Laura and Austin Whipple are the founders of Pinball Publishing. By 2002, combining their love of books and print production, they were producing their own literary projects and offering design print services to the public. The business steadily grew, but by 2009 they realized they wanted to shift their business model. Laura says they wanted to refocus their energy back to their first love, that of books, and wanted “a community-inspired business, rather than just a community-serving business.”

The idea was to combine their years of print production experience with their commitment to creating a sustainably-minded business, and create a product design that was “less wasteful, without limiting inspiration,” says Laura. The team’s brainstorming session came up with the idea of small 3.5×5 inch books; easy to produce, infinitely customizable. They could be simply a notebook, or filled with content to create a small self-published book: Covers could be made to order; the paper could be 100% recycled; inks, soy-based and locally sourced. “We really care deeply about materials and quality of binding” says Laura, and this humble book seemed to satisfy many of the company’s desires.

The result: Scout Books.

According to Laura, the name Scout was chosen because they were looking for a word that “evoked adventure, resilience and generosity. Scout fit that description nicely.”

Scout Books are intriguing. An invitation to doodle, to make notes. Small, pocket-able, they are accessible and at the same time full of possibilities. Laura says Scout Books have proved to be a useful tool and a valuable giveaway for businesses at trade shows, conferences, etc. Recipients are happy to have them; they don’t “end up in a landfill” like so many giveaways. The books can be branded with the business’s logo, brand, design, and message. “It’s a great way to be a resource,” says Whipple. Scout Books are used for workshops, training materials; artists fill the pages and have them published as small-run self-published books.

The Center for Civic Design recently used Scout Books to share training concepts around the political election process, what Laura terms as “good design as a way to preserve voter intent.” This socially oriented use is one of Whipple’s favorites; she loves “a tangible way to share a message.” And as she sees it, there is still the desire for paper and books, even in this heavily internet-based day. Paper-based = human, is the equation at work here. And the human element is ever-present: Scout Books are produced with the help of machines, definitely (one million produced in 2015), but each book is touched at different times by human hands. And that, in its own way, is important, keeping in sight the values of Whipple and her team. It has, she believes, been in part what has kept many clients, like Stumptown Coffee, with them all along.

Building relationships – both with clients and their staff – is what Pinball Publishing is all about. Laura says, “It works. It’s the best kind of advertising, and everyone feels taken care of.”