During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Ashford started holding weekly sessions called “Planner’s Room Live” (プランナーズルームライブ) on IGTV, hosted by Mukai-san, who is the company’s brand planning manager. With a sales model that required customers to see and touch the products in person, they pivoted (like many others) to using the social platform to reach out to their customers and introduce their new products. It turns out to be a boon to me because I don’t live in Japan and rely on marketing photos and the use of proxy buyers to make my purchases online. Since leather products differ from piece to piece, and you really can’t tell the look and texture of the leather until you hold it in your hands, it’s literally a black box for me until I open the long awaited package.
With these online videos, I’m able to see closeups of the actual products when compared with other lineups, sizes, etc. Sometimes, they include aged versions (belonging to their employees or in-store samples) to show a comparison of what it could look like in a few years. This makes the whole experience so much better! It’s not like being in a real store with the products in front of you, that’s for sure, but it’s much closer than what I was used to. There are also the little tidbits about the leather and design shared in these sessions that I find really useful as someone who has only about half a year experience in this hobby.
The following are highlights based on notes that I’ve taken from the プランナーズルームライブHOWtoシステム手帳vol.1 (“Planners’ Room Live - How To System Techo vol. 1”) session that was streamed on May 20th. For those of you who do not understand Japanese but am interested in Ashford system planners, this session covers the basics of system techos and the size variations.
What is a system techo?
It’s basically something for recording and managing your schedule, something you would carry and keep within a hand’s range to writes notes in. Ideally, you would use it to store things that you like to be accessible such as pamplets, photos, receipts, etc., even your stationery (for the larger sizes) such as stickers, washi tape, even fountain pens, etc.
It’s made up of two major parts: a jacket and the refills. For the refills, you can use any company produced refills, and even make your own. The makeup of your system techo is entirely up to you. A word of recommendation is to only keep the things you need or care about (currently) in the techo that you carry around, and file away the stuff that are no longer relevant.
System techo is also largely about the leather. The leather is “alive” and is something you nurture over time, be it by constant handling, or from meticulous leather care.
Today, Ashford’s system techo lineup mainly focuses on the following five sizes:
Micro 5 (or M5)
You will hear it pronounced in the video as “Micro-Gor” or “M-Gor”.
- Its paper dimensions are 105mm x 62 mm, just slightly larger than a business card. It’s the smallest size they have in their lineup.
- Typically used for quick memos. For a newbie to system techo, Mukai-san recommends the M5 because it fits nicely into the hand, and is suitable for carrying everywhere. Being small in size, it will eventually grow on you.
- Because of its size, the (monthly) schedule pages are small with little room to write on. All you can probably fit in it would be tiny reminders (such as keywords) to yourself, and use those reminders to transfer more information to a different/larger system planner (or an online calendar).
- Ashford’s M5s usually ship with 8mm and 11mm rings. In 2019, they’ve added the 13mm ring, such as the one found in the Trad series. With the Trad, if you put the vinyl refills (which are used to store things), they can protrude out when the jacket cover is closed.
- Ashford used to use Krause ring binders about 15 years ago. But at one point, they switched to World Wide (which is based in Hong Kong) to produce the Ashford branded ones that you see in the market today.
- During the last live (which was a joint session with Shimizu-san, the chief editor of Shumibun - part 1, part 2), Shimizu-san was showing a prototype 8mm binder rings for the M5 that allowed one to load in a lot of paper (50 pages) while still being able to flip the pages with ease. The ring girth for these rings are usually 2.5mm but these ones are 2.3mm in size.
- Advice for right-handed people who find the ring to be in the way when writing: Try to rearrange the contents of your planner so you are able to write in the latter half of the planner. For example, keep your memo pages at the end of the planner.
- Regarding user facing product catalogues, the ones Ashford publishes now are only available for retail stores. Depending on demand, they may produce consumer facing ones for next year.
Mini 6 (or M6)
You will hear it pronounced in the video as “Mini-Roku” or “M-Roku”.
- The dimensions are 126mm x 80 mm. In comparison to the M5 size, it is approximately 20mm longer in both directions.
- For context, you could say the M5 is suitable for a man’s front shirt pocket, and the M6 for the back pocket.
- In terms of usage, a monthly calendar view in the M5 has adequate space for quick notes and keywords. But in the M6 size, there’s slightly more room to add more details.
- Compared to the M5, you should easily find refills for this size (as well as for Bible size) in any regular stationery stores (we’re talking Japan here, of course).
- In the past, system techos have been a male dominant market but these days, the M6 has a very large female user base.
“Seisho” is the Japanese word for “bible”.
- The dimensions are 170mm x 95mm. This size has the longest history, ever since Filofax was introduced in Japan.
- It is the mainstream size, and the one you picture in the head when system techos are mentioned.
- The “Bible” name/term is something uniquely used in Japan. In other parts of the world, this size is usually refered to as “Personal” size.
- At Ashford, it comes with multiple ring sizes starting from 11mm, 15mm, etc.
- In comparison to the M6, it is not much large in width - approximately 15mm wider. But the height difference is much more pronounced.
- It is not recommended for a pocket - but perhaps for a jacket pocket, if it comes with a 11mm ring. Rather, it is meant to be carried around and in your hands most for the time.
- Its refills are the easiest to find and also has the widest range of choices and availability in the market.
- In height, it is about the a B6 sized notebook, but not the width though.
- Writing tips: don’t start writing from the top. It’s best to start around the first ring, and wrap up your thoughts/writing in the back page. This is in order to avoid waste of paper and makes it easier to file away or dispose off once done if you keep things to one sheet.
- A popular size for people who want to make their own refills.
- Made for writing notes, rather than memos.
- For example, it can be used to track housekeeping stuff and left on the desk. It’s usually not recommended to be carried around.
- Strangely, a popular size for commercial merchandising - you can easily find refills in stores.
- Recommended to purchase a paper punch when starting out (so that you can make your own refills easily).
- Rings for A5 are typically larger in size.
Typically referenced as “HB”.
- Its height is the same as the Bible size, and its width matches A5 – hence, HB (Height: Bible) x WA5 (Width: A5). Size: 170 mm x 154 mm
- To make room for a pen & other side things, the leather binder tend to be made to look like a square.
- Why this size? Bible is good for on-the-go, while A5 is good for on-the-desk. So the idea for this size is to be able to write more, yet suitable to carry on-the-go. And keeping it square makes it more appealing.
- Not many types of refills are commercially available in the market. However, you can use Bible size refills in it.
- The width is 1.5 times more than the Bible so there is plenty of room for people who need space to write more notes, put stickers, photos and washi tape.