Why Post-its?

Like many designers, we use Post-its. Lots of Post-its. Inevitably, our partners and clients jokingly ask if we’ve got stock in 3M. And while we use lots of other objects in our work, Post-its get used everyday. So it’s a reasonable question: why Post-its?

Because they’re small 

We record ideas on Post-its, and because there is limited space, we’re forced to shape each idea into a small, understandable unit. Those ideas can then be pushed together into larger, more complex ideas, but, as it turns out, having the basic unit of ideas be 3” x 3” works very well. 

Which leads us to the second-most often purchased item in our office: Sharpies. Sharpies (fine point) are thin enough to write or draw with, but thick enough that we can’t write too small. They help us put limits on how much information we’re trying to squeeze into an idea, and photos of a wall-full of sharpie-writing are usually readable if you use a flash or a tripod. Like Post-its, they’re not too big, and not too small – they’re just right. 

Because they’re movable

The whole idea of breaking things up into bite-sized ideas is that you can then build them back up into bigger concepts. Stickies allow us to put our ideas up on a wall and move them around. They’re like external, shared memory. When we write ideas down, we’re freeing up space in our heads for making new connections. 

Because they’re physical

This is the biggie. We experience the world with our bodies. Having a physical experience of your ideas makes them much more tangible and, well, real. There are lots of Post-it-like apps where you can record your ideas on a screen and move them around, but it’s not the same as grabbing an idea from one side of the room and moving it over to the other side. It changes the way you perceive and interact with information, and therefore changes how you think. 

Which is really the underlying reason: Post-its let us think out loud, together, without drowning out each other’s ideas. They have enough flexibility to allow us to go almost anywhere, and enough constraints to encourage big leaps of imagination.

Check out How to: Action Storm in our Tools section for an example of how we use Post-its in our work.

Nick Jehlen's picture
Nick Jehlen is a partner at The Action Mill