Development of the next generation of smart stationeries by valuing the experience of both the user and the creator

Stationery manufacturer Pentel faced a difficult challenge: how to create “smart stationeries” for the future. A methodology that showed potential was design thinking. What direction for new products becomes visible when you return to the basic premise of valuing the experience of both the creator and the user more highly than anything else?


Observe and feel the lifestyle of the user’s in their context, and gain insights from ethnography research

Learn how to implement processes with original methods

Test processes in new business ventures, and apply them to the development of existing product categories

Design Research




To develop new digital stationeries through user insights

What BIOTOPE did

Conducted ethnographic user research

What BIOTOPE did

Conducted product/UI prototyping for new product concepts emerging from the ethnographic user research


The “sticky notes notebook” developed in this project is scheduled to go on sale in 2018

Hiroshi Tajima (Left)

Pentel, Head of the PR division at the Strategic Management Department Joined Pentel in 1991. Worked with product planning, marketing, sales and the launching of new businesses, most of them related to products other than writing utensils. Launched the Smart Stationeries Group in the Marketing Development Department in 2012. Currently in the PR division at the Strategic Management Department.

Hidekazu Nakazawa (Right)

Pentel, Head of the Product Design Group in the Design Department, Product Development Unit Graduated from Tama Art University, and joined Pentel in 1998. At the Design Department he was responsible for the design of writing utensil products, including everything from product design to the brand logo. Participated in the design of smart stationeries such as the “AnkiSnap”, which connects a highlighter marker with a smartphone.

See the attraction of design thinking


Two years ago I was trying to make a proposal for a new smart stationery product, but I couldn’t quite find any good ideas. Just at that time I discovered Kunitake Saso’s The Non-Designer's Guide to Design Thinking. Saso’s design thinking is based on left-brain people utilizing their right brain, and that sounded like just the thing for us. So I went to one of his seminars and asked him in person to lend a hand. I was really attracted to the design thinking process — making a hypothesis, prototyping it, and repeating this cycle to create something that resonates with the user — and wanted to try it out. (Tajima)


Structure mindset and process


As a designer I am used to thinking with my right brain, but when I found an idea intuitively good, I used to be unable to explain the logic behind that intuition to my company. On the other hand, a product created merely on the basis of quantitative estimates will not become a success. There was a large gap between what my intuition told me to do, and the kind of proposal that would be accepted by the company. Then I came across Saso’s approach, and I felt there was a large potential in designing using both the left and the right brain hemispheres. (Nakazawa)


The importance of experiencing it for yourself


In this project we were trying to make a new smart stationery — sticky notes in the shape of a notebook — and at the planning stage BIOTOPE brought us to talk directly with potential users. Entering a female high school student’s room to interview her was very inspiring, and I gained many important insights. This ethnographic research made me realize that actually experiencing something for yourself is more important than anything else. Directly entering the life of the user gave me a clear view of some important things. (Tajima)


Learn to do it by yourself


The project with BIOTOPE lasted for three months, which were spent holding workshops and interviewing users, and at the end of it we had created the fundamental concept of our product: a recombinable notebook. After this, we slowly improved our ability to do ethnographic research and facilitate workshops by imitating the methods of BIOTOPE. I think my biggest improvement was in the interviewing process. At first I was very uncertain, but after some experience I feel I am getting the hang of it. Getting to this point was a big accomplishment for me. (Nakazawa)


Value the joy of moving your hands


My ethnographic research has given me the impression that in this all-digital day and age, people are searching for more tangible experiences. Single-use cameras is popular among youth today, and this represents a trend towards enjoying the process of an activity as opposed to only the goal. As an analog company that produces stationeries, I think that this trend represents a big opportunity for us. So even when creating smart stationeries, we need to value the joy of actually moving our hands. (Tajima)


Trend research and user tests


Even though our project with BIOTOPE is over, we have several projects running that make use of design thinking’s trend research and user tests. But I have only been able to convince a small part of the company that using design thinking is more enjoyable than traditional methods. Figuring out how to change our deep-rooted culture of thinking in quantitative terms, is an important challenge for us. I would love to work with BIOTOPE again someday. (Nakazawa)

Did we create lasting change?

Several products created with design thinking methods, by members who participated in the BIOTOPE project, have gone on sale.

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