Pen Views


The Importance of Good Design

June 2013

Faber-Castel Ambition



May and June are great months in terms of advertisements for pens. Pens as graduation gifts are a traditional ritual. If selecting a pen for a gift you do not have to get to only consider the high priced lines. The Faber Castel Ambition, pictured above, is an example of a well made pen, with a steel nib, that writes very smoothly. Well designed, would appeal to many from a good design perspective.

Recently I was in Edmonton and when visiting Stylus pens a couple came into the store to select a fountain pen for a graduation gift. He was being accepted to the bar, and as a laywer, a pen seemed like a most suitable gift.

We chatted for a moment, and I left the selection of the pen to them, however, I found it interesting to hear them talk about each of the pens as they were being presented for consideration.

The importance of the style of the pen, and the associated consideration of where the pen was made appeared to be all importance considerations in their selection.

Ultimate Book of PensI was recently returning to the book, The Ultimate Book of Pens, a large book with content in three languages (English, German and French).

One of the quotes on style jumped out at me. The piece was quoting from Raymond Loewy's book on advertising and design:

"Ugliness sells badly"

and this seems very appropriate for the world of fountain pens.

The piece in the article notes how the overall styles that were current at any the particular time, such as streamlined look of automobiles, buildings, or the art decco look, were reflected in well-styled fountain pens of the time. For example, the 1929 Sheaffer Balance come into the market with what is described as being completely in line with the popular stylings of the time - streamlined and tapered.

I know I miss Michael Assaly who at the meetings of the Vancouver Pen Club had extensive knowledge on the designers of pens. Michael has since moved to Toronto.

I am not too sure what the label for our current "style" will be. As the various advetisements for graduation gifts come across through emails, or I flip through pen magazines such as Pen World or Penna I must admit, I have to ask the question: what is the influence of current style on the design of fountain pens?

Waterman Man 100 OperaThe classic fountain pen style prevails for many lines. For some lines, the fountain pens produced today will look as classic many years from now. For others, some may ask, what were they thinking? (Pictured above is the classic Waterman Man 100 Opera, which was produced to reflect the art deco style of previous years.)

Generally fountain pens are being marketed as fashion or lifesytle statements. You do not buy a fountain pen because you need something to write with. You select a fountain pen because the pen itself fits who you are and what you want to write with.

The style of the pen itself is very much a point of individual choice. I guess the pens I would call "bling" are meeting a market demand. I know from my visits with some of the pen manufacturers, the design teams spends a fair amount of time on the design of a pen. There can be significant linkage to an historical or cultural event. Prototypes are produced. There is ample time for a second thought.

On the other hand, some pens are produced by outsourced manufacturers. For some production, the degree of design research may be more limited.

What is good design? It is personal, but it includes all visual aspects of the pen. Some of the aspects that come to mind include:

  • The cap and how it fits the body.
  • Does the shape and style of the pen body feel continuous when looking at the shape and style of the cap?
  • The size and style of the clip. Is it the right porportion to the pen?
  • The nib. Is the size/length of the nib proportionate for the pen body, or does it look like it was added as a "part" to the pen?
  • Is the nib section a continuous visual part of the pen? Or does it visually stand apart like an add-on to the body?

What pen did the customers in Edmonton choose? I don't know. I had to leave the store to get back in time to head out for a dinner engagement. I think they knew what they were looking for.


Your pen, an expression of you.