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Designing on Paper

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I read a profound sentiment in a web journal yesterday. I’m paraphrasing but I interpreted it as “the best way to design a website is to stay away from the internet.” It sounds odd that getting away from the web is a good way to find design inspiration. I have found this to be true.

I was sitting in a coffee shop this afternoon with a journal. I decided to take a journal so that I could keep a record of the thoughts that come to mind. I find coffee shops intelectually stimulating. I have never taken a journal to one until today. I know that I made the right decision. Initially, I was journaling about my coffee. I hope to transcribe my notes one day for a collection on my favorite cafes. I found that my mind quickly wandered.


For the first time in a while, I started drawing on paper. I drew my cup and my phone. The goal was to draw the cup but then I saw that everything on the table appeared to come together. I added in more detail as I went. I am not a very good artist and so I did not have any expectations. My drawings turned out better than I thought they would. I made a real mess of my pencil cap. The proportions were way off. As for the cup, I think it went well.

I let my mind wander and see what came to mind. I have historically been reserved about writing in journals outside of a particular form. I usually write my daily thoughts in journals before I fall asleep. I’ve never tried any other formats. Today I made an exception and decided to go outside of my comfort zone. I wrote outside the lines. I started doodling to see what I could make.

Web Design

I came up with an idea to design a website that would let me record where I have had coffee. I really like coffee and I would like to visit as many different coffee shops as I can. This is the type of idea that comes to me in a coffee shop. Sometimes my ideas are related to my work. Most of the time, they are about something that is completely unrelated to what I have been thinking about. The different environment of a coffee shop gets my mind thinking.

I started to sketch how I envisioned the site to appear on paper. I found this to be an interesting exercise. I usually design as I go. I add CSS styles as my designs progress. This process results in a final product that can be quite different to the original idea I had in mind. I like it this way. Every web page is a unique journey. This time was different. I started on paper and worked my way over to the digital medium.

Paper has even fewer constraints than computers when it comes to design. When I want to try out different CSS styles, I have to write new rules. I have to be at a computer to view these changes. This makes it easy for me to stick to what I know. In the coffee shop, there were no such constraints. I was not thinking in rules. I was only limited by my imagination and the size of the paper on which I was drawing (an A5 notebook, in case you are interested.)

The Ideation Process

I came up with a few interesting ideas. I experimented with tilted images. I thought about underlined text. When I started to design the site, I was able to take these scribbles and make something unique. What I designed did not turn out like I wrote on paper. This is a good thing because moving a design from paper to the digital medium requires some translation. Like translating French to English, some concepts get lost; others are more elegant in the other language.

I am not releasing what I worked on because it is far from complete. I’m not sure whether I am going to continue with the design. I find that I can only continue with a website if I have the right motivation. This project seems like a step too far at the moment. I’ve only just started recording the coffee shops I am visiting. I have learned something: designing on paper is not only fun but a good way to escape the limitations of the web.

On paper, rules seem to disappear. Away from a computer, I can think more freely. I came out with some new visual ideas. I’m happy that I gave this a go and I’m sure that I will do it again sometime.

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