Monday, January 8, 2018

5 Questions with Patrick Ng

Patrick Ng has been my Traveler's Notebook hero for the longest time. In my mind, Traveler’s Notebook is Patrick Ng, and Patrick Ng is Traveler’s Notebook. It’s almost impossible to think of TN without Patrick. It was through Patrick that I discovered the joys and functionality of the TN, and for years, I have followed his TN adventures through his blog Scription, and I have been a fan since 2009. I have followed him in his travels, and read and reread every single TN post, hack, and DIY that he published. I even made a faux TN using board paper as cover, patterned after his "Pozor" passport TN. (TN was not sold in the Philippines until 2011.) For a while, I used the Chronodex, Patrick’s GTD creation that fits a regular TN.

Through the years, I communicated with Patrick a few times though email. We have not met in person, and a visit to Hong Kong was not in my immediate travel plans. Fast forward to August 2017. In a conversation with Sharon Mae Santos of Scribe Writing Essentials, we thought of inviting Patrick to a TN Meet in Manila that was scheduled in September. I then mentioned the invitation to Patrick, and in a few days, his Manila TN journey became a mind-boggling reality!

In September, Patrick visited the country for the first grand Traveler's Notebook Meet in Manila. Patrick delivered his signature TN Talk, and shared his 12 years of TN journey to more than 100 TN users in attendance. At lunch, it was hard to believe but I was fortunate to be seated next to him! I was a little shy, but I asked him a few questions, five of which are published here.

How did your partnership with Traveler's Company start?

Patrick: When I picked up the job as a buyer in city’super/LOG-ON in 2003, I started to learn more about Midori’s products and people, trying to promote their new product ranges one after another. It is one of the most outgoing Japanese companies I’ve ever worked with and I was particularly impressed by their president’s determination to take the company to the next stage, which was to incorporate higher design philosophy into their brands and products, thus the name Designphil was created.

“Pozor,” Patrick’s Midori passport-sized Traveler’s Notebook.

In 2005, during a trade show in Japan, they were exhibiting in their booth dozens of ideas from designers. Each guest had three votes to cast on their favorite. Traveler’s Notebook was one of them, I casted two votes to it and eventually, it won second place in the campaign. The next year they shipped the products. I got one of the earliest samples to use and was being asked to give feedback to the team.

I was a die-hard Moleskine user back then, however as the company grew bigger and being acquired by different venture capitalists, I felt like losing touch with the brand and doubted their authenticity. While Traveler’s Notebook was selling in our stores, one interesting fact was that customers kept asking if they could buy the sample notebook on display, the leather covers were battered and scratched, yet somehow people would love to buy such samples instead of getting a new one. I did personal leather craft projects once in a while so I knew how people fell in love with something personal like TN. I gradually started using TN to replace my Moleskine and because of this, I asked the Japan team a lot of questions. 

Patrick with TN users during the Manila TN Meet in September 2017. 
During the Meet at SM Aura, Manila broke the record for most TNs in a meet with 114 TNs!!!

What was the concept behind it? Who actually proposed the idea? How did they expect customers to use it? Things like that. Sooner or later, I became a person knowing a little bit more here and there, the team also accepted my opinion both as stationery buyer and user. I created campaigns called “Travel Photo Cafe” to mix product categories such as leather craft, photography, biking, vintage decorations, and others for store display. I also created workshops inviting “travelers” who had different experiences from their professions to share with other users. So over the past 10 years, all these little efforts evolved into today’s Facebook user group, gatherings, and special editions.

That’s how I got close to both customers and the design team, the authenticity is impeccable and I enjoy so much being part of the collective minds to influence the next campaigns.

What does it take to be a TN ambassador?

Patrick: There is no such thing, officially. I guess it was because of my outgoing nature on social media, I was giving out tips and creative ideas quite often and that’s how people recognize me as “the” Patrick Ng, who’s somehow related to TN but never quite know who I am. Honestly, as the user community is now pretty global, the TRC team is probably observing if there are other users they can connect to in various countries/cities. Maybe one day the network of ambassadors will come true.

Left: Patrick giving his signature TN journey talk.
Right: Patrick’s luggage that has toured the world with him.

How many TNs do you own and how many do you actually use?

Patrick: I guess I have 16-20 TNs, regular and passport size included. I don’t like to own but not using them, so I use them alternately, my favorites are regular size Camel, Olive, Blue, and the original Brown. I would change the cover every few months and have fun color coordinate my tools around the chosen one. Sometimes by doing so, inspirations come, that’s why you would see me posting new customization ideas once in a while. I don’t use passport size at all. Some of the TNs I own were gifts from artists who did something to the notebooks, while special editions like Tokyo Station I do try to collect but as I say I would use them instead of just for collection. My recent adventure was to paint my unused brown notebook with white silk screen printing ink and let it scratch to reveal the brown beneath as I continue to use. I love the effect and have been pairing it with white pen, white tag, etc. I’m still looking for a lovely white charm and thinking of how to make a white pen loop. See, that’s a lot of fun!

Some of Patrick’s TNs that he brought with him to Manila. Also in the photo are two Manual Factory bears -- a first generation and a more recent one.

Patrick’s brown TN that he painted white.

Why did the Traveler's Company shift from Midori to Traveler's Notebook?

Patrick: Designphil is the mothership, they have corporate services, distribution business and stationery business. Midori name is that stationery business. Traveler’s Notebook was a stationery product range only and it was under Midori. As the brand grew, with their own retail shop, sales channels, and overseas projects, it was decided that they should spin off this brand in order to give it freedom to grow instead of using the existing Midori infrastructure. So this individual company is now called Traveler’s Company. As much as having their own freedom, there are numerous challenges ahead for this spin-off.

Two leather TN covers, the black is from the Midori period while the blue sports the new branding.

What's next (future plans) for Traveler's Notebook?

Patrick: I guess connecting the global community is already challenging enough. I believe they will continue to release interesting editions, through these projects the TRC team gets to know each country/city more in order to determine what can be tailored for those countries/cities.

(Below are Traveler's Company Caravans and limited edition notebooks. Details about these events and notebooks are available in the Traveler's Company website.)

Traveler’s Company Caravan was held in Taiwan’s Eslite Bookstore in April to May 2016.
Details available here.

The Hong Kong caravan was held at LOG-ON Festival Walk on July to August 2016.
Details available here.

In April 2017, the Traveler’s Notebook Olive Edition was launched. It was the second limited edition color after the blue was launched in 2015, and an additional fifth color to black, brown, camel, and blue. 

A collaboration with Hong Kong lifestyle store LOG-ON, a Mister Softee collection was launched in July 2017.

The most recent collaboration with Ace Hotel and Traveler’s Company Caravan was in the US in November to December 2017. Events were held in Ace Hotels in Los Angeles and New York. 

Patrick Ng is a blogger and the world’s top TN ambassador. He is also the Concepts and Merchandising Manager at LOG-ON in city’super, a chain of lifestyle stores in Hong Kong. To see his TN customizations and hacks, visit his blog Scription, or follow him on Instagram (@patrickng) and Facebook (Scription). 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this very interesting interview and the many great photos.

    I also discovered Patrick a while ago, I think it was through flickr and the art supply community there, around 2007/8, before Instagram etc. even was a thing.

    It is amazing to see what became of the Midori TN over the years, and sure a lot of their success is based on Patrick's work and awesome creativity as well as word of mouth.

    My MTN is from early 2008, back then it was quite hard to acquire these here in Berlin/Germany. I used mine at work and remember many people ask me about it, the beautiful leather, the concept, the customization possibilities, and (a lot!) more than once I gave MTNs away as a special gift, built DIY ones (like for vegan friends out of cardboard or fabric) or saw others get one after they had fallen in love with mine.

    It is easy to say this is a "hyped" or "hipster" product (now) and despise it because of that, now that it seems to be everywhere. I still love mine irrationally and like to watch them age so beautifully. My two big MTNs are my calender (I added more strings to hold the Post-It insert plus 4 DIY inserts for a yearly calender and 3 32 page-cahiers for the current and next months) and my journal. I use them daily and also built really small (A7 and A8) ones as wallets (out of X17 Mindpapers leather covers and original Midori replacement strings, as these are of great quality and hold up to daily use for years). I also made a big A5 one (again, X17 MP + MTN Repair Kit).

    My husband refuses to give me back my old Passport TN, and while he has become a total 'pencil guy' I have re-discovered my love for fountain pens through the great paper in the regular and light MTN inserts. So, all in all, these seemingly simple leather thingies are a joy to use, hold up for years and even get more attractive as they become battered and softer, and as silly as it may sound: They have brought a lot of good things to my life.

    How many other products can do that?