Turning an obsession into gold

One thing I’ve noticed about many of the people whose creativity inspires me is that they seem to be obsessed with something.

A few random examples are folks like Jason Fried at 37signals and his obsession with cars. Or there’s Monet and his obsession with water lilies. Or the folks at OXO and their obsession with hands & gloves.

Sometimes the obsession is completely tangential to what they usually work on, but somehow eventually it finds its way back into their work. Often as inspiration.

Sometimes as gold.

One of my very favorite examples of this is Aaron Draplin and his obsession with graphic design heritage from the last 100 years. Especially old manuals, vintage ledgers and agricultural memo books.

I started finding out he was a collector of these types of things from some post of his. If I remember correctly, he was talking about going to an estate sale and going into some guy’s basement to find all sorts of old manuals. Things like this:

'77 GM Service Manual.

His flickr collection of this stuff is awesome.


Then I start finding out he’s been collecting hundreds of old notebooks. In his collection you’ll find the types of memo books companies would give to farmers to record farm stuff, or to their employees before they had fancy gadgets. Like these:

Time Book.

Those hundreds of notebooks not only inpsired his design work for companies like Panic and the U.S. Federal Goverment.

But became some real gold when he decided to start creating his own notebooks.

He created Field Notes. Which has blossomed into quite a business for both him and for Coudal, his partner on the project.

At first I thought it might just turn out to be a fun novelty. I mean, how could you create a decent business out of notebook paper? I’ve got notebooks laying everywhere. From cheap things I’ve collected from Walgreens to junk picked up at conferences. And then Moleskine seemed to have locked up the fancy notebook market, right? I’ve got some of those too.

But I bought one of the first packs of 3 when Coudal got involved. Then I watched as the business snowballed. These guys have figured out how to create a tremendous business out of friggin notebook paper.

And it all came from the obsession with those agricultural memo books.

Here’s an awesome video of Draplin showing you his collection. I highly recommend a view.

What kind of obsession do you have outside of your work that helps you find inspiration or new product ideas?

P.S. I’d be insanely honored if you followed me on Twitter, here.


Now read this

Stay in the building.

I sit at my hotel at night, I think of something that’s funny, then I go get a pen and I write it down. Or if the pen’s too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of ain’t funny. Mitch Hedberg This post is inspired by... Continue →