A brand new day for Dapper Notes

A brand new day for Dapper Notes

Welcome to Dapper Notes 4.0

The website you’re looking at right now has been months of work in the making, and there’s so much to share, I’m frankly not sure where to begin. So I guess it would be best to trace my steps from the very start.

In January 2016 the very first Dapper Notes went up for sale. It was a new venture for me, an experiment really, and I got started quickly by opening up a Storenvy shop. Storenvy is kind of like Etsy, which made it very easy to get something up without much effort. Once I saw a positive response to my hand-made notebooks, I moved to the Shopify platform where I used a basic template to create my own store that wasn’t reliant on a centralized platform. Everything stayed pretty much the same from November 2016 through Feb 2018 when I finally gave the website some TLC, and made the space more suited to Dapper Notes’ needs.

It all started with a mascot

Fast forward to July 2021 when Manny Aguilera, who recently designed the Neapolitan edition, messaged me to see if I was interested in him creating a mascot for Dapper Notes. Manny is a prolific illustrator, so I said ‘yes, absolutely,’ without any hesitation.

mascot sketches by manny aguilera @mannycartoonstudio for dapper notes
Early mascot illustrations and the final one, by Manny Aguilera

One day during the time period when Manny was working on the new mascot, I stopped by a newly opened Krispy Kreme drive through in my area. And no joke when the window clerk handed me my donut in their branded bag, I was struck with how beautiful and timeless Krispy Kreme’s branding was and knew that it was time for me to finally create some branding for Dapper Notes.

There was never any branding for Dapper Notes

It’s true: Dapper Notes never really had any branding of its own. In fact, the whole operation started out under a different name, and it took me nearly a year to switch to the name Dapper Notes. For “branding,” I just took my personal logo that is an ambigram of my initials, placed it onto the website and notebook packaging, and called it a day. Which suited Dapper Notes just fine: It’s primarily me behind the scenes making all the notebooks, and coming up with branding can be a lengthy exercise for any designer. I also would much rather spend time making notebooks, so I avoided the branding exercise altogether by reusing preëxisting designs.

That all changed with the new mascot that was turning out beautifully, but wouldn’t exactly fit anywhere within the existing visual brand of Dapper Notes. And that Krispy Kreme packaging? It kindled a fire in my belly, and I got to work with the goal of finally creating branding for my pocket notebooks.

What is branding, exactly?

So far I’ve referenced the visual side of branding, which is definitely a big part of what it means to have a brand. There’s also a copywriting and marketing component that I never fully considered and had to take into account. And what really brings a brand together is the overall experience, which is something that I’ve actually always paid attention to and has already become a core part of Dapper Notes.

This means I had two big areas to kick things off: copywriting and design. Like I said before, it’s not easy to create branding, and even harder for a designer to make something for themselves. Which is why I enlisted the help of many good friends, all experts in their fields to bring the new Dapper Notes to life.

The branding process

1. Create a new logo

Being a designer, I started the process on my own, sketching out a bunch of ideas for a new logo. The idea was to create something that somehow feels both old and new. Something timeless that connects to the ever present need for analog tools. Something that is suitable for an Internet-based company in 2022, but is also fun and has a bit of personality.

logo sketching branding process for Dapper Notes by Enon Avital
Exploration sketches for the new Dapper Notes logo

What I ended up with was a logotype that used the Beale font by Hoodzpah Design. It was very close to meeting what I was hoping to get out of this exercise, but was also somehow missing something that made it all its own.

So I called in Mark Caneso for some help, the very same Mark who runs PS Type foundry and designed the Live Dapper lettering in 2019. He patiently and expertly reshaped every letter until it came out perfectly balanced and oh so wonderful.

The new Dapper Notes logo designed with Mark Caneso
The new Dapper Notes logo designed with Mark Caneso

2. Pair the right fonts

Now that the logo was done, finding the right font families to bring the new Dapper Notes vibe together became an easier task. The fonts needed to do the same thing as the logo (timeless, analog, fun), and also work well with the logo itself.

The first font I chose is Vulf by OHno Type Co. I discovered this family while making Dean Town, which was named after a song by Vulfpeck who had commissioned OHno to create a font family for the band. Vulf is a super dynamic monospace font, and its italic variant brings a ton of fun into the mix. Vulf is now being used for headlines (meaning titles and anything that isn’t a paragraph) on the website and packaging, and it looks absolutely fantastic.

Paired with Vulf is a font also designed by Hoodzpah (the new logo is based off their Beale font) called Santa Ana Sans. Santa Ana is a narrow sans serif that pairs very well with Vulf precisely because it’s mostly straightforward and can tone down Vulf’s eccentricities. Santa Ana Sans still has quirks and charm that feels very relaxed, and is right at home with Dapper Notes.

Vulf Mono and Santa Ana Sans font pairing for Dapper Notes
Vulf Mono Italic and Santa Ana Sans font pairing

3. Copywrite with intention

For the final step of branding Dapper Notes, I brought in my friend Simone Katz, who is a seasoned marketing expert. She helped me discover the voice of Dapper Notes, and kickstart the copywriting process. I always write in my natural voice, as if I’m talking to a friend. But having guidelines now means that it’s much easier for me to know what to say, how to compose an email, and how to avoid having writer’s block.

One huge thing I learned from Simone, which I started doing a few months ago and found super helpful, is to write everything with a smile on my face. Every time I write something for the new website (including this very journal post) or answer an email from you, I do it with a smile on my face, and when I tell you the words flow like I’m chatting with a friend who’s right next to me it feels like I got a great trick up my sleeve that is no trick at all.

The Dapper Notes mascot in use paired with the new branding
All of the branding elements come together with order note cards

With new branding comes…a LOT of new things

Now that I had the branding exercise wrapped up, it was time to tackle a very, very extremely long list of things to bring it all to life. This implementation part of the process took me over four months, and I could not have done any of it without the support of my wife who helped me with feedback and million other ways, and also edited every single word on the website to make sure I spell things correctly.

New packaging for everything

It worked out for me pretty nicely that almost all of the old things I used for packaging were running out just as I was working on the new branding. I ran out of tissue papers for orders, same goes for the Bookhead Club subscriber box, I had few stickers left, and many of the old products were pretty much gone too. All of that has been redesigned using the new logo, color scheme (I’ll expand on that in a future journal post), fonts, and language. You’ll see the results in all of the packages that come your way.

new Dapper Notes packaging preview
Preview of some of the new packaging

New products were made

Dapper Notes has always been about hand-made notebooks, and that is not going to change. Over the years I started expanding into other stationery things, like notepads and pencils. I’m happily adding more stationery goods and stationery-themed swag into the mix, including an eraser, my favorite pencil sharpener, and some fun apparel that’s not about Dapper Notes but instead our collective love of stationery.

New stationery goods in the Objects category

Last but not least, there’s a brand new website

I could probably write an entire post about the new website, and since this one is getting long I think I’ll do just that.

Funnily enough, I had been working on website updates far before I made the decision to give Dapper Notes its branding. This past summer, Shopify – the platform on which Dapper Notes operates – announced major upgrades to their systems, which they've dubbed "Shopify 2.0". I won't bore you with the technical details, but practically speaking they've added a slew of new features that make the day-to-day running of a meaningful shop far easier than before.

And by easier, I mean easy to manage once everything is set up with all the new features Shopify 2.0 has to offer. For me this meant a major migration had to take place. I've set up a new theme, and then spent four months customizing every single page to make sure that a) I retained all of the customizations that were unique to Dapper Notes in the current iteration of the shop, b) I set myself up for easier maintenance in the long run, and c) now that I had branding and new language to work with, I integrated all of that into the new store. That's… a lot.

If this were being done by a big company with a team of designers and engineers, it would probably be a year-long project with thousands of to-dos and deadlines. Which I guess is the positive of being the only person working on the website: I'm able to make decisions and get things done quickly. So a lot has changed, and long story long, here's a list of some improvements I’ve made:

  • The taxonomy and navigation is much clearer, especially for first-time visitors
  • It's easy to see which notebooks are in stock, and which are displayed for archival purposes
  • Every notebook's detail page is BEAUTIFUL and full of information and photos
  • Managing subscriptions in your account is super clear and easy
  • There's a new page for creating custom editions (yes, it's a thing, and I hope to do a lot more of those in 2022)
  • I completely re-wrote the about and FAQ pages, which are surprisingly visited a lot and have become super outdated
  • The Bookhead Club page hopefully explains the subscription better than before
  • Managing products and other things will be easier and quicker for me on the back-end, so I can focus more on making notebooks

There's lots more of course, but those are the highlights for today.

Thank you for coming on this journey with me

I cannot go without saying that none of this would be happening (phew that’s a lot of double negatives) without you. Making Dapper Notes notebooks, and now stationery, is an absolute labor of love, and I am forever thankful for your support which allows me to do this work that brings me joy.

Thank you.

Coming up next:

If you thought this was a lot, I’ve been working on the next Bookhead Club edition at the same time, which is made of a brand new material and will be launching over the next few days. There are also some other new products that will be added as they become available.

Have a look around the new website, and if you have feedback or spot anything out of place, let me know.