Brownie planner A5 Slim

No, we do not have a crossover between pastries and stationery (though I wish that combination will happen more often); my planner pick of 2018 is named after a dessert. I have been dragging my feet on talking about this planner, partly because it is not as accessible as Hobonichi, Midori, Maruman, and other arrays of Japanese planner; nonetheless, Brownie was voted by users in Japan as number 2 planner just right after Hobonichi. So what is the allure?

Two features jumped out at me after reading various unboxing and reviews posts shared by stationery community (mostly from Asia): the paper was described as baby’s bottoms and the planner format accommodates those who track different tasks/projects. Since the size is comparable to other planners I have used in the past, Brownie appeared to be a viable switch. It is available in A6 (same as Hobonichi Techo) and A5 Slim (a slightly taller but narrower version of Hobonichi cousin). Each measures 105 x 148 x 9mm (4.13 x 5.83 x .35 inch) and 130 x 210 x 9mm (5.11 x 8.27 x .35 inch) respectively.

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Planner totem pole (from the bottom): Hobonichi cousin, Brownies, and Hobonichi Techo

The planner comes with a polyurethane cover that protects the book from being soiled. Similar to Hobonichi’s basic cover on cover, it has two inner pockets that are spacious enough for ID and other knickknacks. The cover is plushy to touch and is washable, but soils fairly easily especially for the lighter color ones. Every year, Brownie releases cover with different colors, usually based on a theme. The one for 2019 is Japanese traditional colors, as seen here.

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Front cover
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first page
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Inner pocket. There is an identical one on the back cover as well.
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User guide

Here comes the interesting tidbit about Brownie– it comes with its own usage instruction (only for A5 Slim). Even though the sample pages are in Japanese, the visual cues give new and returning users ideas on how to use the planner.

Paper

The first thing I did immediately is to touch the paper. Its incredibly smooth surface adds an air of luxury to this aesthetically simple planner. The texture of the paper reminds me of Midori notebooks/planners and Rhodia pad, but amazingly it is not bulky. For a 14-month planner to be only 9mm (.35 inch) thick is truly extraordinary. Some paper may increase in volume after usage, but after one year the planner is not visibly bulkier. The ivory-colored paper are easy to the eyes yet not dull the vibrancy in colors. Even though I received the planner in early November of 2017, I could not resist to test out the paper with media that comes to mind. So far, the paper is highly resistant. There is no show-through or feathering; it does buckle slightly with a lightwash of watercolor.

To describe paper in Brownie as buttery is no exaggeration. In addition to the smooth texture the paper is cream in color. The picture below will show where it falls on the creaminess spectrum:

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Paper color comparison (from left to right): Midori MD, Brownie, Hobonichi

In the competition of “who is the fairest of all,” Brownie will definitely be eliminated. To my eyes, they are even a tint darker than Midori Notebook Diary. Despite that, the hue of the paper did not absorb or diminish vibrancy of colors.

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Grid size comparison

Similar to Hobonichi Techo, Brownie has grid-ruled pages for its monthly and weekly sections. Not all of us have ant-sized, super neat writing and it seems that Brownie’s grid size is more accommodating to most mortals than Hobonichi, as shown above.

Layout

The encounter between the user and the planner is interactive, in ways that the aesthetics of the planner appeal to the users and the layout of the planner can dictate how it will be used. The inherent risk is at times, the fitting period may last longer than expected and at times, the layout just does not mesh with user’s styles. Besides the doom and gloom, the layout can also inspire new ways of recording one’s life and tasks.

The first section is a two-year calendar spread. To me, this can be an apt section to chronicle important events or due date, as the spread is designed to give that bird’s eye view of the current and following year. The way I utilize this spread is much smaller in scale; these pages are dedicated to keep track of vacation and sick time I have used. The open layout can give users a quick glimpse of what they are tracking, without fumbling pages.

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Two-year spread. Suitable in tracking milestones.

In most planners I have used, the monthly section is almost always fashioned in grids. While I understand the larger grid format provides an overview to upcoming events, I usually find these grids rather restrictive, even though I have tiny writing. Brownie monthly section answers to my quandary (if you would call it that). In the monthly section, you can always see something that is particular to Brownie: the three-column set up.

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Most of us use planners to track multiple trajectories in life and these three-columns are meant to facilitate that. It offers a viable alternative to toting multiple planners and potential solutions to manage multiple projects, deadlines, and commitments. As one may notice, the dates are printed both horizontally and vertically. Yes, you can use entire planner in either direction to visually distinguish various activities you wish to record. The grid paper with different date orientation also make habit tracking easier, as one can devise a variety of charts with this combination.

Here is an example on how I use the monthly spread for the first three months. One section tracks the duration of my exercise routine; the middle denotes any work related; the left records upcoming bill due dates. In some examples I have found online, users forego text and dedicate the entire spread to track project, habits, or personal spending.

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The grids are natural friends for graphs

The Weekly section formatted similarly to the monthly section. A small calendar locates on the upper left hand corner, with the current week circled.

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Handy calendar of the month in the corner helps placing the week in context

The border that demarcates date also serves as time axle, in 24-hour time. Along the time line, each grid represents 30 minutes which I find marking duration of appointment a lot easier and to an extent, a more realistic representation of time elapsed. Since the time axle is printed vertically, it naturally guides the users to record their time-specific engagement in the same manner, which makes the appointments stand out from other scribbles on the page.

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Here is how a typical day looks on a weekly spread. Because the planner can be used both vertically and horizontally, there is ample space for me to keep track of weekly projects and their progress. Given the nature of my position most projects last about a week or just a tad longer. By drawing arrows, it gives me an idea how long I roughly spend on projects in addition to existing tasks. Different colors are used to denote appointments of various nature.

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Brownie is designed with project tracking in mind and this concept is particularly prominent in this yearly spread. Each column represents a month, with numbers of days in each month. This page can be useful for those who are managing projects with many moving pieces over long span of time.

It is obvious I did not use these pages as they were originally intended, as I do not have projects that usually last longer than a week or two. Instead, I use this section to keep a record of which watercolor pencils that are in my possession. It comes in handy especially when I tend to buy single pencils rather than sets.

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Overall, Brownie paper takes water fairly well, besides slight buckling. No seep through to the next page.

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Similar to Hobonichi Techo, Brownie also has 10- blank pages after the planning section. I use these pages to jot down books I would like to read and knitting patterns that I am interested. Even though there are communities like Goodreads and Ravelry, I am still partial to jotting down anything that caught my eyes partly because the act of writing helps with remembering.

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Followed by information pages.

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In case you want to calculate the golden ratio, Brownie will have your back

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Similar to most Japanese planners, owner’s information page is the last on a planner. Even though I never use this section, it gives me the feeling that trust still exists around us, albeit in small way. Planners, for some, are quintessence and integral to their lives.

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In addition to 5 note pages in the back of the planner, Brownies also has a separate booklet nested in the back cover. Similar to Hobonichi’s Download City, Brownies offers a variety of additional templates that users can print and paste onto these free pages. The booklet can be looked at as an extension of space for the planner, as for some it may be a bit limited compared to other planners.

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Even though the paper is similar to Midori, Brownies remains fairly slim even after a year of use.

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Even though Brownie planner does not have all the customization options as Hobonichi, after almost a year of use it has an air of understated elegance. The paper quality and overall feel is impeccable– feeling almost as an upgrade to Tomoe paper, as the see-through effect is not as obvious. The format is definiltey more project driven yet flexible enough to anyone to adapt to their preference and liking. Brownie in a way, allows users to present pertinent information in different manners, let it be text, graph, or something in between. The capability of being able to use the planner both horizontally and vertically may seem challenging at first, but I found it useful to separate tasks of different natures visually, while keeping everything in one book. Compare to Hobonichi original or Weeks, Brownie’s writing real estate may appear to be limited, but with the enclosed booklet and versatality in orientation, the space can be maximized. With all elements combined, Brownie truly embraces its 365/1 logo, embossed on the cover. One book can captured all.

Unlike Hobonichi, Brownie planner can only be purchased from oversea retailers. Plain Stationery, Homeware and Cafe in Taiwan does ship internationally (approximate shipping fee is $10 USD). The official Brownie website does have a store front; however, it only ships within Japan.

How do you like a multi-tasking planner?

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Hobonichi 2019

It is hard to believe that August is already here, let alone the next year. I am a bit late to the scene but as usual, Hobonichi has announced previews and releasing schedule for 2019 planners. If you have purchased from Hobonichi directly, you may recall that on the first day of release (September 1) the “traffic” is as bad as grand opening of a highly anticipated store. One important change this year is that Hobonichi will release planners for purchase over three days, in effort to ameliorate the overall shopping experience and to alleviate the traffic. Similar to past year, Hobonichi will unveil the 2019 line-up, as well as changes made in next year’s planner in the month of August. For more details, visit the Hobonichi page. For those of us who cannot attend the actual preview of the line-up in Tokyo or Kyoto, Hobonichi will also host a live 2-hour Q&A session on August 18 on Facebook to answer any questions you may have.

I am eager to see the changes implemented in 2019 based on users’ feedbacks. My current plan is to purchase a Techo Week Mega for task tracking and planning. Instead of purchasing a separate planner as a journal, I will opt for a Midori 10th Anniversary notebook. The generous size will accommodate clippings that I regularly gather from day-to-day life and the paper will also take a wide range of media.

Hopefully I will get around to talk about my planner set up this year. Life often occurs faster than what we can realistically keep up.

Hobonichi 2018

Have you been following Hobonichi’s feed for news about the imminent 2018 release? The wait is almost over as the store will be active for purchase on September 1, 2018 at 11AM Japanese time (that is August 31, 2018 at 7pm for Pacific Standard Time; August 31, 2018 at 10pm for EST; September 1, 2018 at 3AM BST; September 1, 2018 at 4AM CEST). The Hobonichi store layout has some useful changes. A prominent one is currency display. On the top of the page right next to the cart icon, one can change the currency by using the drop-down menu with a list of major currency (I interpret the list as places where Hobonichi are popular). It can be a handy reference to see how much damage you have done 😉 Another is the favorite feature that you can use to save items that capture your heart. Since the store front is only for browsing now, I am unsure whether a function of adding all items on your favorite list to shopping cart, but it is something to look forward to.

I am not sure about you, but I am more drawn to the varieties of cover-on-cover more so than the covers themselves; therefore, I am inclined to keep using covers I already have and opt in for one of the whimsical cover-on-cover. How many planners will I purchase? That is a difficult question because I am ruminating on several possibilities. One, combine work and life by purchasing a larger cousin. Two, keep work and life compartmentalized in two planner, one in Weeks Mega and the other in Cousin. Three, streamline life in general by using Weeks Mega only. Obviously first world problem, but I shall sort it out eventually.

Head over to the store for a peek!

Hobonichi 2017

It is never too early/late to plan.  My incessant debate over which planner to use for the following year begins as early as June, almost around the same time as when Hobonichi rolls out various announcements on its exciting offers for the coming year.

Check out the 2017 line up here.  The webstore will open September 1, 2016 at 11AM Japan time (August 31 at 3PM UTC).  Use this converter to calculate the release time in your time zone.

To see in-person photos of the 2017 planners, visit Hobonichi’s Facebook page.

Which one has caught your eyes?