Zen Pen
Zen Pen, by Japanese company Zenical, is a ballpoint pen that I designed to bring the wisdom of Zen philosophy in everyday life.
With a design that interprets several Zen teachings, this pen tries to aid your focus, stimulate a dialog with your inner self, and bring self-reflection into your workflow and free time.
Prototypes of the pen
Karensansui, the Japanese Zen garden
The starting point of inspiration for the design of this pen is the traditional Japanese rock garden called Karesansui and also known as Zen gardens.
The allure of these dry landscapes lies in the harmony between contradiction and struggle. A large rock is pierced into the gravel, two very contrasting elements whose contradictions come together in harmony. In fact, Zen is stillness with movement, it engulfs a chaotic inner struggle. It has the power to surround everyone and their thoughts. It has a tension that does not allow for any compromise. It carries the spirit of encouraging people by affirming their existence. Its force derives from the fact that its essence exists purely in practice, not words.

The Karesansui technique is part of the training of Zen monks. It starts with what kind of rock should be arranged and where it should be placed and then goes to create a balance between the rocks and thin lines in the gravel surrounding the rocks. It also takes into consideration how the sunlight pours into the garden, the sound of the trees planted around the garden when the wind blows, and the relationship of the garden with the background scenery and the horizon. The rock garden is complete when all the things that are beyond the control of men such as light, wind, and natural scenery have informed the creation of a beautiful composition and the visualization of Zen teachings.

The teachings of Zen philosophy are put into practice in the making of the Karesansui gardens. Once completed, Zen monks sit and meditate in front of the garden.
Embracing contradictions
The Zen concept of harmony between contrasting elements is depicted by the relationship between the body and the clip of the Zen Pen. While the body visualizes the beautifully drawn lines in the gravel of the Zen gardens with its rugged texture, the clip has a smooth rounded surface, like a pebble smoothed by water. By moving your fingertips onto these physical features you can perceive a strong "here and now" sensation and appreciate the unity of contrasting elements.
The Japanese Sense of Beauty Exists in Incomprehensibility
Just as there is no optimal point to look at the mountains or the sea, there is no center in the Karesansui rock gardens. This offset expresses the Japanese sense of beauty. Japanese aesthetics, as opposed to Western aesthetics, relies on asymmetry and imperfection. The universe is full of ambiguity and conflict, and this aesthetic cultivates this profound beauty. The designs of the Zen Pen takes on these teachings to embrace the sensibility that Japanese people have nurtured since ancient times. The irregular tip in the clip is situated outside the central line and breaks the symmetry of the entire pen.
Designing Discomfort into a product
Drawn away by the fast rhythms of our busy lives we end up ignoring and not taking joy from the many small things and details we encounter. While we may enjoy a famous scenery as a whole, we often neglect to admire the beauty of the single nameless flower growing in the middle of it.
With the aim of re-addressing our attention to the beauty of the details of our days and to our inner-worlds, a subtle design choice was made for the lines of the pen surface. The line pattern looks uniform and connected from cap to the body. However, if you simply close the cap of this pen without thought, the lines will become misaligned. By feeling slight discomfort in this and by fixing it by hand, you can feel peace of mind and this can spark the opportunity for self-reflection.   
Zen Pen intricate design is manufactured with the latest 3D printing and milling technology together with the handwork of skilled Japanese craftsmen.
The material adopted for the Silver version is a specific kind of industrial aluminum used for car bodies and ships, with excellent resistance against corrosion and rust. The complex beauty of these surfaces will last for many many years to come.
The black edition of the pen is made with the latest 3D printing technology in addition to the manual processing of Japanese craftsmen. The unique texture of 3D printing creates a sense of unity that blends in naturally. Here you can see the advanced fusion of traditional handicrafts and innovative technologies.
The clip has a spring function that enables clipping to paper easily.
The pen employs Jetstream cartridges by Parker for the ink, which have a reputation for very smooth writing and guarantee a pleasant writing experience. Moreover, replacements are easy to find almost anywhere.
Accompanying product design and brand image
The branding and visual image for the brand follow the same concepts that instructed the design of the physical object.
I chose black and white for the brand colors to accentuate the idea of conflict and also as connected with the ink versus the paper.
Zenical's logo is based on the Zen concept of suigetsu, the image of the moon reflected on a surface of the water at night. The reflection is not the real thing itself, yet it has the power to create a connection of meaning, beauty, and affirmation of values. In Zen philosophy, the moon is often used as a metaphor for reality.
The circular shape of the logo is an homage to the enso, another Zen symbol made by a circle drawn with a single stroke, which represents in circular form enlightenment and truth, compassion, and the universe itself.
Pages from the brand manual
About Zenical and the project team
Zenical, a Japanese brand founded in 2020 in Tokyo, is on a mission to bring Zen to life not through words, but through the appearance and textures of its products. Its motto is “Embrace your contradictions.” Zenical's vision is that through touching these pens everyone will connect with the teachings of Zen and believes that this can enrich their daily lives.
In a world where anyone can be an artist and a creator, the starting point for creation is the personal sense of beauty of each individual. This sense is born through the fight between equally strong feelings of trust and doubt around our choices. To have a sense of beauty means to continuously question yourself.

The team behind this project is diverse, with members from Japan, the US, and myself, an Italian living in Japan. In the process of bringing the concept of Zen into a physical product, I had many debates and worked through a long process of trial and error.
I enjoyed this creative process with its debates and deep discussions, and I learned a lot about Zen and Japan. This way of proceeding embodies the same idea of “embrace your contradictions” that the pen tries to express.

Product Design, Branding, Art direction: Jacopo Drago
CG art: Lorenzo Drago
Photography: Kohei Takata.

Special thanks to Zenical's Yuki Kimura, Ryunosuke Fujinomaki, Fumiya Enjo.

Thank you for reading.
Zen Pen

Zen Pen

Embedding Zen philosophy into a product