It can be hard for a notebook to stand out from the crowd. The great notebook brands have got something just right about their look, their paper, their resilience, their story and even their price point. Decomposition notebooks (and now wraps) stand out not just because they look super cool and are so affordable – they’ve got serious environmental creds. The paper is 100% post-consumer-waste recycled paper and soy ink printing on the cover. With the release of some new spiral bound versions, and wrapping paper, we thought it was the perfect time to chat to the team behind the brand (Michael Roger in the US) and learn more about them!
1. Michael Roger is a family business, can you tell us more of the history and about who’s now involved in running it?
Our family has been involved in making and selling books for a very long time. My great-grandfather, Walter Rowman, was a Russian immigrant who started several book publishing and manufacturing companies, one of which was Michael Roger Press, Inc., which he named after my father, Michael, who was an infant at the time. That was 1949. Michael Roger, Inc. is the corporate successor of that earlier company, so mine is the fourth generation of the family to run the business. I work with my brother, Jacob, and my father, Michael.
2. What inspired the Decomposition series of notebooks and now wraps? (And do you remember the very first design in the series?)
Before we started this series, our focus was on a very utilitarian line of sketchbooks. That didn’t really do much to harness our creative thinking and those books were all too easily lost on the shelves of stores, where similar-looking products could always be sold for less. The Decomposition Book line arose out of our desire to build a distinctive brand, one that had great eco bona-fides and that was fun and creative to boot. The first two designs in the series were Cherry Blossom and Woodgrain.
3. Can you share more about why you ensured the Decomposition series was so environmentally friendly?
It seemed to us like there was a gap in the market for a line of fun composition books featuring substantial eco bona fides. We wanted the message to be an intrinsic part of the product itself, which is why the name Decomposition Book – with its emphasis on renewal – is such an important part of the line.
But beyond all that, and probably most importantly of all, we wanted to make products we could be proud of and feel good about. There are probably better margins on books that don’t use 100% PCW paper – but so what? We’re happy with the products we make. Using PCW paper was a values choice more than a marketing or business one. We didn’t run the numbers in any tangible way. We just agreed this was a product we could stand behind and so we went with it.
4. How do the great cover designs come about? A single designer, a design team or ….?
Designing covers is both one of the most enjoyable and one of the most challenging parts of the process. We cast a very wide net for ideas, including scouring old illustrated books and combing through lists of interesting animals, foods, hobbies, places. We reject most of them, and even most of the ones we pursue don’t make it all the way to production. One nice thing about the line is that we don’t need every new look to appeal to every possible customer — but we do want to be sure that every design is memorable and loved by somebody.
The execution of the design depends upon what we’re going for. Sometimes we scan images from 19th century books and make the designs ourselves. Other times, we’ll give the raw materials to a talented illustrator who can render the art in the particular way we envision it.
5. What sort of customers was Decomposition created for/you were hoping it would appeal to?
We wanted to make a product with fundamentally utilitarian appeal but with a design edge that made it stand out from the herd. And so far that seems to have worked out well. Decomposition Books appeal to students of all ages, to writers and to artists. And they also appeal to people interested in making a statement with the one notebook they carry around for business ideas, random musings or grocery lists.
6. Are there any other US stationery brands that you admire?
As computers have replace pen and paper for many uses, the importance of the look and feel of our remaining notebooks and cards in our society seems to have increased. We seem to be in something of a stationery renaissance, where there’s a lot of great stuff around to be inspired by. That being said, my recommendation is for your readers to buy Decomposition-branded products for all their stationery needs!
7. Do you have any future plans for the Decomposition series that you can share?
We’re continually working to refresh and expand the core line of Decomposition Books, so expect new designs every few months. We love the tactile relationship that you have with paper, and with writing by hand, so we’re determined to keep providing people with that experience — even as we expand into other areas as well. We’ve moved into making books with wire coil binding. We’re now making paper in sheets and on rolls. We’re making tote bags. We always on the lookout for products that are complimentary to our core line. We’re working to grow the Decomposition brand into one that is deep and robust enough to fill the shelves of nearly any kind of retailer. Stay tuned!