Field Notes Interview

Every September, when I started back at school after a summer of running around and getting sunburnt, I remembered how everyone in my class would return equipped with the brand new stationary. It used to be a pretty big deal, along with what school bag your mum bought you to use as a goal post, and which school shoe you’d be thrashing around in for the next ten or so months. Within about three weeks, my beloved pencil case would have the name of every kid in the class on it, and was consistently launched across that particularly boring English Lit lesson every Thursday, fourth period.

Until very recently, this was the last time I have given a thought to stationary; I guess it's just one of those things that's just always there. I picked up a nice selection of Field Notes stuff at Ideology in Sheffield, which is by far my favourite shop in the city. I have been well impressed with the simplistic look & feel, as well as the Practical Applications feature on the back page of the Memo Book, which lists things like Tall Orders, Hate Mail & Gambling Debts as uses for the nicely sized book.It's nice to buy a well thought out and interesting product which brings the simple idea of writing to life. It sounds kind of silly but when you sit down for a meeting or some other professional appointment, I always look at what people bring with them. You can kind of read into someone quite a bit, and, well, Field Notes seems to be helping to mask my messy and last-minute nature.

Field Notes is run by a team of 7 out of Chicago, Illinois, along with Aaron Draplin, the creator of FN, who is based in Portland, Oregon. The small & humble team ship over 1,000 of the infamous 3-pack memo books a month, and have over 600 dealers worldwide. I was fortunate enough to get in touch with Bryan Bedell, a designer at Coudal Partners, who began making Field Notes products after receiving some as a gift in 2006. Here’s what he had to say…

OD: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your role at Field Notes.

BB: I'm Bryan Bedell, I've been here at Coudal Partners for about 15 years, long before we got involved in Field Notes. I'm theoretically a designer, but we all do a little bit of everything. I do some design, prep files, press checks, all the product photography. I help Steve with the films, but also I take phone orders, do customer service, pack orders once in a while… I just worked a trade show, ha.

Right now, we've just launched our latest Field Notes "Colors," our quarterly limited edition. Each edition uses different papers and colors and printing techniques, and this time we have some extra bits, so we were waiting for all the pieces to come together for a while, which is always exciting and often a little terrifying because we're always pushing our (and our printers') boundaries to try new things.

OD: How did Field Notes first come about?

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BB: Our friend/partner, designer Aaron Draplin designed and produced the first FIELD NOTES in 2006 and sent them to friends as a gift. We got some here at Coudal Partners. We were, at the time, an ad agency looking to get out of the advertising business, and so we teamed up with Aaron to ramp up production and get them out on the market. We printed 'em up and had a site up and running in no time, and it's just grown from there.

OD: When did you realise the company and idea was really onto something?

BB: To some degree, from the beginning, both Aaron and Coudal had sort of an online 'following,' so when we posted them for sale back in '97, we started getting orders within minutes. But the bigger sock was when we released the Butcher Orange books in 2009. We printed 500 packs just to see how they'd sell, and we sent out an email to our customers, and they were sold out in a couple hours. The idea to make COLORS a regular quarterly product with subscriptions came after that, we had no idea they'd be so popular.

OD: Why do you think Field Notes is so popular?

BB: We're not entirely sure, but we suspect it's mostly just good design, usefulness, and made-in-USA quality. Some of the early editions are selling on eBay for hundreds of bucks, which blows our minds, but that's not what we're after, we just wanna make good-looking useful products that appeal to everyone.

OD: What's your favourite thing that's come out of Field Notes? 

BB: Personally, utility-wise, I use the "Steno" more than anything else, I always carry around a pocket notebook and Space Pen, but that Steno on my desk gets filled up faster with sketches and my to-do lists. As far as design, I think I like "Night Sky" best. Being a designer, "Dry Transfer" was also one of my favorites.

My favorite thing about working here is just knowing that I'm making something that people hold in their hands and use and enjoy, Maybe most people are happy pushing around numbers and pixels and ideas and having a paycheck to show for it, but it's super-important to me to have something tangible to show for the effort, y'know?

OD: Is there anyone you’d like to shout out too?

BB: Well, Aaron (Draplin) and Jim (Coudal) made it all happen. Our printers and suppliers put up with our crazy requests and ridiculous deadlines, but the customers keep it all happening and the superfans keep us on our toes. Thanks to everyone who has something they need to write down! We're here for you!