product is understood as an essential aspect of the value of design, for example Schultz, Kleine and Kernan (1989), Chapman (2005) and Spence and Gallace (2011). It is even argued to be central to genuinely sustainable design (Chapman, 2009). Whichever philosophy you prefer, our world around us is intimately connected to ourselves. Don’t ignore the visceral.
- Pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, notepads, paperclips, sketchbooks, etc
- The sense of touch
- A few quiet moments to yourself
- Have a look through your existing collection of pens. Set them out with your favourites at one end and the least favourite at the other. Can you see any patterns emerging? Do you prefer heavy or light pens? Thick or thin tipped? Most likely, your favourites will be there for other reasons.
- Find a pen that you really like writing with – one that feels like an extension of your thoughts (not just of your hand). The chances are that you do more with this pen than you realise – make this your special pen and only use it for particular tasks. Similarly, assign tasks to your other pens. That horrible sales-rep pen? Do your expenses signing with that. Imagine the contempt you feel for the system and the pen flow through your hand/pen as you sign…
- Treat yourself to a wander around a stationery shop. Don’t do this online – it’s important that you see the objects, feel the thickness of the paper, assess the weight of the pen in your hand, and smell the notebook.
- Now work your way around other favourite objects – try to work out which of these are special and why (there will be a reason, and it might be a visceral one).
- Celebrate these objects by using them in particular ways (remember your lucky pen in exams?). Keep these objects for special occasions. Do you have a markup pen? Take your favourite notebook for a walk. Remember that feeling of the first mark in a new notebook?
Make this a treat, not a gluttonous feast. Try to limit your choices to just one or two favourite items, for example, a favourite notebook and pen or pencil.
Don’t ever touch my pens.
This goes really well with Think with your hands – doodling is thinking. Doodling with your favourite pen is luxurious intellectualism.