Designing and printing (dot) notebooks

By David Mytton,
CEO & Founder of Server Density.

Published on the 13th June, 2013.

Since joining Server Density in October last year, I’ve been responsible for running the marketing efforts. A key belief of our CEO, David Mytton and I is that conferences are a great source of exposure for Server Density in 2 key ways. 1) They show a desire to give back to wonderful communities that exist. 2) They provide us with a platform to showcase what we’ve been working on in an engaging and technical context.

Server Density at conferences

Our key conference belief is not to sell anything – just nurture an interest. So we never pay for speaking slots and with the limited financial resources available to us, we opt to sponsor more with our time than with money. For that reason we keep an eye on lanyrd, organise talk proposals and send our engineers around the world.

Following this theme, we try to offer custom and useful marketing swag out to attendees upon registration; not lazy corporate marketing gumf. Instead of resorting to paying thousands of dollars to plaster our logo everywhere and gain exposure through forced tweets, we try and provide attendees with real value – whilst keeping the costs as low as possible.

Providing valuable swag

Bearing in mind the overwhelming marketing presence at conferences, the aim for us is to offer something that attendees actually like, take away and use. In the past that has been, tape measures, USB lego men and more recently our custom (dot) books.

Server Density swag

The (dot) book

The dot book is a 4 colour dot grid notebook. We’ve designed and printed 2000 so far and offered them out at various conferences over recent months, customised to the theme of the conference.


  1. .bson notebook
  2. .devops notebook
  3. .pcap notebook
  4. .nib notebook

The name

The dot name reinforces the point that we’ve designed and printed the books specifically for people with a technical knowledge – these names represent the filetype, language or framework that the books relate to:

.bson is an interchange format used mainly as a data storage and network transfer format in MongoDB.

.devops was not based on a file extension but just took the name of the idea behind combing operations and development.

.pcap (packet capture) is based on the results of a packet capture session from something like Wireshark.

.nib is the file extension for NeXT interface builder which is primarily used for iOS development.

The paper

Striking the balance between thick enough to convey a message of quality, yet thin enough to close the book was difficult. After many iterations we found that balance with the following paper spec:

  • 300gsm uncoated 100% recycled paper cover
  • 90gsm uncoated 100% recycled

It was important for us to use 100% fully recycled paper, although we had to be careful that with uncoated finishing, the paper was able to hold the colour that was being applied, in this instance 4 colour digital.

The pages

We’ve been able to customise the inner notebook pages as much as we are the outer spreads. Following the (dot) file extension theme, the writing paper is formatted in a dot grid. It has more value than simply reinforcing the name – dot grid paper has all the benefits of squared / lined so you can write straight and do technical drawings, but the visual guides are more subtle – you should definitely try it if you haven’t!


In the example of our .nib books made for the ALTWWDC conference, we designed iOS wireframes for each right spread – as well as a dot grid of course!

The cover pages

We’ve made the covers minimal, but with colours that subtly hint at the context:

  • The .bson is green because of MongoDB.
  • The .nib books are the bluey grey used by Apple on its developer pages.
  • The .pcap books are red because they were initially made for one of our engineers talks at Atmosphere conference.
  • The .devops books are blue to follow the colours.

The back of the notebooks showcases our only real attempt at ‘official / traditional marketing’ with the company logo taking pride of place.

The inside covers is where the books get interesting and provide some real value, they are the pages we customise heavily for each book. They provide quick quips, tips and hints that people using the language will find useful.

Inside the .bson


Inside the .devops


Inside the .pcap


Inside the .nib


The problems with production

We’re a lucky lot working with the internet – we can build and test things instantaneously, deploy things with one click and change / fix bugs post production. Unfortunately when sending an email with packaged artwork to a printers, you better be 100% confident that you haven’t made a tpyo typo.

This was a major concern, not because we’ve had to send 1000’s back, but because we needed to get things right the first time. I would encourage any one undergoing a journey like this to leave your self time for at least 2 iterations. Luckily we had enough time (and the printers patience) to go through 3 iteration stages. Here’s why:

  1. The cover pages were too thin and they lacked a quality feel.
  2. The cover pages were too thick so the books wouldn’t close properly. In addition, we chose an 80gsm inner page stock which was too thin and didn’t withstand the fountain pen “seep test”.
  3. Because the cover page had to wrap all of the inner pages, the design had to increase by 6mm and the inner pages reduce by 6mm towards the middle so all pages sit flush together when the book is closed. This also caused problems with content being off centre, so alignment was altered on a few occasions.

The future of the (dot) book

So far we’ve received some great feedback about the (dot) books that we’ve had produced. We want to keep them coming and make them a Server Density staple. To close this off, is there a single notebook in particular that you might like to see / find useful in the near future?

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