In Conversation With: Chris Holden, AJOTO

In Conversation With: Chris Holden, AJOTO

We’re back with AJOTO again, but this time we ask brand founder and creative director, Chris Holden, to reveal his inner scribblings on the creation of the Ajoto pen. See the full interview on YouTube, or read on for more.

First off, why the pen?

Of all the questions we get asked as Ajoto, ‘why a pen?’ is up there with the most frequent of them. We didn’t start Ajoto with pens or stationery in mind. The evolution to developing The Pen was a little more serendipitous than that. We actually began Ajoto as a design studio and consultancy agency. We spent those early days formulating a process that reflected our personal ideology and ethos around design, manufacturing, marketing, retail, and of course, business.

So The Ajoto Pen was more of a thought exercise of sorts?

Exactly! The pen started as an internal project, of sorts; a way of proving a point. But along the way, we fell in love with the process. We were, after all, creating an object that also presented our visions and convictions in tactile form.

What were the main factors that informed your design choices?

We needed to pick something that would serve as a conduit for our ideas. The pen is, first and foremost, a tool. It’s something that we use every day, something we can hold and interact with. It’s universally understood and, for most, serves as an anchor for a whole host of creative processes. We read a quote once: ‘the pen is the printer for the brain’. One of the easiest ways to create, after all, is to put ink on paper. To do so is to translate abstract thoughts into something tangible – whether that’s a few words, a simple sketch, or a concept for an entire architectural project.

Were there any challenges along the way?

In terms of manufacturing, for sure! But that’s another story. At the time,  the pen was seen as a connoisseur’s item, something of the past that had been left behind in the digital march. Either that, or it was seen as a throwaway item. We didn’t see anything that reflected our values in the world of stationery. Which is ironic, really, because the pen is one of the few shared tools that most creatives have in common. We wanted to find a common ground between the esoterism of the collector’s pen and the purpose and practicality of the everyday ballpoint. In short: we wanted to craft beautiful tools. At first glance, the idea of a beautiful tool might seem slightly oxymoronic; tools are always seen as utilitarian, while beauty is often sought in art and art alone. The Ajoto Pen was always about finding a way of fusing the two. I think we’ve done a pretty good job.

Any major design influences in the mix?

Apple’s Jony Ive once said that ‘a product should feel inevitable’. That’s what we wanted The Pen to be, fundamentally. We were striving for something simple and elegant; something that hides its complexity well and makes people think: ‘yeah, that’s what a pen should look like.’

What have you learned from the humble pen?

The Pen has since marked a shift in our own personal philosophies. It helped us transition from being an agency that wanted to work with others to get their ideas out there, to realising we had ideas and convictions of our own that we wanted to explore. The Pen has served to those values.

It was a way for us to make our mark with something simple and elegant, something that is practical yet holds a value beyond its function, something that invites collaboration and sparks conversation, something that will endure and, with a little time (and luck) become iconic.

Interview by Will Halbert, Essential Journal.

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