Dwell 24: Before Breakfast



Nicki Shen, founder of the aptly named Before Breakfast studio‚ makes perfectly minimalist office wares like notebooks‚ scissors‚ and pens.

Onigiri Paper Clips by Before Breakfast

Shen, 35, is a morning person. Every day before breakfast the designer makes a to-do list‚ laying out exactly what she needs to accomplish. 

“The design process in my head is long and messy‚” she says. 

Her designs‚ however‚ are not. 

Shen trained as a graphic designer and‚ after getting her MFA from Edinburgh College of Art‚ began experimenting with Risograph printing‚ a form of low-cost‚ high-volume printing that originated in Japan. All of Shen’s notebooks are bound with paper handcrafted in her studio and printed with eco-friendly soy inks.

Onigiri Paper Clips by Before Breakfast

Onigiri Paper Clips by Before Breakfast

Photo courtesy of Before Breakfast

Her sleek scissors and ergonomic pen took a year’s worth of prototyping to get right. “There was a lot of trial and error but the process was actually very enjoyable‚” she says. Just imagine how many to-do lists that took.

Learn about Shen’ s childhood memories watching her father sketch out furniture hardware, and read her other responses to our Q&A, below. 

Hometown: Taipei, Taiwan

Current Location: London, England

Describe what you make in 140 characters. I am a graphic and product designer who makes contemporary and sustainable stationery for everyday use.

What’s the last thing you designed? A range of small cardboard organizers for keeping things neat and tidy on a desk

Do you have a daily creative ritual? Yes. Before breakfast, I write down a list of everything I need to do for the day, accompanied by a couple cups of black coffee.

How do you procrastinate? I find things to clean and organize in my studio. While the process is a form of procrastination, it also allows me to regain my focus and helps me put things back in order, both literally and figuratively. 

What everyday object would you like to redesign? Why? A tape dispenser that is perfectly lightweight but still strong and durable. I would not want it to move at all when being used. I have my own collection of tape dispensers, which I love. However, I have yet to find the perfect one.

Who are your heroes (in design, in life, or in both)? In life: my mother and father are my heroes. In design: Kenya Hara is my hero.

What skill would you most like to learn? I would like to learn more about still life photography.

What is your most treasured possession? The two Risograph RP 3700 printers in our studio. They are the starting point for Before Breakfast designs, and without them, I could not be doing what I am now. 

What’s your earliest memory of an encounter with design? When I was a child, I would watch my father sketch and design furniture hardware with a pencil. I was his profession. I didn’t know much about design at the time, but I was fascinated by the shapes he could draw.

Everyday Scissors in Black by Before Breakfast

Everyday Scissors in Black by Before Breakfast

Photo courtesy of Before Breakfast

What contemporary design trend do you despise? I think despise may be too strong, but I’m not a fan of maximalism. I’m a bit of an introvert myself, so I find it a bit too bold and too loud for my liking.

Are you left-handed or right-handed? Right

Finish this statement: All design should…thoughtful and functional.

I sketch with a…pen.

I work best with…music.

I do my best work…first thing in the morning.

My studio is…a study in head-clearing minimalism.

Instagram is…a homogenizing force in the design world.

Choose one: Bauhaus, Memphis, or Brutalist? Bauhaus

Rank the following: (1) Form, (2) Fun, and (3) Function

Choose one: Less is More, Just Enough is Enough, or More is More? Just Enough is Enough

Choose one: Past, Present, or Future? Present

If you had to pick a favorite material, what would it be? Paper

What’s in your dream house? I would have a room for all of my favorite stationery from around the world, including some items that are no longer produced. I would call it the Stationery Museum. 

You can follow Shen on her website or on Instagram

Want more? 

Return to the Dwell 24 homepage and check out other emerging designers.  

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