I have just finished my A5 Taroko dot notebook when it hit me…I don’t know a lot about the brand or the makers… Quick nosy Google search took me to their Etsy and Facebook page, but that did not satisfy my curiosity. The notebooks are incredibly popular (A5 dot is currently sold out), so I have set myself a mission to explore the brand, notebooks and paper in a 3-part blog 🙂
So we thought we would get Steven to share something of his background and love of stationery. I had a great time chatting and geeking out with him. Enjoy!
Interview with Steven Chang from Taroko Design
Tell me a little about your background. What was the impulse to start making your own notebooks? We’re a small studio based in Taipei, Taiwan, and our story really started with the purchase of my first fountain pen, a Pilot Kakuno, several years back. With the fountain pen in hand, I was surprised at the difficulty of finding the right paper/notebook products in the market to use the fountain pen with. One thing lead to another (trying lots of different paper+pen combinations) and we’ve managed to secure three types of fountain pen friendly paper to make products with: Tomoegawa 52 and 68 gms, and our own Taroko Orchid paper at 80gsm. The mission is really to provide more choices to fountain pen users where most paper products cater to the rollerball/gel pen usages.
What’s the story behind your studio? After my earlier career in tech (product manager for notebooks and mobile phones), I decided to pursuit an industrial design degree. While taking the degree program, classmate at the time is my current studio partner Wenwen Liu. We decided to group up and start the studio a few months before graduation to keep the learning process going, by taking on projects as a team. Our past projects included graphic and floor plan design for photography exhibitions, souvenirs for tourist centers, and product branding and packaging. The creation of notebooks under the Taroko brand gives us the freedom of implementing our ideas (versus having to adhere to client design guidelines), as well as choosing the type of material that goes into our notebooks.
How did you come up with the brand name? Taroko is named after Taroko Gorge in my hometown of Hualien. Most people would think of Taiwan as an industrialized island packed with 20 million people, but there are still natural wonders on the eastern portion of the island. We will be incorporating elements from Taroko National Park into our notebooks in the future. 🙂 Here are some references on Taroko Gorge/National Park: http://www.earthtrekkers.com/taroko-national-park/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taroko_National_Park
What would you be making if not notebooks? Leathercrafts. Love the experience of making things by hand that will age well with usage. An important lesson from design school days is to always make things with your hand, draw with pen and pencils, and suppress the urge to jump right into Photoshop or a 3D rendering program. So we are always cutting and binding paper during our prototyping stage.
What do you attribute the success and/or demand for stationery today to? The product has to deliver a kind of “experience” to the customer, from the weight of the notebook, suprisingly light to unexpected heft. The touch of the materials used, and the subtle feedback of the nib sliding across the paper. It is a difficult balance to hold between achieving that unique experience and manufacturing constraints in delivering products, but I believe that’s what most leading brands are striving to achieve.
What’s your favourite item of stationery in your personal collection? It’s a little folding hand knife I bought in Nishiki market in Tokyo, and I use it to sharpen pencils with. The knife is handcrafted by a Japanese artisan, and when I use it to sharpen pencils, it serves as a reminder of the trip, as well as liberate the aroma from the pencil wood.
And finally – what is your current paper+pen+ink combo? Tomoe River paper 68gsm (of course) with Pilot Justus 95 filled with Sailor Seasons Yama-dori (teal blue). The Pilot Justus 95, with its adjustable nib hardness, is perfect for when I need to write interchangeably between English and Chinese. And the Yama-dori gives a wonderful red sheen on Tomoe River paper.
Thanks to Steven for sparing his time to give this great interview. We wish you and Taroko Design best of luck.
Watch out for Part 2 of Taroko Trilogy – we’ll focus a bit more on their notebooks.
Part 3 will be all about Tomoe River paper. (Hint: it’s amazing!:) )
Taroko Design notebooks are available here.